"Don't give up; don't ever give up."
If you read this column, you're a sports fan, and if you're a sports fan, I don't need to tell you who said those seven powerful words and how important they are.
Among the things that make me proudest to be an ESPN employee is our commitment to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. By the way, feel free to stop reading this and watch Jim Valvano's ESPY speech again, it'll only be the best 11 minutes you spend all week. Fantasy football can wait, I promise.
It's Jimmy V week here at ESPN, and as I do every year, I'd like to dedicate this week's column to those who live by Coach V's words.
Colin (Schuylerville, N.Y.): Hey Mr. Berry, My name is Colin, and I'm 20 years old from upstate New York. And as of June 1st this year, I'm a kid living with cancer. I think that's the way us cancer people like to say it? I'm still kind of new to this whole thing, so I'm not 100 percent on the nuances yet.
My whole life I've been an avid reader, but it was only last year that I started really getting into fantasy football. Some buddies of mine at college invited me into their league, and I was hooked after my first week; a crushing loss by two points. And it didn't get much better than that, I'm pretty sure I ended up about 4-8. This year, after learning of my diagnosis, I decided that I was going to dive head first and try to have multiple teams, since I'd have so much time on my hands. I ended up with 4, and I'm the commissioner of my own league in which I write up a loooong draft grade recap and weekly match-up reports. And due to this, I've made it my mission to read every article I can get my hands on as my week-long stays in the hospital for chemo demand reading material. I found myself sneaking off the wing with my IV to a lonely hallway so I could get some peace and quiet from the hectic hospital life. I'd sit on a window sill overlooking the city of Albany and slowly these brief periods of serenity would be what I looked forward to most each day (even if my nurses weren't always thrilled about not knowing where I was. It's OK though, what are they going to do, yell at me?) So I hope somehow this reaches you, so you can know how much I enjoy (fantasy football) and how important it's been to me.
Michael (Nevada): Hi Matthew, I enjoy your writing, especially the love/hate columns. Many people get worked up over your "misses" but no one is right 100 percent of the time and I take your choices with a grain of salt when evaluating my rosters. The reason I'm writing is that at age 50 my life is going downhill fast. My income went from $440k in 2009 to zero at present. My wife is stage 4 brain cancer and had two tumors removed in September. Yesterday we fought with insurances, doctors and pharmacy to get my wife her prescriptions (success today!). We moved in with her daughter's family so there are nine humans, three dogs and two cats occupying a 4 bedroom house. But ... I don't want you to feel bad for me. Life is a wonderful stressful thrill ride and we are dealing with the tougher side in 2013. I know things will improve and my wife is a fighter after surviving brain cancer in 2004. Someday soon I'll work again and thankfully have savings to get me through the next few months. So ... the next time you get trash-talked or worse, remember to appreciate life! I am so grateful for my two sons and daughter who make dad proud and have grown up too fast!
Greg (California) You have a beautiful family and even a job you love (at least most of the time). A bad day for you consists of when your fantasy teams don't have good days. From reading your articles, I know you already know how lucky you are. I always like reading about how your family comes first. My wife is in remission from a long battle with cancer involving multiple different chemo treatments, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. We don't know if we can have children from the effect of all her treatments but we can't try yet as she is high risk for relapse. I tell you this not because I want to tell you how lucky you are but to tell you how lucky I am. I have my wife and that is all that matters to me.
Colin, Michael, Greg ... thank you. All of you and your loved ones embody the true spirit of Jim Valvano. I don't want to say I "loved" these emails because all of them are about horrible experiences, but what I'd admired about them and what I love about each of the authors is that none of them were looking for sympathy, rather they were celebrating what they did have and were being grateful for that. It's obvious that they will never give up, never ever give up.
After this weekend, 80 percent of the players who started in ESPN.com standard fantasy football leagues will be done with their seasons, and after a weekend of highs and low and roller coasters of emotions, I hope that if the virtual ball doesn't bounce your way, you'll remember that the best part of fantasy is that you get to play at all.
So now, let's do our part. If I've blocked you on Twitter and you'd like to be unblocked, just make a donation in any amount to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Send a copy of the receipt and your twitter handle to me at MatthewBerryTMR@gmail.com and put TWITTER in the handle. To date, I believe I have gotten everyone who's gone through the process and we've raised thousands for Jimmy V. And for those of you who haven't done anything to be blocked on Twitter, but would like a flimsy excuse to donate, please do so anyway and I'll be happy to send you a message on Twitter proclaiming your fantasy prowess or whatever you want (that I can print, of course). I don't answer fantasy questions from that email, however, so, if my rankings and this column still haven't answered your question, please use my Twitter or Facebook for that.
Let's get to it. It's the playoffs. Don't get cute. Start your studs. That's why there are fewer names this week; there shouldn't be a ton of decisions to make at this point. Thanks as always to Zach Rodgers and the entire ESPN Stats & Information gang for their help, and away we go.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 15
Nick Foles, Eagles: An obvious name, sure, but I have him third overall this week (highest of anyone), so I thought it was worth putting him in here. Among the many reasons for optimism? Since Week 5 (when he came on for Vick), Foles has thrown 12 touchdowns on passes at least 15 yards downfield, most in the NFL, and four more than any other quarterback during that span. In fact, Foles hasn't even played the entire season, and yet, only Drew Brees has more touchdown passes of more than 15 yards this year. Bet you won't be surprised to learn that no team has allowed more deep touchdown passes than the Minnesota Vikings. Oh, and they just lost rookie Xavier Rhodes, their best corner, for a few weeks.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: Anyone think San Diego is stopping Denver from scoring? Me, either. Rivers is going to need to throw and score in this game, and throw he shall. I think he's a top-10 play this week, but if you're worried about the last time they faced (Rivers had just 12 points), I offer up two counters: Denver's defense has given up at least 20 points to quarterbacks in three of the past four games, Broncos are top 10 in most fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs and Rivers is crushing it on short passes. He's completing 76 percent on throws 10 yards or fewer downfield (best in the NFL) and no team has allowed more touchdowns on such throws than the Denver Broncos. Low-end top 10, but yeah, top 10 this week.
If you're desperate: I like anyone against Washington, but especially Matt Ryan at home with a healthy Roddy White to throw to. ... Quick, here are the points totals for two quarterbacks over their past four games: QB "A": 9, 15, 13, 16; QB "B": 14, 17, 21, 23. As pointed out to me on Twitter, "A" is Tony Romo and "B" is Ryan Tannehill. Not saying Tannehill's better, but he's outscored him in four straight weeks and faces a team that just gave up almost 400 yards to Jason Campbell. ... Speaking of Campbell, he's got Josh Gordon on his side and Chicago on the other, which bodes well. Against Cleveland's defense, the Bears won't keep the ball as long as they did against Dallas.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 15
Andy Dalton, Bengals: In his career against the Steelers, Dalton has averaged 193.6 yards and one touchdown a game. In those games, Dalton has averaged 9.6 fantasy points. He was OK earlier this year when they played (16 points) but given how roller coasterery he is, which is sort of a word, he makes me super nervous for a playoff game. He could easily go off. If A.J. Green burns Ike Taylor a few times for long scores, would anyone be surprised? Of course not. But on the road, in primetime, against a team that normally plays him very well? Not feeling it.
Tom Brady, Patriots: Now, I ranked him 11th in my initial rankings (before Thursday's game) so that's a respectable rank. And chances are you don't have anyone better. But, that's a lot lower than I would have had if Rob Gronkowski were playing. In the first six weeks of the season (prior to Gronk's return), Brady averaged just 246.7 passing yards (19th among qualified quarterbacks) and 1.3 touchdowns (tied for 16th). Brady averaged 13.2 fantasy points during that span. The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season, and held Brady to just six points in Week 8. Now, Brady does have Shane Vereen back, which helps a lot (he didn't have him most of the time when Gronk was out) and he is, you know, Tom Brady. Danny Amendola is there, too. But when a top-5 quarterback is ranked at 11, he makes the hate list, so that's why Tom is here.
Running Backs I love in Week 15
Alfred Morris, Washington: I know, I know. He's been burning you. You're nervous. It's an insane situation in Washington. So I get it. But I expect them to want to take the pressure off Kirk Cousins by establishing a good ground game, and against Atlanta, that should be doable. Over the last five games, the Falcons have given up seven rushing touchdowns and the most fantasy points to opposing running backs. They give up more than 133 rushing yards a game. I'm starting Morris if I have him.
Zac Stacy, Rams: Since Week 5, the only running backs with at least 12 carries in every game: LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Frank Gore, Knowshon Moreno and ... Zac Stacy. Dude has averaged 5.4 yards per carry at home and the Saints have allowed 4.7 yards per carry this season, fourth-most in the league. He's all they have and he's as good a bet as there is to score this week. Plus, I am playing against him in the Stern Show League semifinals, so you know he's going off.
Shane Vereen, Patriots: Averaging 11 targets a game this year, including an insane 17 targets last week, Vereen will continue to see lots of work. In fact, since Week 11, only Josh Gordon and Andre Johnson have more targets in the NFL. Since the Miami pass defense is playing well recently and there's no Gronk, I expect a lot of screens and short passes to Vereen, who is the running back they trust the most. Miami is top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: Over the past five weeks, only the Bears have allowed more rushing yards than the Packers. And did you know, of running backs with at least 100 rushes, Murray leads the NFL in rushing yards per carry?
Pierre Thomas, Saints: So, Pierre Thomas ranks first or is tied for first in the NFL in receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns on passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage, right? Well, the Rams really struggle against the screen; they allow 9.4 yards per reception on throws at or behind the line of scrimmage, worst rate in the NFL.
If you're desperate: Steven Jackson has been a top-10 fantasy running back the last three weeks and no team has allowed more rushing scores than Washington. I'm so proud. First in something, baby! ... In a high-scoring game where Rivers is passing a lot, I expect Danny Woodhead to be heavily involved. ... The Texans seem to be going through the motions and they weren't all that against the run when they were trying, so Donald Brown should be a useful flex here. ... Same game, I can understand being super nervous about Ben Tate, but I do think he'll be solid against Indy and I can't see the Texans attempting almost 60 passes again. ... The way to beat the Titans is to run the ball, so both Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington have flex appeal on the road. By the way, the running back with fewer than 100 rush attempts with a better yards per carry than Murray? Ellington. ... I prefer Maurice Jones-Drew to Jordan Todman this week, but whoever gets the start against the Bills will be solid.
Running Backs I hate in Week 15
Ray Rice, Ravens: If you've made it this far, you've done so without, or in spite of, Rice. He did get 100 total yards last week and he could be okay in a PPR league, but I'm chalking what LeSean McCoy did last week up to talent and snow more than to a flaw in the Lions' front four. This is a very good run defense that will be fired up on "Monday Night Football." Rice isn't a top-20 play for me.
Chris Johnson, Titans: His carries and rushing yards have decreased for three straight weeks and, in fact, Shonn Greene has twice as many carries inside an opponents' 10-yard line. Fewer touches, getting vultured and now he faces a Cards defense allowing the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this year? Probably not Chris Johnson's week.
Chris Ivory, Jets: At home against Oakland is one thing, but Geno on the road at Carolina means they'll be bailing on the run game sooner than later. Can't see Ivory getting a lot of work or being that effective with it against the Panthers' No. 1-ranked run defense and No. 1-ranked scoring defense.
Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers: He'll be OK based on volume and you know I love his talent (he was a top-15 play for me last week), but the 49ers have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this year and allow the second-fewest yards after contact this season. When Rainey has faced strong run defenses this year (Lions, Panthers) he's struggled. Don't see him as more than a flex this week.
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: Just in case you were getting excited because Jonathan Stewart is out, don't. Not against the Jets and not with Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton there to vulture goal-line work.
Wide Receivers I love in Week 15
Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Bears: I don't know who Joe Haden will cover in this game and I don't care. Don't get cute. Part of the reason I ranked Jay Cutler lower than I originally ranked Josh McCown for this week is the risk that Cutler leaves the game early. That's not good for you if you have him in your lineup, but the Bears get to bring in McCown, so these two will still get theirs.
Roddy White, Falcons: "Oh, right, this is the Roddy White I drafted. About time. (grumble grumble)." "Yeah, some of us drafted Julio Jones, you know, so clam it." Tons of targets and Washington can't defend anyone.
Julian Edelman, Patriots: They can't all go to Vereen. Playing virtually every snap these days, Edelman has had three straight strong weeks, Tom Brady's trust and should have no issue leading the Patriots' wide receivers in targets.
If you're desperate: Over the past five weeks, only the Jaguars have allowed more receptions to opposing wide receivers than the Raiders, making Dwayne Bowe usable once again. ... As our player card notes, in the four games in which Matt Cassel has started or seen significant playing time, Greg Jennings has been targeted 33 times, resulting in 21 receptions and three touchdowns. Pretty good matchup with Philadelphia, who have allowed the most touchdowns to opposing wideouts. ... Speaking of the Eagles and that 31st-ranked pass defense, Cordarrelle Patterson leads the Vikings in targets the last five weeks and you saw last week why I've been talking about him all year. ... Since the start of Week 11, Rod Streater has nine receptions on passes traveling 15 or more yards downfield (second only to Josh Gordon during that span), and the Chiefs have allowed 10 touchdowns on deep passes, tied for the most in the league. ... It would have to be a deep league to start him during a playoff week, but man did Da'Rick Rogers look good last week.
Wide Receivers I hate in Week 15
Victor Cruz, Giants: Love his talent, of course, but over the past three weeks, Cruz has averaged fewer than six targets a game with one, count 'em, one red zone target. Bad matchup with Seattle, as no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing wide receivers than the Seahawks this season. Outside my top 20.
Mike Wallace, Dolphins: I knew I shouldn't have trusted Mike Wallace! Normally a staple of the "hate list" (and I'm almost always right), I put Wallace on the "love list" last week and he promptly goes out and does nothing. He had just three for 41 the last time these two faced off and I don't see him improving on that very much. It's the playoffs, so I want as sure things as I can find and he ain't it.
Michael Floyd, Cardinals: He's banged-up, Carson Palmer is banged-up and the Titans allow the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. This is a very good secondary and the way you attack the Titans is by trying to run the ball.
Tight Ends I Love in Week 15
Antonio Gates, Chargers: At least 50 yards in four of the past six, I expect the game to be high-scoring. Gates is second in the NFL in tight end targets and you love the matchup against a Denver team that has allowed the most touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season.
Delanie Walker, Titans: Prior to getting hurt, Walker had become a favorite of Ryan Fitzpatrick's and, despite the egg Jared Cook laid last week (not all of it his fault), there's no better matchup for a tight end this year than the Arizona Cardinals, and that was before the injury to Tyrann Mathieu. Sneaky low-end, top-10 play this week.
Jordan Cameron, Browns: I'm not expecting a game like last week, but it was good to see Jason Campbell develop more chemistry with Cameron. Campbell actually threw two touchdowns in that game to tight ends. The Bears have allowed the third-most yards to opposing tight ends this season, so I do think Cameron will be solid.
Charles Clay, Dolphins: The tight end with the fifth most fantasy points this season? Charles Clay. Averaging 11.5 fantasy points over his last four games, this is a good matchup for him; over the past five weeks, only the aforementioned Cardinals have allowed more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than the New England Patriots.
If you're desperate: The Texans have given up four touchdowns to opposing tight ends in their last five games and I wouldn't be surprised if Coby Fleener made it five of six. ... Same game, Garrett Graham leads all tight ends in targets the last four weeks and it's not as though the Colts defense scares you. ... Jacob Tamme played the slot after Wes Welker left the game last week and I expect he'll see a lot of snaps there Thursday night. You could do worse than having Peyton Manning's slot guy against San Diego.
Tight Ends I Hate in Week 15
Dennis Pitta, Ravens: It was a nice return, and certainly he saw a lot of targets, but I feel that was more about matchup and weather. Against Detroit, they are gonna have to throw deeper. Playing a Lions team that allows the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends, I don't see a top-10 finish.
Martellus Bennett, Bears: Fewer than 50 yards in five of the past six, you're hoping for a score from Bennett. And while that's certainly possible, I hate counting on touchdown-dependent guys, which is sadly what he has become.
Defenses I love in Week 15
Arizona Cardinals: Somehow still available in 40 percent of leagues, they have at least 14 points in four of the last six and should have no issue with Ryan Fitzpatrick. As our player card notes, Titans have 20 turnovers in the past nine games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Over the past five weeks, no defense has scored more fantasy points than the Buccaneers. Incidentally, the Bucs have more than twice as many interceptions during that span than any other team. Not a great matchup with San Francisco, but not one that scares you, either.
If you're desperate: The Eagles have put together back to back weeks of 10 points, are playing with confidence and get the Vikings without Adrian Peterson.
Defenses I hate in Week 15:
Chicago Bears: Don't be fooled by what you saw Monday night. This is not a good defense. And the Browns are a better offense than you think.
Baltimore Ravens: On the road, Baltimore averages just 4.3 fantasy points. The Lions' offense hums at home; they average more than 31 points and 477.3 yards in home games this year. It's one thing to stop Detroit in a blizzard, it's another to do it indoors on the turf. I don't see it happening.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- suggests you do three things today: Laugh, think and cry. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. You may also have heard: He's written a book.