- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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It was a few days after Thanksgiving and my writing partner Eric Abrams and I were, once again, unemployed. We had just finished working as semi-low-level writers on a sitcom called "Union Square." Executive produced by the famed director James Burrows ("Cheers," "Friends," "Will & Grace," etc.) among others, it had been an NBC Thursday night show slotted between "Friends" and "Seinfeld." It couldn't miss.
Except, of course, it did. It was not a good show and I learned many lessons on what not to do while working on it.
Anyway, the show was canceled and we had five months or so to kill before "staffing season," as spring is known, and shows would go about the once-a-year process of hiring new writers.
As we were trying to decide what we wanted to do, our agent called with a simple question.
Agent: You guys know who Paul Hogan is?
Me: Of course.
Agent: You ever seen "Crocodile Dundee"?
Me: Of course.
Agent: Well, Paul Hogan is a client here. And he wants to do a third installment of the franchise. I'm one of the agents in charge of putting together writers to pitch him ideas for the film. If you want, I'll throw you guys on the list.
Me: But we've never written a movie before. We don't even have a spec (a sample script).
Agent: I know. You probably won't get the job. But it'll be good practice. And you never know.
So Eric and I thought about it and were like, What the heck! Let's meet Paul Hogan. It'll be a funny story.
So we rewatched the first two movies. They're charming. They are not laugh-out-loud funny or have large "set pieces" (an elaborate scene, like a car chase through the streets or something very memorable) but they have an easy watchability to them. It's a series of small moments. OK, got it.
The other thing we noticed is that Paul Hogan's character is much funnier reacting. This is an important distinction. Most comedic actors are funnier when they have the punch line or when they are the one forcing the action or doing the funny, outrageous thing. In this case, the comedy comes from this guy from another land (down under!) reacting to things that are normal to us, but obviously not normal to a guy who has lived in the Australian outback. So, easy, right? Film of simple moments, loose plot, need him to react to stuff. Got it.
At this time, "Something About Mary" was the big comedy and R-rated comedies were big. So we're like this isn't built to compete with movies like that. The people who are seeing that movie aren't seeing this. The only shot it has is if it's a family comedy that people who liked the original can take their kids to. Sounds good enough for us.
We're not getting this job, not even sure we want it, so we don't spend a lot of time.
All we knew was that Linda, Hogan's real-life wife, had to also be in it. And it takes place present-day, which is to say, 16 years after the last movie. OK. Gotcha.
So, like a week later, we meet him and make the pitch. "Look," we tell him, "you did New York in the first two movies and you were dating Linda but never married. But you guys have been together all this time, so let's say you have a kid together. He's a little Croc. She gets a job in L.A. and so the family moves to California, but the kid has never been outside of Australia. You get a job at a movie studio as an animal trainer because you can "talk" to animals. Turns out there's some bad guys there, you save the day. At the end, you decide to marry her, so we end with a wedding. Everyone loves a wedding. But most of the time, you're in Hollywood, there's lots of craziness here, you'll wander around and react to stuff. It's 'Crocodile Dundee.' We'll make it funny."
And there was a long pause as he looked at us. And then he said, in that unmistakable accent, "Ah, you guys are the only ones who get me. You're hired."
As the man said there's always a chance.
Apparently, he had met with like 30 writers and everyone else had pitched him crazy stuff like "Crocodile Dundee saves the world from a nuclear explosion," "Crocodile Dundee in Space," or really raunchy humor. We were the only ones who were like "Dude, it's not hard. The movies are what they are. Put him in funny situations and let him react. That's the whole movie."
We took the meeting as a lark and now we had to decide if we actually wanted a gig we never thought we'd get. Our agent pitched us on it: Look, this movie will get made. (It's almost impossible to get a movie, any movie, made in Hollywood. Especially from first-time writers.) You've never written a movie before. They will pay you to write one and if it's good, you can use it as a sample. And guess what they want to pay you?
When we heard the amount, we almost choked. If you're gonna sell out, kids, sell out big.
I didn't like how the movie turned out -- it was never going to be great, given we were starting with a sequel to a 16-year-old movie -- but the original script was much more self-referential and snarky. For example, the movie studio where Croc worked made nothing but "useless sequels that are way too old and no one cares about." Lots of jokes like that, making fun of ourselves, that sort of thing. Frankly, I hated the whole process of it. We ended up getting into a legal battle with Paul, which is whole 'nother story. So overall, I didn't enjoy the experience.
But, I made enough money from it to buy my first house and to start a fantasy sports website as a side project, so I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Croc. If I don't get that gig, who knows how my life turns out?
I was thinking of that story this week, as we enter Week 15, which for ESPN standard leagues is the second week of a two-week first-round playoff. Maybe you had DeMarco Murray starting last week and got to watch him limp off the field. Maybe you were the lucky recipient of a three-point game from Calvin Johnson. Perhaps you noticed the Packers threw up 46 points on the Raiders and were shocked to discover that Jermichael Finley had not one catch. Or you just played against Maurice Jones-Drew and the Lions' defense. One way or the other, you are down and you are down big.
Which is why I speak to you now, my down-but-not-out friends. You never know. Just like the story of Eric and me getting to write a sequel to the (at the time) highest-grossing comedy franchise of all time, despite never having written a movie.
Just because it is unlikely does not mean it can't happen. When Eric and I pitched the script, we assumed we weren't getting it, that we were down big to everyone else who had a script on their résumé, so we didn't care and just let it fly. If you are down big, do the same. Throughout today's column, I have replaced the usual "If you're desperate" picks with "Hail Mary" plays.
These are high-risk, high-reward players who could easily put up small numbers but could also go off. You need to swing for the fences here. Don't be shy. Ask anyone who was down by 45 before Michael Vick took the field on Monday night in Week 10 last season.
You never know.
For the rest of you, if you are still playing this week, chances are you have a pretty good team. So I'm focusing on guys who might be on the bubble for you, one way or the other. In general, in the playoffs, I like to be as safe as possible and as risk-averse as possible (if I am only down or up by a few in a two-week playoff). That means, in general, don't get cute. Go safe and conservative when you can. Use the guys who got you where you are now.
It also means that I urge you to realize this is not a pure start/sit list but rather me telling you about the guys whom I think will do better or worse than they normally do. Please consult my rankings on Friday if you really want to know if I'd start Player X over Player Y. That's what those rankings are for.
Week 15 Players I love
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: Wanna talk about a long shot? The fact that, in Week 15, I've got Matt Ryan in the love list. Never been a big fan of Matt Ryan as fantasy quarterback. Always felt he was a better real-life quarterback, that the Falcons were too run- and ball-control-oriented and that his upside was limited. But, the lord of yards after catch, as Julio Jones is known around TMR HQ, has helped change that, along with Michael Turner's shame spiral into Flexplayville. Since his bye week, Ryan is averaging 298 yards over six games with 14 touchdowns. He gets a home game against a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that has been decimated by injuries.
Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos: He's averaging more than 16 fantasy points a game in the eight games he's been a starter. It's never pretty, but he's consistently been a solid fantasy producer. For all the (deserved) crap I take for Michael Vick, how about some love for the Tebow call? I'm pretty sure I was alone, when, before he started a game this year, I said he'd be a successful fantasy and NFL quarterback. Against a New England Patriots team that allows the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, Tebow is a safe choice this week. Also, if he beats Tom Brady, Twitter will shut down.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: If you're looking outside the top 10 this week, you could do worse than Dalton, who has very little downside (at least nine points in 10 straight, averaging 13 points a game over that time frame) and definitely has some upside against a Rams team that has 10 -- count 'em, 10 -- guys from their secondary on IR.
Hail Mary Plays: Rex Grossman is always a better play in leagues that don't count turnovers, but he's averaging 269 yards over his past four contests, with seven touchdowns in that time. The New York Giants are 29th against the pass. If Matt Moore gets healthy and manages to start, he threw three touchdowns the last time he faced the Buffalo Bills. T.J Yates is fresh off a 300-yard game and gets the Carolina Panthers, who are tied for the ninth most fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. OK, sure, he got pulled due to performance, but Christian Ponder also averages 18 fantasy points a game at home this year as a starter and I'm saying the New Orleans Saints game is not a low scoring one. Finally, I'm not sure if Matt Hasselbeck misses this game or not, but I thought Jake Locker looked kinda good last week. If Locker starts, he wouldn't be the first to put up a lot of points against the Indianapolis Colts.
Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders: I think this is an obvious name, but yesterday I was asked about Bush versus Ahmad Bradshaw, so I guess not. Dude may not have a cool name or a fun habit like shoving Skittles down his mouth during a game, but he's been just as Beast Mode as the original. A score in five of the past six games, he's been as consistent as they come. I don't think Darren McFadden is playing the rest of this year, let alone this week, so, even with the return of Ndamukong Suh, you're starting Bush. Don't get cute.
Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: The St. Louis Rams are giving up 160 yards a game and a touchdown to opposing running backs over their past four games. They are 32nd against the run. They made Beanie Wells look like Jim Brown. They are on a short week. The big play they practice is trying to chase down a guy who is breaking toward the end zone. They are mean to nuns and puppies. I guess what I am trying to say is they aren't very good. Cedric Benson is averaging more than 18 rushing attempts a game. Eighteen shots a game against the Rams? I like my chances.
Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys: OK, so I've mentioned fullback Tony Fiammetta a few times this year. There have been seven games in which Fiammetta has been active this year. In those seven games, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones have had 952 total yards. Think about that. Almost 1,000 total yards in seven games. More importantly, there have been only three games in which Jones has been the lead back and Fiammetta was active. One was the San Francisco 49ers game, when Jones had just 30 total yards. Fine, no one runs on the Niners. Next was the Washington Redskins game in which he had 155 total yards. And third was this past Sunday against the New York Giants, when he had 137 total yards once Murray went down. Now, he gets the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have allowed more than 2,200 total yards and 19 touchdowns to opposing running backs. As they say down on the farm, the light don't get any greener, pal. Whatcha waiting for?
Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins: He had 60 total yards and a score the last time he faced Buffalo, and that was back when the Bills were trying. Here's another long shot for you: Reggie Bush has five touchdowns this year and none of them has been a reception. In fact, those five scores have all come in the past six games. He's averaging 12 fantasy points a game and has racked up three 100-yard rushing performances over his past seven contests, and is definitively better than a pizza. The Bills allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, the fourth-most red zone rushing touchdowns, are tied for the third-most total rushing touchdowns, and give up 4.7 yards per carry. They are -- what is the phrase? -- not so good.
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins: It would be just like Shanahan to pull the rug out on Helu and his owners in the fantasy playoffs, but despite the risk, I like him against the New York Giants. Dude has three straight 100-yard games and is averaging 29 touches a game. It's a no-name offensive line in Washington these days, but Helu is still getting it done and will continue to do so against a Giants team giving up 4.7 yards per carry, 5.33 rushing yards per play on first down (most in the NFL) and 13 rushing touchdowns.
Hail Mary Plays: Ben Tate had better numbers than Arian Foster last week, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry this year and has a great matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Since their bye week, the Tennessee Titans are allowing 158 total yards per game to opposing running backs, making Donald Brown, who is averaging 14 touches a game over his past six and scored the last time he faced Tennessee a deeper league consideration. If you were the Chicago Bears, would you trust Marion Barber? Kahlil Bell had 14 touches for 64 yards last week and looks to be in line for at least that many this week against the Seattle Seahawks, who are much more human away from home. It's a bad matchup with the Minnesota Vikings and we don't know if Mark Ingram is out again, but it's worth noting Chris Ivory had 13 touches (Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles had 12) last week and is available in pretty much every league. Maybe you get a goal-line carry or two. I'm not holding my breath on Kevin Smith playing this week. If he doesn't, Keiland Williams (14 carries for 60 yards last week), not Maurice Morris (5 for 16) was the guy getting the most work. Good matchup with the Oakland Raiders.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: If this were a Harry Potter novel, A.J. Green would be one of those guys who was impervious to any spells. Of course, if this were a Harry Potter novel, I'd be writing it while sitting on an actual pile of cash, not this dumb chair. And you wouldn't be reading it. Because I would be retired, living on an island with only a serving staff and the original cast of "Beverly Hills, 90210," whom I have hired to do live performances of every episode, in order. What? I bet that's cheaper than you think. A lot cheaper. In case anyone wants to get their friendly neighborhood TMR a Hannukah present. Just saying. While you look up the information for Joe E. Tata's agent, I'll remind you that Green seems to produce no matter who the opponent is. His 59 yards last week against a very good Houston Texans defense was his lowest output in a game in which he was active since Week 3. He's the 13th-highest-scoring fantasy wideout this year and now he gets the St. Louis Rams, allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, who are down to starting Ian Ziering and the guy who played Ray Pruitt in the secondary. How am I the only guy to have him top 10?
Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys: Much will be made this week about the fact that last week, per ESPN Stats and Information, Robinson was on the field for just 30 snaps compared to Miles Austin (59) and Dez Bryant (58). And I acknowledge that. I also don't care. Those 30 snaps were enough for 137 yards and a score. He's got eight TDs in the past seven weeks. Plus, as we go Next Level, check this out:
NEXT LEVEL: Laurent Robinson has caught five of Romo's eight touchdowns in three-plus-wide-receiver sets over the past seven games.
Tony Romo Passing with 3-plus WRs on Field, 2011 Season
In fact, since Week 8, Robinson is tied for 11th in red zone targets, only three players have more red zone receptions (Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates and Percy Harvin) and no one has more red zone scores than Robinson's six (Gronk also has six in that time frame). Given his production and the matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I just don't know how you sit him.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: If Big Ben plays, it's a no-brainer. He's been ridiculous and he is rivaling Tim Tebow for number of consecutive weeks I talk about him. But one thing that gives me hope, even if Charlie Batch plays, is his speed and the ability for yards after the catch. As good as the San Francisco 49ers' defense is, it has given up 1,556 yards after the catch this year (per Stats, LLC) which is the 14th most in the NFL. Since Week 7, among wide receivers, only Harvin and Larry Fitzgerald have more yards after the catch than Brown. So I can see a lot of slants and bubble screens from Batch to get Brown in space and let him do the rest.
Hail Mary Plays: One game is a fluke, two is a trend. So there's hope for owners of Demaryius Thomas, who has 11 receptions, 222 yards and three scores in two games and now faces the New England Patriots, who allow the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Santana Moss has 28 targets in the three weeks since returning from injury and the New York Giants allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. In that same game, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are clearly a cut above, but it's worth noting that Mario Manningham had 62 yards and a score last week and could have had another if not for a bad drop. We are all waiting to see who gets the Greg Jennings love in Green Bay now that Jennings is out with an injury, but Donald Driver had been heating up prior to that anyways (at least seven points in three of the past four games) and James Jones certainly has big-play ability. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests Randall Cobb, working out of the slot, could see a big boost. I rank them in the order I listed them, but until we see how it shakes out, it's all high-risk, high-reward. Finally, if Jake Locker gets the start for the Tennessee Titans, Nate Washington should be happy. Eight of his nine targets last week came with Locker in the game, when he went for a total of 130 yards and a score. He scored the last time he faced Indy as well.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons: He's the anti-Jermichael Finley. At least six fantasy points in every game this year but one, and the Jacksonville Jaguars allow the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Jake Ballard, TE, New York Giants: If you're outside the top 10 and looking for a guy, he's top 10 in targets among tight ends, he's had at least 40 yards in three straight games, including a score last week, and the Washington Redskins allow the second most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Plus, when he scores, you can do your best Ricky Bobby and go "Shake and Jake! Shake and Jake!" Anyone? Come on, someone thought that was funny. No? Just me? OK.
Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: Wanna win a bar bet? Ask someone, "Who leads the Eagles in receptions this year?" It's Fantasy Zombie Celek. Hasn't done a ton recently, and frankly, Celek should probably be more of a Hail Mary play. But if you're looking outside the top 10, I sort of like him here. Just a gut call more than anything, but I feel like the New York Jets defend the deep ball so well that Philly will have to do a lot of underneath stuff and that the injury to safety Jim Leonhard hurts a lot more than folks realize.
Hail Mary Plays: Anthony Fasano has at least five fantasy points in four of his past five and scored the last time he faced the Buffalo Bills. Dallas Clark is back and, um, well, he used to be good. He did have 77 yards against the Tennessee Titans earlier this year, Dan Orlovsky targeted him six times last week and the Titans allow the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Cincinnati Bengals D/ST: Why, look at who is playing offensive lineman for the St. Louis Rams. It's Muntz. And Andrea Zuckerman. That's not a shot at Andrea, by the way, as she's known for having excellent zone technique. But rather a comment on the lack of depth on the Rams' offensive line, as they've had to start nine different linemen, tied for the second most of any team this season. In fact, the Rams are one of only two teams that have not had a single offensive lineman start every game in the same position this year. (The Seattle Seahawks are the other.) Defenses facing the Rams have scored at least 14 points for four straight games. I'm saying it's five. The Bengals are available in 30 percent of leagues.
Detroit Lions D/ST: I recently got the following email here at TMR HQ: "Dear Matthew: I notice how you like to call Rex Grossman 'The Human Turnover.' I take extreme issue with this. I have played in only seven games this year but I already rank seventh in interceptions with 13. I'm the only player with 10-plus interceptions and fewer than 10 TD passes. In fact, my 5.9 interception percentage since Week 7 (minimum 100 attempts) is third highest in the NFL. Please reconsider who you give that nickname to. Best, Carson Palmer."
Hail Mary Plays: The Miami Dolphins had 19 fantasy points the last time they faced Buffalo, are averaging 11 points over their past six and the Bills are reeling. The Arizona Cardinals, believe it or not, are playing really tough these days. It's showing up in the fantasy defense, where they have at least seven points in six of the past seven games. A home game against the Cleveland Browns, who might be without Colt McCoy, seems promising. Finally, the Tennessee Titans had 16 points the last time they faced Indy and, well, the Colts haven't improved since then.
Week 15 Players I Hate
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: Averaging just 10 fantasy points a game on the road, he faces an Eagles defense that is actually, shockingly, kinda good lately. They've allowed an average of just 13 points a game to opposing quarterbacks the past four weeks and that includes a 28-point game by Tom Brady. With all due respect, Sanchez ain't Brady. The Eagles racked up nine sacks last week (Philly is second in the NFL in sacks), so expect him to be under pressure, and Shonn Greene has run well lately. On the road in Philly, I expect a conservative game plan and lots of running, limiting Sanchez's upside.
Carson Palmer, QB, Oakland Raiders: See Defense, Lions.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers: You didn't care because he scored, but Gore got only 10 carries last week. Ten. Jim Harbaugh has admitted he doesn't think Gore is 100 percent healthy, and now he's got a bad matchup, as the Pittsburgh Steelers give up the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. Gore hasn't had 100 total yards since Week 9 as teams are starting to slow him down. You're hoping for a touchdown from Gore, but Pittsburgh has the second-best scoring defense in the league. You probably don't have better options, so you have to play him, but man. He's a low-end No. 2 for me.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Insert last week's joke about "insert runner facing 49ers" here.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, New England Patriots: He should sue himself for malpractice! He's in contempt of fantasy court! We need a sidebar to discuss where the end zone is! His corpus has no habeas! See, if someone says there's nothing more annoying than BJGE's lack of fantasy production and inconsistent touches (single-digit fantasy points and carries in five of the past seven games) you just say, "Oh no, I can make a bunch of hacky Law Firm jokes that make no actual legal sense." That'll show him. It's the playoffs. He might go off. He might get five carries. It's not a terrible matchup, but too much risk for me. I'll settle for a continuance and two episodes of any David E. Kelley show in which the law also makes no sense. I think Kathy Bates shoots people in one of them.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills: Only on the "hate" list as a running back, he could be usable as a wide receiver in ESPN leagues. But he has three games as the lead back and only one of them has been good. That was against the Titans, who are Buffalo-esque in their run defense. Now they get a Miami Dolphins team that has a new coach but the same run defense. One that is third against the run (less than 90 yards rushing allowed per game), has given up only five rushing touchdowns all year and held Fred Jackson to just 17 yards rushing (and only 67 total yards, well below what he was doing) the last time they played.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills: Speaking of guys who struggled the last time they faced Miami. He was held under 20 yards in his first game against the Dolphins. I frankly hope I'm really wrong on this one. I desperately need Stevie on an injury-plagued team that's in a semifinal matchup with Steve Brandano. Props if you know who that is. Meanwhile, the Dolphins' secondary has been inconsistent all year, but I do like its corners.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers: He'll have Ike Taylor all over him and will be against the second-best scoring defense in the league. San Fran allows the sixth-most sacks in the league, so it won't want Alex Smith to stay in the pocket a long time, which means quick throws and short routes, further limiting his upside. This is a low-scoring game, making Crabtree a flex play at best.
Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, WR, New York Jets: They need to score to be useful in fantasy and you already know I'm not crazy about Sanchez in this game. The Philadelphia Eagles have improved recently, allowing less than 100 yards in two straight to opposing wideouts (and only one touchdown per game for three of the past four). One of these guys might get in the end zone, but I'm not comfortable risking my playoffs on it.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Again, just too hit-or-miss for me to risk it, especially considering the New York Jets have allowed only three touchdowns of 20-plus yards, second-fewest in the NFL. He's not a volume guy, he's a big-play guy and I just don't like the odds of him getting one against the Jets.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals: See? And you thought I was all on the Bengals this week. Well, if you want to go double or nothing on the bar bet you already won on Celek, ask which team allows the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Believe it or not, it's the St. Louis Rams, who have held Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and Jermichael Finley, among others, below 40 yards receiving this year. They've given up just one touchdown to an opposing tight end (Witten). Gresham has only one game with at least 70 yards this year, so he needs to score to be start-worthy in most leagues. I don't think he gets in the end zone.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers: Prior to last week, he had two fantasy points in four straight games. He's banged up, the Houston Texans allow the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and Cam Newton recently updated his Facebook status to read "In a relationship with Jeremy Shockey."
Houston Texans D/ST: No Wade Phillips calling the plays this week and the Carolina Panthers have allowed only one fantasy defense to score double-digit points against them. Which would you rather bet on: Cam going off or Cam getting shut down? Exactly. They'll be fine -- it's still a very good defense -- but there is potential for damage against Cam and Steve Smith, so I have them outside my top 10.
Denver Broncos D/ST: Yeah, they've been good. They haven't been stop-Tom Brady good. Don't get cute.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is also a Razzie-nominated screenwriter. Thanks, Croc. 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