Love, Hate and a torn sleeve
In 1980, Neil Diamond starred in a movie called "The Jazz Singer." Sir Laurence Olivier, in what can only be described as his most regrettable role, plays Neil's father, a deeply religious cantor (someone who leads a Jewish congregation in prayer and song, among other things).
Neil is married to his childhood sweetheart, is a cantor himself and, as is often the way with young cantors in movies, dreams of becoming a pop star. He moves out to California to pursue the career, where, as often happens in movies in which young Jewish married men move out to California, he meets and falls in love with a non-Jewish woman.
My parents played Neil Diamond records all the time growing up, so as a result, I am a huge Neil fan. Huge. There is something timeless about Neil and I've seen him in concert many times. I've also seen the tribute group Super Diamond, featuring the Surreal Neil, many times. Highly recommended.
Anyway, as a result of my fandom, I have a special fondness for "The Jazz Singer." It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination but it is a highly entertaining one. There are scenes which defy description, including ones in which Neil dons blackface to perform with an African-American singing group and another in which Molly (the non-Jewish love interest) makes him a ham sandwich ... which awkwardly leads to them making love. I've seen the movie several times, and even I can't believe what I just wrote.
But one of my favorite scenes is the one in which Neil tells papa Laurence that he is getting a divorce and shacking up with Molly, the ham sandwich-making girl. Laurence then tears his clothing, which, in Jewish tradition, signifies that a person is dead. In this case, Laurence ham fists his way to saying, in essence, that his son is dead to him.
With just one week left in the regular season, it's natural that we look back on the year. So inspired once again by The Jewish Elvis, I offer up the 2011 All "Dead To Me" team.
I asked my friends on Facebook which player was on their "Never draft again" list in the wake of this season. Who were they tearing their virtual clothing for, who was the one player whom, no matter what the round next year, was "dead to them."
More than 2,200 votes later, we have some winners.
The All Dead To Me Team
Quarterback: Michael Vick. Sigh. I get it. Hey, I wrote a whole column about his disappointing year, but I bet next year, when he goes in the late third/early fourth round, he ends up winning a bunch of people their league. Will he go off a year after I'm all-in on him? Money in the bank.
Running back 1: Chris Johnson. CJ2YPC, as some have joked, had just four games of 100 yards rushing or more, scored only four touchdowns all year and looked like someone who should not have had an average draft position of No. 2 overall. Hard to remember a higher draft pick having a more disappointing year without injury. On the plus side, if you regret investing your first-round pick in him, think how the Titans feel.
Running back 2: LeGarrette Blount. Arghhh! Two carries against the Panthers? Two?? I'm normally a "patience with coaches not named Shanahan or Turner" kind of guy, but Raheem Morris has no support in this corner of the Internet. Despite being "the guy," Blount had more than 15 carries only five times all year and didn't always help himself with fumbles.
Honorable mentions: Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, DeAngelo Williams, Felix Jones, Shonn Greene and many votes for Jahvid Best, though Cory Graham put it best on my Facebook page: "I've been accused of having a man-crush on Best since he was in college, and have drafted him in every league possible, waiting on the breakout. I think I could pen a successful Lifetime Movie script (on) this abusive relationship."
Wide receiver 1: Andre Johnson. The question isn't the talent, it's the health. It's why he was not my No. 1 receiver coming into the year, though he was the first overall wide receiver drafted on average. It's not just the missed games, it's the teasing. This is the week he's coming back. No, this is the week. Ooops, just one more week. This time we mean it!
Wide receiver 2: DeSean Jackson. While arguing for a new deal with a lot more money, he missed a team meeting and was suspended for a game. That was when he lost me. You?
Honorable mention: D Jax received as many votes as Vincent Jackson, but I went with D Jax because I owned him on one team and knew better than to go anywhere near perennial fantasy whack-a-mole V Jax. Miles Austin, Santonio Holmes, Reggie Wayne and Mario Manningham all got votes, as did Mike Williams of Tampa Bay, whom I thought would be the runaway winner.
Flex: Peyton Hillis. The third most votes of any running back and more than any wide receiver, the Madden Curse lives on. Strep throat, Peyton? Really? You're a football player. Strep throat is what you're going with? Seriously? Seriously?
Tight end: Jermichael Finley. Never met a pass he couldn't drop. If only he had a great quarterback throwing to him in a record-setting year. Remember in Week 14, when the Packers put up 46 points on Oakland? Forty-six. And Finley had zero catches. And just one target. The same number as backup tight end D.J. Williams.
Coach: Despite my asking for one player, many votes came in for "Any player coached by Mike Shanahan." Speaking as a lifelong Redskins fan, I can tell you the good news is that we have very few draftable players going into next season anyways, so you should be safe there.
Print out this list, bookmark it, what have you. But when it comes time to do your drafts and auctions in 2012, pull it out and remember these guys. You've been warned. They will break your heart.
We come now to the final Love/Hate of the season. If you're still playing this week, congrats. And remember that Week 17 is weird. Last year, the highest-scoring QB was a rookie making just his third start ... Tim Tebow. Brian Westbrook, Rashad Jennings and Joe McKnight were top-10 running backs. Four of the top 10 scorers that week were defenses (Jets, Cowboys, Raiders, 49ers). So beware. We are lucky because this year there are more teams with something to play for than in recent memory, but still. It's gonna be a bit nutty.
So keep that in mind as we, one last time, remind you to use this list as it's intended: Players I expect more or less from than their typical production. For "should I start this guy or that guy?" questions, use my weekly rankings that are updated on Friday. And finally, thanks for reading me all year. If you didn't read, well, not much would change frankly, but you do make it more fun.
Week 17 Players I Love:
Drew Brees, QB, Saints: I'm the highest on him of our rankers and I can only assume some folks think he may sit at least some of this game. I'm not one of them. The Saints have a chance at getting the No. 2 seed with a win, Tom Brady could catch Brees for the passing record if Brees were to sit (Brady's only 190 yards behind and threw for 387 against the Bills in Week 3), and most importantly, Sean Payton has insisted it's business as usual this week. I believe him. That simple. Just pretend I listed a bunch of stats that show you what you already know. Brees is a stud and against Cam Newton, this game should be another shootout.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills: You don't have to have gone to Harvard to know that passing on the Patriots is easy. Or to recognize a lazy joke when you see one. Whatever. It's Week 17. I got playoffs to think about. You really think I'm gonna risk an injury to my comedy hammy on this column? Exactly. The 369 yards Fitz threw for against the Pats the first time they played this year was the second-highest total of his career. Only Tyler Palko, in his NFL debut, failed to score double digits against the Patriots, who allow the second most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Reports are that they want him to play 20-25 snaps, which equates to about a half. I'm a little more optimistic for a few reasons. They have a chance to clinch home field throughout the playoffs. The Browns, at home for their finale, will play them tough. Ben practiced fully on Wednesday and he's impossible to bring out once he's in there. He also had 280 yards and two scores the last time he faced the Browns. When you look at some of the other options beyond the top 10 (I have Ben at 10 right now), they all have question marks. So I'll take my chances with the toughest quarterback in the NFL.
If you're desperate: Alex Smith is still out there in more than 60 percent of leagues, the 49ers need to win to clinch a bye and he had 274 yards and two scores the last time he faced the Rams. Matt Hasselbeck has attempted 80 passes the past two weeks and gets a Texans team with nothing to play for. With Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford expected to play very little in a game that is meaningless to both teams (the Lions are locked into either the fifth or sixth seed), Matt Flynn and Shaun Hill get to play in fantasy-friendly offenses against less-than-motivated defenses.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: I'm the only one who has him as a top-5 play this week. It's a game the Niners need to win, Gore has scored in three straight games, going against the worst run defense in the league, one that has given up five scores to opposing running backs in just the past two weeks. ... What am I missing? He had 24 touches last week and reports are that he suffered no health setbacks. It's them, right? It's not me?
Khalil Bell, RB, Bears: I gotta have more Khalil Bell! I used that joke last week, it worked, as did Bell as a "love," so I'm back again on both. A good fantasy day (27 touches for 159 yards) that could have been a great day had he converted either of his goal-line carries (or, dare to dream, both -- would have won me the two league championships where I was facing Brees), I thought he looked like a decisive, powerful runner who was equally adept at running between the tackles and catching the ball in space. Josh McCown was solid enough last week that the Vikings have to be at least somewhat honest on defense, and he was bad enough that I expect a decent number of checkdowns. The Vikes got run all over last week by the likes of Evan Royster. Bell's a very solid No. 2 this week.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings: Speaking of that Bears-Vikings matchup, this is a game that says "You want to know why the NFL cares so much about fantasy? Because it's the only way to sell Chicago-Minnesota in Week 17." Double-digit fantasy points in five straight games, Gerhart has four scores in five games and averages 23 touches a game in the three games he's started with Peterson hurt. Not a great matchup, but not an impossible one, either, and given the guaranteed workload, I like him as a No. 2 this week, as well.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: I know, he made the "never again" list as an honorable mention, but that's for next year. As long as you have him this year, you might as well play him. Look, I get it. Cam and The Daily Sho, it can be frustrating. But honestly, Williams has been a very solid-but-sneaky fantasy performer, with six scores in his past five games and double-digit fantasy points in five of his past six, only a stinker (against Tampa Bay of all teams) has held him back. In his past four games against New Orleans, Williams has 528 yards (132 per) and four scores, including a 115-and-a-TD game earlier this year. Like him as a flex this week. And, if I'm being honest, he's not on my "never again" list.
If you're desperate: With nothing to play for in Houston, I could see Ben Tate and Derrick Ward getting a lot of work against a bad Titans run defense. Roy Helu was limited in practice on Wednesday, just like last week, so if Evan Royster gets the start, he could be a flex option. I don't expect Mark Ingram to play, so another week of Chris Ivory is in the works, and if New Orleans does rest some starters, Ivory will be getting even more work. I don't believe the Falcons will play everyone all game, so more work for Jason Snelling against the worst run defense in, potentially, history, makes a nice gamble.
Steve Johnson, WR, Bills: At least 80 yards or a score in five straight, no team gives up more fantasy points to opposing wide receivers than the New England Patriots. Ah, the Patriots. A defense for wide receivers, by wide receivers.
C.J. Spiller, RB/WR, Bills: Since he qualifies at wide receiver in ESPN leagues, he's a must-start there. More than 300 yards and three scores in just his past two games, he's been nothing short of fantastic. A low-scoring game, the Bills at Patriots won't be.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: A score in two of the past three against the Bears and six touchdowns in his past six games, Harvin has excelled when Peterson has been out. In the three games AP missed this year, Harvin had 40 touches (including at least 8 receptions) for 390 total yards and four touchdowns.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: You already know I think Ben plays a lot and plays well. Brown has been his favorite target this year (he leads Pittsburgh in targets) and the last time the Steelers and Browns faced off, Brown had 151 yards and a score. Joe Haden actually spent time on both Brown and Wallace in their last meeting (showing you the respect they have for Brown) but Brown still managed to have a huge day. I have him as a low-end No. 2 or high flex play this week.
Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers: Something to play for, great matchup, previous success (4 for 96 and a score in Week 13 versus the Rams) just because it's obvious doesn't mean I should use the joke again.
If you're desperate: Anquan Boldin, aka "Fantasy Voldemort" won't play, meaning there's more love for Torrey Smith going against a Bengals team that has allowed nine touchdown passes of 20-plus yards this year, tied for eighth most in the NFL. I already mentioned how Hasselbeck threw 80 times the past two weeks, making Nate Washington and Damian Williams both worthy of consideration on volume alone. Denarius Moore is back and healthy, had 123 yards and two scores the last time he faced San Diego and I have no confidence the Chargers will even try in this game. Don't love the matchup, but Jabar Gaffney has at least eight fantasy points in three straight games and has scored in two of the past three. Doug Baldwin answers the question "Who is the best Baldwin after Alec?" He also has a score in two of his past three and a decent matchup with the Cardinals.
Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: More than 200 total yards and two touchdowns the past two games, Celek is this year's ultimate Fantasy Zombie. He scored the last time he faced Washington, as the Redskins allow the fourth most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets: Eighteen. Dustin Keller had 18 targets last week. Again, 18. He's had more than 70 yards in each of his past two games, and I like Miami's corners, so I think the way you attack them is in the middle of the field. Miami's defense is pretty good against the run (No. 3) and they pressure the quarterback well (top 10 in sacks), so I think the Jets will have to throw more than normal and when they do, Mark Sanchez will be looking for his safety blanket when feeling pressure.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans: Have I mentioned how much the Titans have thrown it the past two weeks? You sure? Because it's a lot. I want to stress that. OK, I have? Good. With 17 receptions and 272 yards the past two weeks, Cook is finally making good on the preseason hype. Available in 90 percent of leagues, he scored the last time he faced Houston and that was when the Texans were trying. While there's still a decent amount of feast-or-famine risk with Cook, if you need a guy with upside outside the top 10, love me some Cook.
If you're desperate: As you'll soon see in the "hate" section, I think it's mostly backups playing for the Lions, making Tony Scheffler an interesting play against a Packers team whose starters allow the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Kyle Rudolph scored last week, I like what little I've seen of him and the matchup is right: Bears are tied for the fifth most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST: Happiness is a defense facing Indy. They had 17 points the last time they faced the Colts and, while Indy has looked better recently, the game is at Jacksonville and opposing host defenses average more than 13 points a game against Indy.
Miami Dolphins D/ST: You'll never guess which quarterback is coming up in "hate." Averaging more than 10 points a game at home this year (excluding the crazy "Monday Night Football" opener against New England) Miami has a top-10 scoring defense which is available in 95 percent of leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles D/ST: When Rex comes to town, it's like Christmas for defenses.
Week 17 Players I Hate
Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, QB, Packers, Lions, Falcons: Fairly simple. None of these guys has anything to play for and each has lots to lose by way of injury. They'll all play a little and given their skill set, a quarter or half from some of them may be enough, but it also may be one or two series and, if the team scores with a 1-yard rush touchdown, well, that's not helpful. The biggest question mark is Ryan, whom Mike Smith insists he's not resting. Fine. I don't believe him. The Falcons play the Bucs, so odds are they'll be leading early. They can't really improve their position other than climbing to the fifth seed with a win combined with a Detroit loss. (So the prize is, essentially, facing the No. 4 seed instead of the No. 3.) If something happens to Ryan, like, say, Albert Haynesworth flattens him trying to get to the halftime buffet early, then what happens to the Falcons' postseason chances? I'd rather be wrong with Ryan on my bench and a Plan B quarterback starting than risk that an NFL coach is telling me the truth for once.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: Stop me if you've heard this one before. Actually, it's Week 17. Just let me get through it. Sanchez is bad on the road. He has six interceptions and just eight touchdown passes in seven road games and it's getting worse. Ten points or fewer in four straight away from New York, and you know I like the Dolphins' defense at home. Expect a conservative game plan from Rex & Co., limiting Sanchez's upside without doing much to limit a ton of downside.
Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins: The first time he played Philly, back when the Eagles were bad, Rex lost his job. The Eagles might be the hottest defense in the league right now, allowing 9.5 fantasy points a game to opposing quarterbacks over the past four. We know Grossman has never met a different-colored jersey he couldn't hit in stride. If you lose your championship because you started Rex Grossman, you deserve it.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: As seen in "He's dead to me!" If you made it this far with him, my virtual hat is off to you my friend. Impressive. It also means you likely have better options than the inconsistent Johnson, who got vultured last week by Jamie Harper. Jamie Harper, kids. Just saying. Texans are fourth against the run.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Marshawn Lynch broke the never-start-your-running-back-against-the-49ers streak last week, but Jackson isn't Lynch. At least not this season. Whatever you think of Seattle's offensive line, it's light years better than what the Rams are trotting out there. Ten rushes for 19 yards for Jackson the last time these two teams played. Ten. For 19. Dude.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers: If you are still alive and thinking about starting Blount after last week, may I give you the number to my therapist? She deals well with delusional personalities.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: Don't think he plays, and even if he does, there is no way I'm trusting him this week without having seen him on the field. Way too much risk.
Arian Foster and Michael Turner, RB, Texans and Falcons: Again, nothing to play for in my mind. A little bit of work for either guy in great matchups might be enough, frankly, but I don't feel good about starting either.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: Two receptions for 17 yards the last time he faced Champ Bailey, that was actually an improvement over the time before, when he had zero catches for zero yards. This game matters to Denver in a big way. I'm betting on Champ shutting Bowe down a third straight time.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers: Frankly, any Packers receivers. See Rodgers, Aaron. Sensing a theme yet?
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons: Because if you're not sensing a theme yet, you might be brain dead. My therapist can help with that, too, trust me.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals: Never had a double-digit fantasy day in which he didn't score (ergo, he is TD-dependent) and I don't like his chances this week, as the Ravens have given up only three touchdowns to opposing tight ends all year and two of them were to Cleveland, which has no one else to throw to. Just 48 yards for Gresham the last time these two teams faced off, and that was a game without A.J. Green. Green or Jerome "I'll just flip over the guy" Simpson are more likely to get red zone targets if they throw when they get close, making Gresham a guy outside my top 10.
Houston Texans D/ST: Nothing to play for. Titans throwing a ton. It's like two themes rolled into one!
And that, kids, is what they in the business call a "wrap." At least, that's what they tell me. Clearly, I'm not in any business. It's been a great season and whether you are a lover, hater or just bored at work with low standards, I greatly appreciate you spending some time with me every week and letting me talk to you about fantasy football and other indulgences. It's truly a privilege and I'm lucky to do it. I never forget that. May your new year be safe and may your next team have no one that makes your next "Dead To Me" list.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- played in eight leagues this year and for those that care, made the playoffs in six (two he didn't: an autodraft team and a dynasty team in a deep league with Chris Johnson as its centerpiece), made the finals in five and will finish with three titles. 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
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