By now, you’ve probably seen the rant.
I say this because it seems like everyone has seen the rant. If you haven’t, you can watch it right above. But I can’t tell you how many tweets, texts, DMs and emails I got from friends, co-workers and fellow fantasy players about it. They all said some version of the same thing. “Man, I’m sorry for your pain. That’s awful. But I can relate.”
Because they’ve been there.
Story after story poured in. “I feel you. You think that’s bad, listen to this one.”
I often write about the unifying aspect of fantasy football, the universal language it speaks and how it brings people from all parts of life together because of a group of shared experiences. I talk about the joy it brings, the hope and light it can shed, the bonds it creates.
I don’t talk about the pain.
Late Monday night, after the game, I was sunk into my couch with only the glow of the television faintly illuminating the room. The rest of my family was long asleep, Scott Van Pelt and Stanford Steve were on the TV, appropriately talking about bad beats, and I just lay there. Depressed. Why do I do this to myself?
Why do we care so much? I get wanting to win, I get being disappointed when I don’t. I get the frustration that comes from spending an entire week of preparation on a game where, every week, half of all teams will take an L. But at the end of the day — realize this is me saying this, a man who has spent three decades of his life dedicated to fantasy football — it’s still just a make-believe game.
And so, I sat on my couch, just destroyed. Like, legitimately depressed. The night before that intense rant, I was seriously questioning why I play this dumb game.
Make no mistake, logically, I get it. I had some bad luck. I did what you are supposed to do in fantasy football. I did the research, I played the odds that gave me the best chance to win and due to a bunch of unlikely events, I fell just short. It happens. Every week, all the time, to anyone who has ever played the game.
It makes complete and total sense and my brain just nods. While my heart just crumbles. Emotionally, I am just destroyed. Why does this game do this to us? How do we get so wrapped up, so invested in a semi-random group of professional athletes who we’ve never met and have no connection to each other except they were selected, in some order, by some random person, at some point in August?
When I win a game, I am happy, but you know my overriding emotion? Relief. Relief that I didn’t lose. That my make-believe collection of players scored more points than my opponent’s make-believe collection. That I don’t have to feel like crap. And if the reaction I got from that rant is any indication, I’m not alone.
To be clear, I don’t take every loss the way I took this one. In fact, I never have. But I do truly care. That was one reaction I heard a lot. People were surprised that I cared this much about any one league, all these years later.
Oh, I care. I always care. The issue is time. I’m in 12 leagues, plus the two “Vampire” leagues. There’s another 15 or so that I “help” out with and need to keep reasonable track of. There’s DFS of course and smaller games, like Pigskin Pick ’em and Eliminator. All in all, I probably make some sort of decision hundreds of times a week. Some of them fall through the cracks. There’s a league where I’ve known I desperately need to make a trade for three weeks now, and I haven’t found the time to go through rosters to see the team that would make the best potential trade partner and to try to negotiate that deal. But I definitely care about every single league I’m in.
The league is called The Scott Fish Bowl and if you are active on Twitter, you may have seen a bunch of people tweeting about it, especially in the middle of July, when we draft. Some of us, Le’Veon Bell. Yeah, this rant was months in the making.
The league is run by my friend Scott Fish, a fantasy analyst for Fanball. Scott is just an awesome human being and he does the league to support a great cause, and the whole industry has rallied around it. There are 800 teams divided into 12-team leagues with 22-man rosters. It is a “super flex” league, where you can play four flex players, including one QB, so ideally you are starting two quarterbacks with three traditional flex players.
Half-point PPR, half-point per first down, except you get one point for tight end receptions and one point for tight end first downs. Also, no kickers or defense, which I love. If you used ESPN standard roster size and eliminated kickers and defenses, it is basically the equivalent of an 18-team league. Unless you’ve ever played in an 18-team league, you have no concept of how deep it is.
Coming into this week, I have lost five of six. I got a lot of comments from folks about how they couldn’t believe an expert had lost five games, but I didn’t want to lie. I’ll own it. Here’s the team that I started this past week:
I have the aforementioned Le’Veon Bell on my bench and Jack Doyle in my training room. I also had drafted Larry Fitzgerald, which was my biggest miss in the draft. Middle of July, in this format, thought he’d be a star. Just dead wrong. He has been unstartable. But other than Larry Fitz? I think that’s a strong team in that deep a league. A little weak at wide receiver, but given that I’ve gotten zero from my first-round pick and almost nothing from my tight ends in a tight-end heavy format? I’m pretty happy that I’m still able to compete.
I lost the week before by 3.8 points to a guy who got that crazy Monday Night Football performance from Mark Ingram, against my Redskins.
Lost the week before that by 4.8 points to a team that started and got six touchdowns from Mitchell Trubisky. That’s right. He needed a six-touchdown game to beat me by four points.
Prior to that, Callaway had become just the 14th person in NFL history to get 10 targets in a game and fewer than 10 receiving yards (hat tip to Ryan McDowell for that stat).
You can’t make it up.
On and on, it has been like that in that league. Starting with the early draft, Le’Veon Bell deciding his career is more important to him than my fantasy team, and all the close losses … It all led up to Monday night, where I was down 0.9, he was done and I had Alfred Morris needing one tiny little point. Not even 10 yards: a six-inch dive for a first down would have been enough. Morris plays literally just one snap, gets a first down called back because of a holding penalty … and I lose again, 158.64 to 157.74.
WHY COULDN’T ALFRED MORRIS GET ONE STUPID POINT?!?!?
So depressed. And then the next morning, when it came up on the podcast, I just snapped. And it was caught on camera and it is now there for you to enjoy my misery whenever you feel like feeling better about your own loss.
I’ve thought a lot about why we care so much, how this game affects us the way it does, and I believe it’s because we have the illusion of control but in reality, we have none. All we can do is watch and hope and pray and yell and use whatever body English we can think of to will the ball into or out of a player’s hands.
I sat on the edge of my couch, watching every single play Monday night like a hawk. Where is Alfred Morris? Is that him lined up in the backfield? I can’t see that guy’s number, is it him? I can’t remember the last time I went through an emotional roller coaster like that. Except maybe the day before. And the Thursday before that. And the Sunday before that. It’s unlike anything else in my life, this relationship I have with fantasy football. After the rant, Scott Van Pelt reached out with some kind words and as we were texting back and forth about it, he wrote this: It’s why fantasy football is so great and terrible. The despair and joy. Side by side. Each can reach out and touch the other.
That they can, Scott. That they can.
And after I got that rant out, I felt better. And I started looking at my Week 7 matchups, I started making waiver claims and what the hell do you know? I’m sucked right back in, ready for Week 7. Bring it on, Fantasy Gods. Because you owe me one.
Let’s get to it. A reminder, this is based on projections for ESPN PPR leagues. “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed their projections, “Hates” are players I feel fall short. Thanks as always to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe and the Stat-A-Pillar himself, Damian Dabrowski, for their help at various points in this column.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 7
Jameis Winston vs. Browns (ESPN projection: 18.7): Great matchup here, as the Browns have allowed at least 298 passing yards OR multiple TDs in five of six games this season. (The lone exception was Sam Darnold, in Cleveland, on a short week.) The three times QBs have attempted more than 35 passes against the Browns, they’ve averaged 356.7 passing yards. Dating back to 2017, Winston has at least 35 attempts in four of his past five starts. And as a position this season, Tampa Bay QBs are second in fantasy points per game (27.57).
Kirk Cousins at Jets (ESPN projection: 18.4): The Jets blitz at the fifth-highest rate this season (30.3 percent). Cousins ranks fourth in passing yards against the blitz this season and ranks behind only Drew Brees in completion percentage when blitzed. Cousins is averaging 43 pass attempts per game, he is fifth in the NFL in passing yards and third in completion percentage, and now he gets a Jets team that has allowed at least 20 fantasy points to QBs in each of the past three weeks (the Falcons are the only other team that has done that).
Carson Wentz vs. Panthers (ESPN projection: 18.3): The Eagles have had 10 days to prep for a Panthers team that has allowed a touchdown on 81.8 percent of red zone drives this season, second worst in the NFL. Wentz certainly looks healthy, as he has scored at least 20 points in three straight games (matching Andrew Luck for the longest active streak among QBs). In those three weeks, he ranks as QB6 in terms of total points (ahead of Patrick Mahomes). Worth noting: Wentz has more than 275 passing yards and multiple TDs in three straight games, something that, prior to this run, he had never done in his career.
Baker Mayfield at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.7): You know who chucks it deep? Baker Mayfield chucks it deep. Among QBs currently starting, he ranks top five in terms of air yards per target (9.24). Among the many things the Bucs’ defense struggles with is the deep ball. They are tied with the Saints for the highest deep completion percentage against (59 percent; league average: 44.8 percent) and deep completions allowed per game (4.60; league average: 3.24). Mayfield has the fourth-most pass attempts over the past three weeks (trailing only Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco), which makes him my favorite streamer this week.
Others receiving votes: Mitchell Trubisky is the fourth-best QB in fantasy since Week 4. And that includes Week 5, when, you know, he was on a bye. Six touchdowns will do that for you, but he’s also fifth in rushing yards among quarterbacks. That keeps his floor high, especially against a Patriots defense allowing the ninth-most rushing yards to QBs. … It has certainly been ugly, but believe it or not, Eli Manning now has five straight games with 250-plus passing yards. Atlanta will have no issue putting up points on the Giants, which means Eli will keep throwing against a Falcons defense that has allowed at least 21.5 points to a QB in five of six games this season. … I mentioned him in this section last week as well and now C.J. Beathard has at least 17.8 points in three straight games (multiple passing TDs in each). The only QBs who can say that? Tom Brady, Wentz, Luck and Beathard. Junk time still counts, baby.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 7
Deshaun Watson at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 15.6): Man, he has looked bad from a real-life-football point of view. And now that has caught up to him fantasy wise, with just two TD passes over the past two weeks (once every 34.5 attempts) after throwing multiple TD passes in each of the prior three games (once every 19 attempts). Houston is allowing pressure at the highest rate this season (41.4 percent of dropbacks) and the Jaguars create pressure at the highest rate this season (35.3 percent). For his career, Watson has seven TDs and eight INTs versus pressure (21 and 7 when not pressured). I like the chance of the Jags’ defense bouncing back more than Watson in this one.
Drew Brees at Ravens (ESPN projection: 15.9): Brees has played one outdoor road game this season. That was against the Giants and he scored 8.6 points. He has traditionally struggled on the road outdoors (he scored fewer than 14.5 points in three of six such games last season). Other than the Steelers, the Ravens haven’t played a strong offense in the past four weeks, but still they’ve allowed just two touchdown passes in their past four games.
Dak Prescott at Redskins (ESPN projection: 16.2): There have been 128 instances this season — from 36 quarterbacks — of a QB completing 20 or more passes in a game. None of those 36 QBs are named Dak Prescott. He has a league-high four games this season in which he has thrown at least 25 passes and failed to pass for at least 200 yards. You’re counting on rushing with Dak and the Redskins allow the seventh-fewest rushing yards per carry to QBs this season (3.19). The 42-point over/under is among the lowest in Week 7.
Alex Smith vs. Cowboys (ESPN projection: 15.5): Smith has just one game this season with more than 220 passing yards AND at least one touchdown pass, so his ceiling has been limited thus far. This doesn’t seem like the game he changes that. A slow pace of play has resulted in Dallas being the fifth-least-passed-on team in the league this season. Because the Redskins’ defense has mostly played well this season, Smith hasn’t needed to get into shootouts, and he’s not really running, either, with just one game of more than 15 rushing yards.
Running backs I love in Week 7
Saquon Barkley at Falcons (ESPN projection: 21.9): The best part about doing this new “over or under the projection” way of doing Love/Hate is that I can now talk about “obvious” guys like Barkley. I’m taking the over here against a Falcons team that has allowed more than 20 points to a single running back in all six games this season, including the likes of Jay Ajayi, Giovani Bernard and Peyton Barber. Forget his rushing for a second; Barkley has more catches than Keenan Allen and more receiving yards than Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Ridley, to name a few. The Falcons are giving up more than eight receptions a game to running backs and that’s not changing Monday night. My No. 1 running back this week.
Joe Mixon at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 18.1): Say what you want about Marvin Lewis (seriously, go ahead, what do I care?), but the man commits! One back for him and that’s it. Injuries have something to do with it, of course, but in Mixon’s four games and Giovani Bernard’s two starts, the lead back has gotten at least 20 touches. That volume should work well against a Chiefs defense that is third worst in terms of yards allowed before first contact to RBs this season, gives up 5.32 yards per carry to running backs and gives up the third-highest rate of carries that gain 10 yards or more.
Tarik Cohen vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 10.1): In the past three weeks, Cohen is the fourth-best RB in fantasy on a points-per-game basis (only Todd Gurley II, Barkley and Melvin Gordon have been better). Of course the Bears had a bye in Week 5, but in the past two games they’ve played, Cohen has out-touched Jordan Howard 32 to 25 and their snaps are almost equal (64 for Howard, 59 for Cohen). He has 18 carries for 84 yards and a TD, 14 catches for 211 yards and a TD in those two games, and I expect that production to continue against a Patriots defense that coughs up the fifth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs.
Phillip Lindsay at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): The always-risky call of a guy in a committee playing on a Thursday night, but I just lost by one point because of Alfred Morris. What the hell. In the past three games, Lindsay has at least 10 touches in each game, has caught 11 balls and has a 15-6 red zone snap edge over Royce Freeman. The Cardinals are one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing almost 200 total yards a game to opposing backs. They’ve allowed 10 touchdowns to running backs, the second-most fantasy points per game and what are the Broncos gonna do, let Case Keenum throw it? Exactly.
Others receiving votes: Running backs who have gotten 15 or more carries against the Dolphins this season (four instances) have averaged 19.3 points per game. The only question is will Kerryon Johnson get 15 carries? I’m not sure, but I do like his chances of beating his projection of 10.1 points. … With the Chargers more than a touchdown favorite, I like Austin Ekeler and his amazing 3.34 yards per carry after contact to get some nice run in the second half and be flex-play worthy. … If you listened to the podcast this week, you know I am a believer in Ito Smith being top-25-or-so worthy against the Giants. Since his first carry in Week 2, Smith leads the Falcons in rushing attempts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and leads the Falcons with 13 red zone carries (six more than Tevin Coleman). Giants opponents have cashed in four of eight rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. … It took a bit, but with Jameis Winston under center last week, Peyton Barber finally got going (17 touches for 106 yards and a TD … RB9 finish), and I like his chances of keeping it going against a Browns team allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game this season and the third-most yards per carry after first contact. … And you know all those stats I gave in the Phillip Lindsay section about how bad the Cardinals are? They also apply to Royce Freeman, who, while certainly risky, has a decent chance to hit pay dirt in this one. If ever there was a week to use Royce, this is it. How lucky do you feel?
Running backs I hate in Week 7
Jordan Howard vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 11.8): Howard hasn’t caught a ball since Week 3 and is trending in the wrong direction, as he was averaging 45 snaps the first three games but just 32 in the past two. Of more concern is that, while Howard’s playing time is going down, the Bears’ offense has gotten a lot better. This sets up more as a Cohen game than a Howard one against a New England defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season long.
T.J. Yeldon vs. Texans (ESPN projection: 16): For the season, Yeldon ranks as a bottom-10 RB in terms of yards per carry after first contact. That’s an issue, because the Texans allow the fifth-fewest yards per carry before first contact this season. Yeldon has yet to have a game with 60 rushing yards, so he’ll need to be effective catching the ball. However, Houston is allowing the sixth-fewest yards per attempt when targeting RBs this season. You gotta start him if you have him, but gimme the under on 16 points.
Lamar Miller at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.8): In his past three games, Miller is averaging just 2.69 yards per carry. And now he gets an embarrassed Jaguars defense in Jacksonville? Yeesh. The Jags are a top-10 defense in terms of limiting red zone drives and limiting the efficiency of drives when opponents do reach the red zone. The odds of Miller scoring his first rushing touchdown of the season are not great.
Dion Lewis vs. Chargers in London (ESPN projection: 11.1): In the past three games for Lewis, he has 21 carries for 43 yards (2.05 YPC). LeSean McCoy is the only RB to rush for more than 70 yards against the Chargers this season … but it took him 24 carries to get there. I don’t see Lewis getting that kind of volume (he averages 10 carries per game this season). He has just two games this season with eight or more fantasy points, and he has been held below 10 rushing yards in two of the past three games. Since Week 2, he is just RB45. After this game, the Titans are on bye, so if you need the roster space, feel free to drop him.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 7
Odell Beckham Jr. at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.5): Remember 2016, when Beckham was WR4? He was WR22 through 5 weeks in that season before a breakthrough game. Through six weeks this season, he’s WR13. His 30.7 percent target share this season trails only Adam Thielen and Julio Jones, and while, yes, Eli is #notgood, he hasn’t been good for a while. Beckham will be fine and it starts this week against a Falcons team that is allowing the most red zone drives per game, the most touchdowns to opposing wide receivers and the fourth-most fantasy points to wideouts.
Tyreek Hill vs. Bengals (ESPN projection: 17.4): Eight different WRs have scored more than 15.5 points against the Bengals this season. Hill has 32 targets in his past three games and I expect another huge game. The Bengals create pressure at the fourth-lowest rate this season and that’s good, because Patrick Mahomes owns the highest passer rating when not pressured since that crazy Nick Foles season of 2013. With time to throw, you can bet Hill will get open. And if he’s within 80 yards of Mahomes, he’ll get the ball.
Jarvis Landry at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.2): You already know I think Mayfield throws the ball a ton here. Well, a lot of that is going to Landry, who has a team-high 26 percent target share this season with Mayfield under center. Opponents are completing 80 percent of passes when targeting the slot against Tampa this season (second-highest rate in the NFL). That’s where Landry lines up.
Tyler Boyd at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 14.4): Boyd has a touchdown or 100 yards in four of his past five games, and he should keep it going against a Chiefs defense that is a bottom 10 against the slot, in terms of catches, yards and yards after the catch per reception. Can you even tell which stat line belongs to Boyd and which one is A.J. Green‘s?
Player A: 37 catches on 51 targets for 455 yards and 4 TDs, 0 drops, recording a catch on 17.1 percent of routes
Player B: 33 catches on 55 targets for 494 yards and 5 TDs, 3 drops, recording a catch on 15.9 percent of routes.
Player A … is Boyd. Now, Green got a little banged up in one game, but still … I don’t think people fully realize what they’re dealing with here.
George Kittle vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 11.2): In a game I expect the Niners to throw a bunch to keep up with L.A., it’s worth pointing out the Rams allow the ninth-most tight end receptions per game this season (5.33) and here are the teams they’ve faced: Raiders, Cardinals, Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos. Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph are the only two real tight ends they’ve faced (sorry, Antonio Gates and Ricky Seals-Jones). Kittle is fifth among tight ends in receptions the past four weeks.
David Njoku at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): His connection with Mayfield is growing, as evidenced by his 11 targets in each of the past two games. In each of Baker’s three starts, Njoku leads Cleveland in receptions and receiving yards. As we may have mentioned, this is a great matchup; Tampa Bay gives up 7.2 catches, 94.8 yards and the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Others receiving votes: On a per-game basis, the Saints are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season (51.86). I like John Brown and Willie Snead IV in this game, as I expect Michael Crabtree to find himself lined up against Marshon Lattimore the most. … Taylor Gabriel has caught all 12 of his targets over the past two games (214 yards and 2 TDs), actually leads the Bears in receptions and yards this season, is second in routes run and has as many slot receptions (11) as any other Bear has targets. The Patriots have allowed six slot TDs this season (second most in the NFL, and four over the past two weeks). … Josh Gordon is coming off a game in which he led the team in routes run, and I’m taking the over on his 11.4-point projection against a Bears defense that has allowed the seventh-most deep TD passes this season. … With Quincy Enunwa out, I expect Jermaine Kearse to play the majority of snaps in the slot against a Vikings team that has given up the fourth-most yards to the slot this season. Heavy target share for Kearse. … Austin Hooper now has at least nine catches and 70 yards in consecutive games (Zach Ertz is the only other tight end who can say that). Hooper has 22 targets in those games and I like him Monday night in a game where a lot of the other receiving options are banged up. … In his first game back from injury, O.J. Howard played 13 more snaps and ran five more routes than Cameron Brate. I expect that gap to widen further this week in a plus matchup. Thirteen of Winston’s past 24 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7
Demaryius Thomas at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): Thomas has seven or fewer targets in four straight games and his fantasy output has been bailed out by some late touchdowns. I much prefer Emmanuel Sanders to DT in a game where I expect Denver to go run heavy. The Cardinals have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs so far this season and Thomas is likely to see the most of Patrick Peterson in this one.
T.Y. Hilton vs. Bills (ESPN projection: 14.7): This game is at home, which helps, but I’m lowering expectations under the idea that he says he’s still not 100 percent and because he’s likely to be shadowed by Buffalo’s terrific young corner Tre’Davious White. The Bills have allowed the third-fewest deep completions and have yet to allow a deep TD pass (one of three defenses that can say that).
Will Fuller V at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.6): It’s been a tough two-week stretch for Fuller, and things will get better. But not this week, not against this defense. The Jags have given up zero deep touchdowns and opponents are completing 36.4 percent of deep attempts (tied for second lowest). They will get after Deshaun Watson as well, making it tough for deep plays to develop. Even with a modest projection of 10.6, I’m taking the under.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is down to praying for stat corrections. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.