Commentary

A Fantasy Football story

Updated: December 23, 2011, 11:27 AM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

So a few weeks back, I mentioned that I was doing a book all about fantasy sports. Some advice and strategy, some personal TMR-type stories and a lot of stories all about fantasy sports. The crazy stuff we've all done in leagues, to draft, as a result of a trade, everything under the sun. And I've gotten some great submissions.

The Talented Mr. Roto

A person who played in a league with a dead person, guys who drafted in a male strip club, people making moves from the emergency room, a league that gives two points for kicker tackles, an outrageous bet for a loser of the league that I don't want to reveal here, and on and on. Lots of great stuff. (And if you want to submit something, you can do so at MatthewBerryTMR@gmail.com. Any fantasy sport, not just football, and any story that is funny or interesting as long as it involves fantasy).

I haven't had a chance to go through all the submissions yet -- I'm saving that for after football season -- but one caught my eye, and I didn't want to save it for the book. So, no wacky stories this week. I just want to print Doug Selmont's story and wish you and yours a happy holidays.

What's up, TMR?

When I was 25 years old, in the spring of 2008, I had been dating a girl for a year and was a high-level athlete, focused on training for my first marathon. That all changed in April of that year when I was diagnosed with an incredibly rare, yet dangerous form of appendix cancer called pseudomyxoma peritonei, or PMP for short.

I am in a 10-year-old fantasy football league. I have done it with my college friends, and it's the only time of the year we all get together, regardless of marriage, kids, etc. So, that year in late August, I did my draft and said goodbye to all my friends as I headed one week later from Connecticut to Baltimore for a radical surgery with curative intent for my disease.

The operation was grueling and 14 hours long. I had 30 pounds of tumor removed from my abdomen and lost every non-essential organ I had. This, along with the overall trauma of such an operation, cost me many of my life's goals, including the Hartford marathon I was training for.

In recovery in the hospital, I was not doing well. The first weekend I couldn't set my own lineup, so my girlfriend did it for me. I won that Sunday (no Monday players) and the next day had several tubes and drains removed. It was my first victory coupled with a fantasy victory.

Later that week I got out of the hospital and my friends came down to see me before heading back on Sunday. I won again in fantasy and was released to go home soon thereafter. I don't know if it was fighting spirit, but somehow each victory in fantasy football brought about a victory in life.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Denis PoroyIn Weeks 14-16 of 2008, Philip Rivers averaged just over 280 yards passing and three touchdowns per game.

Now I faced my biggest challenge: six months of chemotherapy. My lack of real-life competition was replaced by a competition that had terrible effects on my body. But I did it. And while recovering from the infusions, I started to read a lot of articles on fantasy sports. Like, every one I could get my hands on. I made some trades, I ended up making the playoffs and during both of those playoff weeks, [Philip] Rivers went off and won both matchups for me.

So, I won a championship, so far since then have won a battle with cancer, and even more than that, that girl that set my lineup? She is now my wife. And we couldn't be happier together. … Maybe the [point] is that when I needed it the most, when I needed to see victory in something minor to motivate myself for victory in something major, it happened.

I may not ever get to run the Hartford marathon. I may not be able to play on a flag football team anymore. But I will always have that fantasy championship. Most people would laugh at this idea that a fantasy sports team can be important. But, considering it's your passion and job, I can only hope you see how it has affected me positively.

Good luck with the book, keep the love/hate coming, and I'll keep reading.

Take care,
Doug

Thanks for sharing that, Doug. And as we approach the holidays and the championship week for many, I hope folks will take encouragement from this story. As Jimmy V famously said, never give up. Whatever your challenge in life, meet it head on, and hold on to whatever you have that makes you stronger. Even if it's fantasy football. Or a fantasy-football-loving girlfriend. Especially a fantasy-football-loving wife.

Time now for Love/Hate. One more time: A "love" doesn't mean automatically start him, and a "hate" doesn't mean you definitely bench him. Please read my rankings as for whom I think you should play between two players. The ranks will be updated on Friday. What follows is a list of players I think will exceed or fall short of their normal production this week.

Week 16 Players I Love

Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos: "Tebow over Eli Manning, TMR? Really?" That was a Twitter question from someone, unfortunately too far removed from when I wrote this for me to find his name. Whoever you are, dude, sorry for not putting your handle in the bright glare of brief Internet noteworthiness, which -- judging by the number of people who beg "RT please?" -- is a large portion of America.

The point, aside from the fact that I never met a run-on sentence I didn't like, is that my Tebow-over-Eli ranking raised some online eyebrows. All I know is this: Tim Tebow has been a starting QB for nine games. In those nine games, he is averaging 17.6 fantasy points a game. In his past nine games, Eli is averaging 16 points a game. It's not exact because Tebow's first game as a starter was in Week 7, when the Giants were on a bye, but if you put their past nine games up against each other (so Eli's Week 6 start versus the Bills counts against Tim's Week 7 start against the Dolphins), Tim outscored Eli in four of the nine weeks, and they tied at 16 in another. But, three of the four "wins" for Eli were Weeks 12-14, when Ahmad Bradshaw did next to nothing. The Giants want to run more and now, with Bradshaw back, they can.

Last week worried me about Eli; Tebow has never had a single-digit, team-killing scoring day the way Eli did in putting up four points this past Sunday. And things don't get easier with the Jets for Eli (fifth-fewest points allowed to opposing QBs). Meanwhile, Tebow can run. This we know. The Bills allow 4.8 yards per carry, and only two teams allow more rushing touchdowns than Buffalo. Also, only two teams in the NFL have given up more touchdown passes than Buffalo. Against subpar pass defenses Tebow has been solid this year. The Bills also have the fewest sacks in the NFL this year, which means Tebow should have a nice amount of time to decide whether he wants to run or throw.

[+] EnlargeKate Upton
AP Photo/Peter KramerYes, yes, Mark Sanchez, we get it. Tom Brady has a supermodel wife, so now you have to have one too. We can all get behind that. Just be sure to stop before you get to the goofy haircut.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: How do we know Sanchez will score at home, ignoring the rumors that he's dating Kate Upton? Because he has in every home game so far this year. He has at least two touchdowns in every home game this year and is averaging almost 19 points a game at home this year, and I love the matchup with the Giants. Only the Patriots have allowed more pass completions of 20-plus yards, and I expect the Jets to use play-action effectively to spring Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress deep on a few shots. If you need a guy outside the top 10, I like Sanchez. Except for the whole Kate Upton thing, if it turns out to be true. That I hate him for.

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: Playing indoors? Check. Playing against a high-flying offense? Check. Two first names? Yep, still a crowd-pleaser. Threw for 350 yards against opponent earlier this year? You betcha. Do I need Michael Turner to go off to beat Jon Hein in the Howard Stern league championship this week, which means it's guaranteed that Ryan will vulture any goal-line touchdowns? Definitely.

If you're desperate: I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that you can throw on the Patriots, and Matt Moore has nine scores in his past five games. We've seen Rex Grossman disappoint in good matchups before (cough, last week, cough), but it might not get any easier than at home to Minnesota. The sometimes sexy one is averaging better than 250 passing yards a game over his past five. If you're truly digging deep, Kyle Orton looked competent last week and he threw for more than 300 yards the last time he faced Oakland (in the season opener as a member of the Broncos).

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: Jon Hein is starting him against me. Hope I'm jinxing him by putting him here, but I don't think it's gonna work. Stud.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers: I'm the highest on him among our rankers and only two of us have him as a top-10 play this week, but fine, I'll say it. I thought Mendy actually looked … kinda good against San Francisco. (Ducks.) Look, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry (the 49ers allow just 3.3 yards per carry on the year), and, with Big Ben banged up (say that five times fast) or, worse, Charlie Batch back there, the Steelers will force the run even more against the Rams and their 32nd-ranked run defense.

Shonn Greene, RB, Jets: Averaging more than 96 yards rushing a game this month, Greene is the answer to the question: What running back will continue to do well this month only to make us all overrate him in fantasy drafts next year, when he once again will be terrible for the first half of the season and will be good only once you've given up on him? The Giants allow 4.5 yards per carry. As our Scouts Inc. game preview notes, expect Brian Schottenheimer to pound the rock between the tackles with Greene and stretch the defense on the edges with motion sweeps and reverses.

Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos: Did you read my Tebow essay? Too long? Just skipped it because you're sick of Tebow? I get it. Suffice it to say I quoted a lot of stats to show you Buffalo is bad at run defense. Assuming McGahee is healthy, you're starting him.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Bell
AP Photo/Jack DempseyForward-thinking fantasy owners are already penciling in Khalil Bell as a late-round pick for the opportunity to name their team "More Khalil Bell!"

If you're desperate: I mentioned Khalil Bell in this space last week, and he had 20 touches with more than 100 total yards and a touchdown in a game when the Bears were down big for most of it. I certainly could see the same scenario this week against the Packers. It might seem counterintuitive to start Peyton Hillis against the Ravens, but they really aren't the Ravens these days. You can run on them. Ryan Mathews, Cedric Benson and Marshawn Lynch were all productive against them, and Hillis had more than 90 total yards against them a few weeks ago, so I'm not automatically taking him out unless I have options that are clearly better. Roy Helu, Felix Jones and Chris Johnson aren't 100 percent healthy as of this writing. If they can't go, Evan Royster, Sammy Morris and Jamie Harper would be in line for a lot more work.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins: If the Patriots upgrade their secondary in the offseason to include healthy guys and players who are not converted wide receivers, I'm going to be really bummed. I do so enjoy them like this.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: A 9-6 field goal battle this will not be.

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants: I'm the only one among the ESPN rankers to have Cruz over Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is the better player, but I think he'll be on Revis Island, which means more looks and at least one big play for Cruz. By the way, did you see this ESPNNY.com article in which Nicks said Revis was "a decent corner"? Yeah, I think Revis did, too.

Santana Moss, WR, Redskins: Since he returned from injury four weeks ago, he has led the team in targets, has scored in back-to-back games, has six red zone targets in the past three weeks and gets the Vikings' 30th-ranked pass defense.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos: In the month of December (the past three weeks), only Roddy White and Hakeem Nicks have more targets, only six players have more receptions, and no player has more receiving yards. He's scored three times in the past three games, and you know I love both the matchup and his quarterback.

If you're desperate: I'm generally not a Santonio Holmes fan, but he has scored in four straight weeks and this is as good a matchup as you get. I mentioned Santana Moss, but his teammate Jabar Gaffney has been almost as good, with more yards and receptions than Moss over the past four games on fewer targets -- with fewer touchdowns, though. Either way, both guys should get a lot of work against the Vikes. With Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz getting a lot of attention, I could see a nice little game for Mario Manningham, who has at least 50 yards in the two games since he came back. Malcom Floyd has at least 90 yards and a touchdown in two of the past three, and the Chargers-Lions game has shootout written all over it. I don't know that we gained any clarity in the "Packers wideouts not named Jordy sweepstakes," but Cobb did have more than 50 yards this past week and I could see him work out of the slot to have some success in the middle of the field against the Bears' Cover 2.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers: Three touchdowns the last time he faced Chicago, no Greg Jennings and the Bears allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Just because it's obvious doesn't make it any less true.

Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: Listed in my love section last week, I wish I had been wrong about him. Why'd he have to be one of the guys I got right? Sigh. Played against him in two leagues, where he went bonkers (5 catches for 156 yards and a TD). Good times. Now he gets Dallas (7 for 94 and a TD the last time they played), a team that is top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. I expect the Cowboys to bring a lot of pressure with DeMarcus Ware & Co., leading to a bunch of quick dumpoffs to Celek for another good day.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireTeams have learned, painfully, that Rob Gronkowski is too much for any one defender to cover.

Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots: I hope Miami learned from Denver. You must double-cover Gronkowski! Not that it helps you win, but, as a Hernandez owner in three leagues, I loved it. You're starting Gronk, of course, but both of these guys were very productive the last time they faced Miami (Hernandez 7 for 103 and a TD) and, with Deion Branch banged up (we'll see whether he plays this week), Hernandez should have another solid game in a very nice matchup.

If you're desperate: With A.J. Green not 100 percent, I could see more work for Jermaine Gresham, whom I like a lot from a skills standpoint. Jared Cook had more than 100 total yards and a score this past week and now gets the Jaguars, who are top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. Anthony Fasano has at least five fantasy points in six of his past seven games, had more than 80 yards the last time he faced New England, scored this past week and has 18 targets the past three weeks.

Green Bay Packers D/ST: They're at home; they're angry; and whichever guy the Bears play at quarterback this week won't be very good.

Denver Broncos D/ST: Ring. Ring. Ring. Hey, could you answer that? It's the Bills, phoning in the season.

If you're desperate: Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? Making the Chiefs respectable again, that's "where." (Apologies to English majors for & well, they know). The team has been playing good defense all year long, averaging 15 fantasy points in its past two home games. Despite the solid performance this past week by Carson Palmer, I'm not convinced he doesn't have a few picks in him. Happiness is any defense playing the Buccaneers, who have allowed an average of 16.5 fantasy points to opposing defenses the past four weeks. This week, it's the Panthers' turn. Given all the issues on the Packers' offensive line, I could see the Bears' defense doing well from a fantasy perspective if you need a defense outside the top 10.

Week 16 Players I Hate

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Bonus points for guttiness, but I thought he looked terrible Monday night. Now he's traveling back home on a short week (Pittsburgh played Monday night in SF and will be at home Saturday), so, despite the cushy matchup with the Rams, I'm not expecting a huge game -- if he suits up at all.

Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: The Chiefs made Big Ben look very human; they held Aaron Rodgers to well below his season average; and only the rushing saved Tim Tebow's fantasy day. Since Week 7 (Carson's first game back), Palmer is tied for the most interceptions in the NFL. That's skewed by the three he threw in his first game against KC, a game he didn't expect to play in, but the fact remains: Careful, he's not. As we go ESPN Next Level, Palmer is 3-for-17 (17.6 percent) on throws more than 20 yards downfield in his past five starts, failing to complete such a pass in three of the five games. A healthy Denarius Moore should help those numbers, but will it be enough in a championship week? I'm not convinced.

Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Just four points the last time he faced Cleveland, and I have a personal animosity because he was so horrific this past week as I watched my Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin do nothing while Torrey Smith had a huge day. And yes, I was playing against Smith in the same game in which I had Rice and Boldin. Very bitter. Been a long time since I was Wacko for Flacco. Gonna be even longer. Meanwhile, where's the "Fire Cam Cameron" petition? I'll sign that.

Darren Sproles, RB, Saints: Bit of a gut call here, and chances are you don't have better options. But he had zero fantasy points the last time he faced the Falcons, and I expect Atlanta to rush only four and drop seven back to put more guys in coverage and make sure they take care of the flareouts to guys such as Sproles. He's single-digit fantasy points unless he scores, and, although that's always a possibility for anyone on the Saints' offense, I would hate to need to count on a touchdown from Sproles. Again, just six touches for 3 yards the last time he played them, and the Falcons have given up just one receiving touchdown to an opposing running back this year. So if it's going to be a rushing touchdown allowed, I expect that to be Chris Ivory or Pierre Thomas, making Sproles a flex play this week, lower than normal.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: Not convinced he's healthy, and I could see Mike Shanahan giving 25 carries to Evan Royster just because he's Shanahan and it makes no sense. Plus, the Vikings are top-10 in run defense, allowing just two touchdowns to opposing running backs in their past six road games.

Marion Barber, RB, Bears: The Bears have a fever. And the only puh-scription is more Khalil Bell.

Chris Ivory, RB, Saints: Same thing as Sproles. I believe in Atlanta's run defense. And in the idea that Drew Brees is not going to be handing off a lot.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
AP Photo/Derek GeeYou may not be able to control what Bill Belichick will do, but you can control whether or not you make it your problem.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots: Maybe he scores. (He did last time he faced the Dolphins). Maybe he doesn't. But he hasn't had more than 12 touches in three games and, in a playoff week (and championship week at that), I'm just not trusting my team to the whims of Mr. Belichick.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: I know. The Raiders have been lit up in the secondary recently. And Kyle Orton has to give you some sort of hope. But Bowe hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 5 and here's the target distribution this past week in Orton's first game as quarterback: Steve Breaston 6, Dwayne Bowe 5, Jon Baldwin 4, Terrance Copper 3. Orton is spreading the ball around. Good for Kansas City, bad for Dwayne Bowe, whom I have as a flex play this week, nothing more.

Steve Johnson, WR, Bills: Not convinced he'll play, but, if he does, he'll be less than 100 percent. Seems as though Buffalo's offense is starting to run through C.J. Spiller the way it used to with Fred Jackson (Spiller led the team in pass targets this past week, not to mention touches), so, along with fewer looks, Johnson also most likely is facing Champ Bailey. Broncos have allowed just three touchdowns to opposing wide receivers the past six games, and two of them were to Percy Harvin in that crazy Vikings game. I think Johnson will be OK -- a middle-of-the-road flex play -- but there's more downside than upside here.

Kellen Winslow, TE, Buccaneers: Six straight weeks without a touchdown, and he has topped 60 yards only once since Week 1. Had just four catches for 41 yards the last time these two teams faced off, and Josh Freeman is playing all sorts of awful right now. Incidentally, as Dave Barry would interject, that's a good name for a band: All Sorts Of Awful. Maybe he'll score, but I wouldn't want to be starting him hoping for that.

Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: Same thing as Winslow. He needs to score to be useful in fantasy. In every game he has played when he has not scored, only once (Week 3 at Cincy) did he have more than 50 yards receiving. So, will he score? I say it's not likely. He has two targets all year -- just two -- inside an opponent's 10-yard line. Only the Rams and Chiefs are worse at red zone touchdown efficiency. As David Akers owners know, this is a team that kicks a lot of field goals.

New York Giants D/ST: Single digits in seven straight games and five or fewer points in four straight. You know I'm high on Sanchez already, and this is a defense too banged up to do much damage.

Dallas Cowboys D/ST: Too little, too late, but, the way the Eagles are playing, I'm not starting a defense against them.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is getting ready to celebrate his very first Christmakah. 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

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"