"Whatever you do, don't try to be funny!"
I was on the phone with my younger brother. He's one of those high-powered Hollywood managers who understands everything about show business -- and about me. All the negatives about me and whatever positives there might be. He is also, like me, a huge fan of "The League," the comedy about fantasy football that airs on FX on Thursday nights at 10:30 ET.
Episode 3 of Season 3 airs tonight, and I'm in it, playing a (hopefully!) slightly less awkward version of myself. It was filmed in August, and, as I was getting ready to leave my hotel room to go to the set, I was talking with my brother about it. And he had some advice.
"Look, these are some of the best comedians and improv actors in the business. They are all hilarious. Truly brilliant. You won't be able to keep up with them. I've seen you act. You're not a good actor. So just promise me, whatever you do, don't try to be funny!"
The reason he was saying that, other than, ahem, the obvious, was that the show is not scripted. The creators of the show are Jeff and Jackie Schaffer. The spouses have many famous credits, but among them, Jeff was a writer on "Seinfeld" for many seasons and an executive producer on the final two seasons. He's also an executive producer on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and this show is shot in much the same way.
There is an outline of the plot of the show and what is supposed to happen in each scene. There might be a few lines of key dialogue, but much of it is improvised. Only the basic beats (plot points) of each scene are laid out.
Like, I'm making this scenario up, but you might be handed a script that reads: Pete and Ruxin are talking. Taco enters the bar and invites them to a party. They leave, but, as they are paying the bill, Ruxin decides to not leave a tip.
That's all there would be. The only important things to accomplish in that scene are the invite to the party (where a future scene will be) and the not leaving a tip (I'm guessing Ruxin will meet up with the waitress again at a very inopportune time).
So although I had the basic beats, all the dialogue was improvised. By some of the funniest improv comics in Los Angeles. And, gulp, me. So you understand my brother's trepidation.
It's one thing to memorize lines; it's another to go toe to toe with folks as you're making stuff up. I'll see it for the first time along with the rest of America, so I have no idea how it turned out, but hopefully I didn't totally embarrass myself. I do know that the rest of the cast was hilarious around me, so even if I am a total train wreck, I hope folks will be laughing hard enough not to notice.
One reason I was so excited to do the show, and the thing I like most about it, is "the league" itself. It's about an eight-team fantasy league (I've heard of many, incidentally, stop being so snobbish) and only six of the people in the league are featured characters (two live out of town). It's a 30-minute show; you can't do a live-action sitcom (a good one, anyway) focusing on 10 different people. So although some might quibble with the league size, no one will argue about the fantastic spirit of the league, which is very true to fantasy football.
There is epic trash-talking. Outrageous bets. Lopsided trade offers, angry emails, people too in love with their own roster, rampant overthinking about roster moves and a true desperation to win at all costs. Like every league I've ever been in, but so much better.
They compete for the "The Shiva," named after an awkward girl they went to high school with. The show is very funny adult humor, but it's not politically correct. Not even close. The last-place finisher in the league -- "The Sacko" -- has to perform humiliating feats. The show captures everything that is special, fun and unique about fantasy football. This season's opening "Shiva Bowl Shuffle" is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
I've written about my personal favorite league before, but I wondered about other people's leagues. So I asked my friends on Facebook and those who follow me on Twitter what was the best thing about their league. Got some great responses.
Many leagues force the losers to wear a dress somewhere public. I've heard about leagues where every team name has to be a weird kid from high school or the last-place finisher in the league has to wear some sort of toilet seat and/or pay for everything at next year's draft. Many leagues have weekly write-ups, podcasts devoted to their league and online videos. The members of the "Ducal League" all have secret identities on Twitter and follow each other, just to trash talk to each other but not fill anyone else's timeline.
Lots of folks suggested that the winner of the each week's matchup gets to choose the avatar of the losing team for the next week and that draft infractions are punished by getting beer in the face (YouTube "Duff Beers in the face"). All great stuff. Here are some more I liked. First from Twitter.
@WillReiter: loser of the league each year has to take the SATs again with high school students. Score is then etched onto trophy.
@patfrank If your guy gets fined for a hit or something, you pay too! $25k = $25 to the league.
@ZachPrieston Started a tradition where Champion of previous year chooses what the last place owner has to wear at the next year's draft.
@RogerRogerPow: Draft order is determined by simulating a NCAA '06 season with all of us having colleges named after us.
@smerta13: At the draft if you try to pick some one who was already drafted, you do a shot of something gross.
@CollinCampbell5: The Ring of Shame! Lowest week score in our 12 team league must shave a visible ring around either arm or leg and post pic!
@ftank47: My league's "thing" is the loser of toilet bowl has to eat a stick of butter. Solid.
@RonCoobie: loser of the Star Spangled Banner game has to sing the national anthem to start the following year's draft.
@jdgriff4: We say the pledge of allegiance before every draft. Standing up, hands over hearts.
@BenBenJammin: ýFive guys living in a college apartment. Lowest amount of points cleans the bathroom.
And now from Facebook.
Jeremy Vetterkind: Photoshopping pics of the opponent.
Austin Trupp: We have 4 columns a week: one modeled after TMR columns, one modeled after MMQB by Peter King, one modeled after Bill Simmons, and one original concept rating smack talk. Columns average 5,000 words a week.
Nick Barnard: Always pre-draft QB challenge and Texas Hold 'Em. But we make wagers in head-to-head match ups. We've had a guy wear a diaper to the Super Bowl party, another guy shave his eyebrows off, and 3 of us last year had to do a polar plunge at the super bowl party. There was 16 or so inches of snow on the ground and we had to axe a hole in the pond.
Norman MacFarland: Each week we have a new smokeshow with a picture of an ex or current girlfriend of someone in the league. At the end of the year we have a bracket-style tournament of all the smokeshows to decide a winner. Next week, the smokeshow is going to include someone's mom.
Matt Franklin: Each week the winning team can steal a player from whom they beat in exchange for someone they started at the same position. Slow starts makes it rough.
And finally, I'll give a shout-out to one of my own leagues. This year, I got invited into a league with a bunch of the guys who work on the Howard Stern show and, as you might imagine, it is both very funny and not-safe-for-work for me to print much of it. They have one rule I really like: It's a 10-team league, and two sets of wins are awarded every week. The five teams that win their head-to-head matchup get a win, and the top five highest-scoring teams also get a win. Helps mitigate those weeks when you have the third-highest score but were playing one of the two highest-scoring teams. Or, conversely, penalizes those who squeak by with a less-than-stellar week. I lost Jamaal Charles in that league and am still top four, partially thanks to this rule.
I'm sure there are other great league ideas; let me hear them on Facebook, Twitter and here in the comments on this piece. In the meantime, let's get to this week's Love/Hate. As you might have noticed, I did not do rankings Wednesday and missed the podcast. Some personal life stuff came up, but all is good now and I expect to have ranks up Friday. But because I didn't have my own ranks to go off of for this column, this is still based on where my fellow rankers ranked these guys. As always, this is not a pure start/sit but rather is about guys I like more or less than my fellow rankers do for this week. Let's get to it.
Week 7 Players I Love
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: Psst. Come close. I don't want him to hear. (Looks around). OK, so, don't tell anyone, but when Cutler actually has time to throw, he's not a terrible quarterback. I liked the protection adjustments Chicago made last week against the Vikings, and now the Bears get the Buccaneers. Only eight teams have fewer sacks than the Bucs. Dump-off passes to Matt Forte that he runs for 12 yards each? They count, and they add up, don't you know.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Is it daylight saving time, is it not daylight saving time; I can never figure out what time it is in Arizona, except now. You know what time it is? Time to start Big Ben! It's also time for hacky segues. What do want from me? I'm on three hours of sleep. Anyway, the Cardinals give up the ninth most fantasy points per game, and that includes games against Donovan McNabb and Tarvaris Jackson. Against, shall we say, more accomplished quarterbacks, they give up an average of 21 fantasy points a game, which is a lot, even in Arizona.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans: Just like reduced-fat Wheat Thins and the new "90210" TV show, Hasselbeck is better than you think at first blush. More fantasy points this year than Tony Romo or Philip Rivers, to name a few, and he's at home and coming off a bye, which -- for quarterbacks not named Rex -- I tend to like. Extra week to prepare, all that. But more importantly, Pierre, can I get an ESPN Next Level sound effect? (Waits, hears it). Great, thank you. When Hasselbeck faces five or more rushers, he has a completion percentage of 67.2 percent and is top five in the NFL in that category along with yards per attempt, 30-yard passes and Total QBR. Meanwhile, the Texans send five or more rushers on 56.5 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL. Among those five rushers? Not Mario Williams.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: Remember when people used to be scared of the Jets' run defense? Me neither. Another ESPN Next Level stat for you: Mathews is top six in the NFL in yards per rush, yards after contact per rush and 20-yard rushes when running up the middle. The Jets are allowing 4.2 yards per carry up the middle.
Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins: You might feel gun shy. I don't blame you. You might hate Mike Shanahan. You would not be alone. You might say "I've played with that fire, Berry, and have the burnt fingers to prove it," and I would say "I am sure you do." So, as I said last week on Fantasy Football Now and on Twitter, you play with a Redskins running back, you play with fire. But with this being on the road, John Beck's first start, etc., I think the Redskins will run the ball more than normal and Torain will get the bulk of that work. The Panthers allow the most fantasy points to opposing running backs and have allowed them to score eight times in the past three weeks.
Earnest Graham, RB, Buccaneers: As a flex option this week, you could do a lot worse. I am assuming LeGarrette Blount is not playing in this game, of course. Graham ran well last week (109 total yards), and, against the Bears and that Cover 2, I think you'll see a lot of dump-off passes and checkdowns. Graham is fifth in the NFL among running backs in terms of receptions. Chicago gives up a surprising 5.4 yards per carry.
Maurice Morris, RB, Lions: Ugh. I know. I feel like dirty Randy just writing it. But assuming Jahvid Best does not play, I expect Morris to get the majority of playing time and, in a bye week with a lot of good running backs out, you could do worse and probably already are. Detroit can't run the ball, but the Lions do involve their running back in the pass attack (Best already has 27 receptions on 40 targets this year) and only three teams have allowed more receiving yards to opposing running backs than the Atlanta Falcons.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: He has scored a touchdown in back-to-back games and in three of his past four. No team in the NFL has allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Indianapolis Colts. Just because it's obvious doesn't make it any less true. He won't get a ton of touches, limiting his upside, but Ingram is a good flex play this week.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets: Think they get him a touchdown against his former team? Me, too. If you're down in the low 30s of our rankings looking for a running back, here's one with as good a shot at a score as anyone.
Eric Decker (right now) and Demaryius Thomas (in the long run), WRs, Broncos: At some point, Tebow is going to have to throw it. And these are the guys who are gonna catch it. Decker needs no introduction, as he leads the Broncos in targets, receptions and receiving touchdowns despite Brandon Lloyd's having been there the first six weeks (LLoyd did miss one game). Now that Lloyd has left, I expect fantasy goodness to ooze from Decker as Tebow will throw more than folks think. And, if you feel like speculating a bit, grab Thomas off the waiver wire. He is a physical beast with all the skills who just can't stay healthy. I would not start Thomas this week until we see him on the field, but, if you have room, I would stash him. He has the tools and opportunity to be a stud this year.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Rams: "I love you. … No, I love you more. … No, I love you more. … I love you times infinity. … I love you times infinity plus two! … Awww. … You say good night first. … No, silly billy, you say good night first. … No, you first. … No, you go. … OK, we'll hang up at the same time. … OK. … 1, 2, 3, hang up! … You didn't hang up! … Because I knew you wouldn't hang up! … Oh, silly billy, I missed you. … No, I missed you more." …
And that, kids, is an excerpt from the official transcript of one side of the conversation during the first phone call between Brandon Lloyd and Josh McDaniels after Lloyd had been traded to the Rams. Whose side was it? Does it matter? I don't care who is throwing the ball; it's coming Lloyd's way this week.
Mike Williams, TB, Buccaneers: Thirteen targets last week -- he can't be this bad. Can he? No. I've decided. He can't be. The fact that they are not throwing to him deep actually helps in this game as I feel he'll get a bunch of stuff underneath. The Bears have struggled with no-huddle offenses this year, and I expect Tampa to use that some, which means Freeman will be looking for the familiar. Mike Williams South has been brutal this year. I get it. But as a flex play/No. 3 wide receiver from outside the top 20 this week, I think he could be OK.
Greg Little, WR, Browns: Becoming more involved in the passing offense, and (spoiler alert!) the Browns will struggle to run the ball in this game. They'll need to throw, and, when they do, Little (20 targets the past two games) will be the beneficiary.
Fred Davis, TE, Redskins: Leads the Redskins in receiving yards, is second in receptions and his 15.6 yards per catch not only leads Washington but is second in the NFL among tight ends with at least 20 attempts. He'll probably need to block more with the injuries to Washington's offensive line, but I also see Beck not finding anyone open, Davis releasing and catching a lot of checkdowns. With Chris Cooley banged up, Davis is clearly the guy but has a boring name. We need to jazz this up. How about Funky Fred Davis? Yes? Maybe? We'll work on it.
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets: He definitely has disappointed recently, but he was wide open in the end zone Monday night and Sanchez just completely missed seeing him. Given that the Chargers allow the third fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and are tied for the eighth most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, I think it's fairly obvious where the Jets will need to attack San Diego. Keller is second on the Jets in red zone targets, and the Chargers are actually tied for the 11th most red zone passing touchdowns allowed despite already having had their bye and having faced teams such as Miami, Minnesota, Kansas City and Denver. I'm keeping the faith with Keller one more week.
Dallas Cowboys D/ST: Available in 45 percent of leagues, Dallas has double-digit fantasy points in three of the past four, including this past week against the Patriots. Another spoiler alert: The Rams, with A.J. Feeley potentially at quarterback, are not the Patriots.
Washington Redskins D/ST: If you are in a deeper league and need a bye-week defense from outside the top 10, the Panthers have 10 turnovers this year and Washington is, believe it or not, tied for ninth in D/ST scoring with the Eagles and Giants, all just ahead of the Cowboys for an all-NFC East block.
Week 7 Players I Hate:
Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: He's been retired for almost a year; he's been in the offense for three days; the Raiders have a higher percentage of running plays than any other team in the NFL. … He's a big name and it's a big news story, but don't let that fool you into starting him this week. Way too risky for me to have as a top-20 play this week, which is where he's currently ranked.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: The Lions, at home, allow an average of just five fantasy points a game to opposing quarterbacks and allow the fourth fewest fantasy points to them overall. Probably no Julio Jones in this game, and, according to the New York Life Protection Index, the Falcons have allowed a combined 61 quarterback sacks, hurries and knockdowns. That's a lot. Especially considering they are about to face an angry Lions front line. One more on Ryan, as we go ESPN Next Level: Ryan has thrown five of his picks and been sacked 13 times when facing four or fewer rushers. No team has pass-rushed four or fewer this year more than the Lions, who do it on 83.3 percent of all opponent drop-backs.
Curtis Painter, QB, Colts: Said it last week, will say it again this week: When faced with pressure, Painter is not a good quarterback. Saints blitz on 71 percent of opponent pass plays. Not even if you're desperate.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: The Cowboys have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL; they allow the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs; and Jackson has not had more than 11 points in any game this year. Even in a bye week, I have a tough time making him top 12, where he is currently ranked. More of a midtier No. 2 guy this week.
Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns: I'm assuming Peyton Hillis won't play. But wanna win a bar bet? Ask someone which run defense allows just 3.1 yards per rush, lowest in the NFL. The answer is the Seattle Seahawks. I have Hardesty outside my top 20 and as a low-end flex play at best. Drink up.
Shonn Greene, RB, Jets: To own Shonn Greene is to hate him. You already know I think that, if there is a rushing touchdown to be had here, it goes to Tomlinson, plus, Greene had 38 of his 74 yards rushing in the fourth quarter last week against a Miami team that was essentially out of it. I don't expect a run-out-the-clock fourth quarter against the Chargers this week.
James Starks, RB, Packers: Single-digit fantasy points in four straight including one negative point game. The Vikings aren't a good football team, but they can stop the run. And just because the Packers are up big doesn't mean they'll stop throwing. Ask the Rams.
Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, WRs, Saints: It's obviously a good matchup, and one of these guys could easily have a good game here. But Brees spreads it around so much and you know Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston will get theirs in the passing game, leaving not a ton for the rest of the receivers.
Plaxico Burress, WR, Jets: Seriously. Welcome to Dumpsville.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers: Look, if you have him, you gotta play him. I can't imagine you have better options. But the Vikings have yet to allow a touchdown to an opposing tight end and give up the eighth fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. And, for all of Green Bay's prolific scoring, Finley has six or fewer points in every game this year but one; the crazy three-touchdown game against Chicago. He has that potential any game he plays, of course, given his skills and the offense he plays in, but I'm not feeling it this game.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans: Texans (third fewest points to tight ends) are a bad matchup for Cook, who has yet to become fully integrated into the Titans' offense.
That's all I've got this week. Good luck in your most important league, whatever it is. Here's hoping you don't have to shave anything into yourself come Tuesday.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- did all his own stunts for tonight's episode of "The League." Berry 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. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend