Make a choice you can live with
Before I came to ESPN I was a reasonably successful screenwriter for film. And before I was a reasonably successful screenwriter for film, I was a consistently working sitcom writer. And before I was a consistently working sitcom writer, I was just a writer with a few credits and a member of the Writers Guild of America. It was through that I got to go see Phil Rosenthal speak.
You may not recognize the name, but you've definitely seen his work, as Phil is the creator and executive producer of "Everybody Loves Raymond," only one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. It was early during "Raymond's" run that I went to hear him speak -- this is many years ago -- and he told a story that has stuck with me to this day.
It's long, so I'm paraphrasing here, but if you'd like the full story, he tells it in his book "You're Lucky You're Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom." Good book and very funny. You'll enjoy. And if you don't care for my long intros, skip down to RG3 below to get started on the loves and hates. Or, conversely, if you don't care for my advice, stop reading when you hit RG3.
So young Phil gets his script for "Raymond" picked up to pilot (meaning they are going to shoot one sample episode) and if it goes well, it will get on the air. It's a huge opportunity. Getting a show picked up to air versus just getting a pilot shot can potentially mean many millions of dollars, and it puts your career in a whole different stratosphere. Many very talented writers work for years and never get a pilot picked up.
Just so you understand, the stakes are very, very large here.
So Phil gets a call from the network.
Network Guy: Who are you casting for the wife?
Phil: Honestly, I'm looking now. I'm looking all over the place.
Network Guy: Well, Les Moonves wants this one actress (Phil calls her "So-and-so"). You should cast her.
Phil: Oh, but I think she's completely wrong.
Network Guy: You didn't hear me. Les wants her. If you don't cast her, you don't have a show.
In case you don't know who Les Moonves is, just know he is very, very powerful among television executives. He runs CBS and everything that falls under CBS. I'm fairly certain he can legally have people killed. He's that powerful.
Anyways, Phil calls his agent to complain about So-and-so, a well-known actress.
Phil: She's totally, completely wrong for the show and will ruin the whole thing. What do I do?
Agent: I would cast her.
They go back and forth, but the agent makes the same point as Network Guy. "If you don't take her, you don't have a show."
Phil is fretting but the agent suggests he at least meet So-and-so. Phil agrees to do that.
So he meets her one morning. Later that same afternoon is an audition for the current three finalists (they haven't found Patricia Heaton yet) for the role of Raymond's wife. All the CBS execs, including Les, will be there as each actress comes in, separately, and reads for the part.
And Phil is told that after the three women audition, what was going to happen was this: Les Moonves would stand up and say "What about So-and-so?" And if Phil doesn't answer "I'm going to cast her," he's dead in the water.
From Phil's book:
"So I meet with So-and-so, and she's very nice. Lovely, pretty. And during the meeting I kind of talk her into reading. And she reads for me and she's 10 times worse than I thought she would be for this part. So now I'm crying because this is the day I lose my show because I cannot do it. I cannot. We go to the CBS offices, I have a bowling ball in my stomach, my three actresses read, they leave and Les Moonves, right on cue, stands up and goes "What about So-and-so?"
Think about this moment. It is a moment anyone in television dreams of. You are there, with the network president, talking about your show. You are surrounded by your agent, all sorts of network executives and studio executives (who are the ones paying you and desperately want this show to go).
You have been told to say "I'm gonna cast her" or your show is dead. End of story. All your months and months of hard work and your future dreams down the tubes. Everyone is staring at you as the most powerful person in the business says directly to you "What about So-and-so?"
Back to Phil's book:
"I say 'I love her. I think she's great. I've loved her in everything she's done. And I met with her today and she's beautiful and charming, and I fell in love with her. I wanted to marry her. But then she read for me, and I have to tell you, it's just not what I wrote. You know? I don't really buy them as a couple. Could she do it? Maybe. But I also think, maybe, we could do better.'"
I wasn't there but I'll bet anything that there wasn't a sound in the room, except for maybe a gasp from a low-level studio executive. And as Phil waited there, having made the stand everyone told him not to, all eyes turned to Les Moonves.
Who then just shrugs. "It was just an idea."
I love that story. Love it. They didn't go with So-and-so, of course, and about a week later they found Patricia Heaton, who would win two Emmys for her portrayal of Debra Barone, and the show would become a massive critical and financial hit.
Quick addendum to that story: Once the show got picked up there was talk about bringing in a "showrunner," someone more experienced to help Phil, since he had never "run" a show before (being the main creative force behind every decision). But Les ended up letting Phil do it himself, unheard of in those days, because "He liked how [Phil] handled that thing with So-and-so."
There are a lot of important lessons in that story, for both life and fantasy football. About waiting to hear something directly from the horse's mouth, as it were; about perception and reality; about communication. About making an informed decision as opposed to a kneejerk one; about how the agendas of others can affect what you are told; and about how sometimes the way the message is delivered is just as important as the message itself.
But to me, the biggest lesson from that story is that Phil Rosenthal believed so strongly that this actress was wrong that he was willing to lose everything. He knew how important this moment was. He believed what he believed and he was willing to stick by those convictions, no matter what the consequences.
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Fantasy owners should be more like Phil Rosenthal.
You see, Week 3 is crucial. Thanks to the great Mike Polikoff, who oversees our League Manager product, we don't have to just say Week 3 is critical. We have statistical proof based on ESPN standard leagues.
Teams that are 0-2 have made the playoffs 18.9 percent of the time.
And after Week 3?
Teams that are 1-2 have made the playoffs 27.02 percent of the time. Teams that are 0-3 have made the playoffs just 9.3 percent of the time.
Nine percent or 27 percent? If you have started slow, winning this week increases your odds 200 percent. Something to play for, no?
If you are 1-1, your odds are 40.04 percent. They jump to 51.71 percent at 2-1 and again, are 27 percent at 1-2. Almost a 100 percent increase if you win this week.
And if you are 2-0, you're looking at 61.33 percent, which jumps to 75.85 percent if you make 3-0 and again, drops to 51.71 percent if you wind up 2-1. A 50 percent swing is nothing to sneeze at.
This is a crucial week. And the person who cares the most about your team is you. So make pickups and trades and, most importantly, set your lineup with conviction. I have Larry Fitzgerald outside my top 20 this week. I'll give reasons below but you think that's crazy? Then start him. Don't let me or anyone else talk you out of it.
I can't tell you how many times I see it. A guy says to me "I really want to start this guy but you and everyone else have this other guy ranked higher Arghhh. I don't know what to do." Well, maybe this will help: I've done all the research, watched the games, talked to as many folks as I can. But I can't tell the future.
As my good friend Joe Bryant says, "It's an oblong ball made of leather. Weird stuff is gonna happen." Remember this as you set your lineup this week and in every future week: I really want you to win.
But not as badly as you do.
Had Phil Rosenthal listened to his agent or any of the other executives, he probably would have cast So-and-so, the show would have been bad, it would have been canceled and his agent and all the other executives would have gone about their lives in exactly the same way as it was at the moment Phil said "No, I'm not doing it."
But Phil? Phil's life is very, very different because he chose to not listen to anyone else, to control his own destiny, and say "This is what I believe and I'll live with the results, whatever they may be."
Read this article, listen to me and whomever else you read/watch/download and then make your own bold call. This week more than ever. Go with what you think. You'll be happier with the outcome, no matter what. You drafted these players. You believe in them or you do not. I'm out on Chris Johnson. I think the Wes Welker thing is real, but delayed by Aaron Hernandez. I'm buying Brandon LaFell and Dennis Pitta. But that's me.
This is whom I love and hate this week. But at the end of the day, eh it's just an idea.
Quarterbacks I love
Robert Griffin III, Redskins: He's the highest-scoring player in fantasy through two weeks and just like last week, I am the highest among our fellow rankers on him. I knew about the accuracy, I knew about Mike Shanahan wanting to throw, I knew about the socks. The unexpected part is how many designed runs they are calling, including around the goal line. We always say that rushing touchdowns, especially among quarterbacks, are hard to predict as they fluctuate from year to year. Cam was the one exception because last year, he was their goal-line back, and certainly is a big part of their goal-line plans this year too. RG3 is built very differently, of course, but whether it was an audible by him (they run a version of Baylor's offense which requires him to make calls at the line of scrimmage; read this terrific Grantland piece for more detail) or if it was called initially, both rushing touchdowns Griffin had last week were designed runs. In fact, many of his designed runs were out of the shotgun, and because of his arm, you have to respect the deep ball, so you can't load up.
Oh, and he's playing the Bengals. Who just gave up 322 to Brandon Weeden. Who is not, with all due respect, Robert Griffin III.
Tony Romo, Cowboys: I have decided to be more worried about a Bucs defense that has given up over 800 yards passing in two games than I am about last week's stinker at Seattle. Home opener for Tony and everyone's healthy. Oh, and I actually think the Tampa Bay run defense is pretty good too, meaning passing, passing and more passing. I have Romo at five, higher than all of my counterparts.
Alex Smith, 49ers: I am beginning to regret my pick of Mr. Smith in the Grantland Bad Quarterback league. Because he's, uh, not a bad quarterback. Back-to-back weeks of over 200 yards, two scores and zero interceptions. Did you know Alex Smith is currently tied for eighth-most points among fantasy quarterbacks in ESPN standard scoring? If you need a midtier guy or are in a pretty deep league, Smith is solid.
Shout-out to John Parolin and the team from ESPN Stats & Information who point out this (and many of the other stats used in this column): Smith has completed nearly 90 percent of his passes this season when targeting wide receivers, best in the NFL. In fact, not only does Smith have zero interceptions this season, he has also had only one pass broken up by a defender. The one disrupted pass accounts for 1.8 percent of his attempts, the lowest rate in the NFL. Against a Vikings team geared to stop the run, Smith is a very safe choice.
If you're desperate Carson Palmer is second in the NFL in pass attempts so far, with 94 through two games. With Denarius Moore back and a belief they Raiders will be trailing by a lot in this game (just like the last two weeks), Palmer is gonna have to keep chucking it. Remember how I said Alex Smith was tied for eighth among QBs in most fantasy points? One of the guys he's tied with is Matt Cassel, whose "fall way behind and put up junk-time stats" ways should continue against the Saints. The Browns' defense is better than folks give them credit for, but when they send five or more defenders (which they do seventh-most), they have a +3 TD-Int differential, tied for league worst. And Ryan Fitzpatrick is 15-of-22 for 141 yards and two touchdowns against five-plus rushers so far this season.
Quarterbacks I hate
Peyton Manning, Broncos: Full disclosure: He was a hate Week 1 and went off. He was a love last week and bombed. So you either think I'm always turned around on Peyton or I'm due. Here's why I think I'm right on Peyton this week: Houston's defense. And Houston's offense. "They made Ryan Tannehill and Blaine Gabbert look bad, you say? Big deal." And that's fair. But we saw Tannehill play much better against the Raiders, and the Texans did exactly what a great defense should do against bad quarterbacks: They dominated. It's also about the Texans' offense, which I expect to run a lot (see below), slowing down the game and controlling the clock, keeping No. 18 on the sidelines.
Next Level tells us Peyton Manning is completing just half of his pass attempts inside the painted numbers this season after completing 71 percent of such throws from 2008 to 2010. I'm telling you I have him outside my top 12.
Matt Schaub, Texans: If I expect the Texans' offense to run a lot, what does that mean, class? That I expect them to throw only a little. See? Easy peasy. OK, fine. You want a bit more meat? How's this? The Texans have the most run-heavy offense in the NFL, passing on only 45.7 percent of plays from scrimmage (not including penalties). In the red zone? Even worse. Their 21.4 pass percentage is lowest in the league, and no other team passes on less than a third of red zone plays.
Running backs I love
C.J. Spiller, Bills: A super-obvious name. I was highest on him last week and I am again this week. If you could play only two running backs and you somehow had Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and C.J. Spiller, am I really saying you sit McCoy? Damn skippy.
Michael Bush, Bears: I don't believe Matt Forte will play in this game. I don't believe Kate Middleton had no idea paparazzi were around. I don't believe the Rams can stop the run; they've allowed 6.09 yards per rush inside the tackles this year, worst in the league. I don't believe I'm actually gonna wait in line Friday for a phone. I've had my current one over three years. I'm desperate. I don't believe I used the phrase "Damn skippy" in a column. But mostly, I don't believe anything in this game disrupts this trend: When Michael Bush has had 25 or more attempts in a game (five times), he has averaged 136 yards a game and has scored six touchdowns.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: Many worried owners after last week, and rightfully so. But this is a total gut call. Think he has a nice game against the Saints (I mean, come on, they've given up five rushing touchdowns already), and for what it's worth, I own him in three leagues and am starting him in all three. And just tried to trade for him in a fourth. I believe.
If you're desperate Mikel Leshoure is expected back for the Lions and according to our own Chris Mortensen, should get about 15 touches against the Titans' 30th-ranked run defense. Jonathan Dwyer also has a nice matchup with Oakland. You never know: Maybe they ease Ryan Mathews back a little and Jackie Battle gets a little work, or at least a goal-line carry.
Running backs I hate
Steven Jackson, Rams: Missed practice Wednesday, it's a poor matchup with Chicago, and the Rams' offensive line is banged up. He has yet to crack 90 total yards this season or score and I'm not sure that changes against the Bears, who have had extra time to prep for this game. Add in the possibility that Daryl Richardson might take some carries away to help keep Jackson healthy and he's a flex play this week.
Cedric Benson, Packers: Seahawks run defense is legit. How legit? Too legit to quit, that's how legit. Inside the tackles, Seattle is allowing just 2.17 yards per rush, best in the NFL, and that includes a game against DeMarco Murray. Considering Cedric Benson has only three rushes for 8 yards outside the numbers this season, I have him outside my top 20.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: Insert running back playing the 49ers here. I have him as a low-end No. 2 this week.
Michael Turner, Falcons: Think the traffic trouble he got into was because he just wanted to see what it felt like to go fast again? Too soon? I have nothing against Turner the man, but as a fantasy football play, I keep putting him on this list and keep looking smart, gimme touchdowns notwithstanding. The Chargers have faced Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson and have the No. 1-ranked rush defense so far. No thanks.
Chris Johnson, Titans: First, the good news. It's not all his fault. Love this one that John Parolin dug up: Even though Johnson has only 21 yards rushing this year, he has 23 yards after contact. Hang on, let me add this up yes, that means he has negative 2 yards BEFORE CONTACT. In other words, his average point of contact is behind the line of scrimmage. So hey it's not all him! Now the bad news: He still has to play with that offensive line, and the Lions' run defense is sixth-best in terms of fewest yards after contact allowed.
Wide receivers I love
Miles Austin, Cowboys: The Buccaneers have allowed 210 receiving yards to slot receivers, most in the NFL. Miles Austin has 85 yards out of the slot in the first two games, ninth in the league, with an average target depth of 17.4 yards downfield on those throws (deepest among wide receivers with three slot targets).
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Did you know that since 2010, only Rob Gronkowski and Calvin Johnson have more touchdown catches than Dwayne Bowe? OK, fine. Did you know that in the episode titled "Six Feet Under," Peter Boyle's character gives the same speech about mortality that he gave in "Taxi Driver"? Oh yeah, well did you know that I spent longer looking up "Raymond" trivia for this joke than I did some of the stats I've given? And do you know what the hell is wrong with me? No, seriously, I'm asking.
Pierre Garcon, Redskins: See Griffin III, Robert.
Brandon LaFell, Panthers: After seeing these two defenses, if I have a decent player on one of these teams, I'm doing it. LaFell is 11th in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage among wide receivers.
Danny Amendola, Rams: Was on the love list last week, so you know I believe. Rams will have to throw, Sam Bradford is locked in on Amendola as his No. 1, and while he won't have a game like he did last week, he's a solid flex or WR3 based on volume and the fact that St. Louis will be fairly one-dimensional in this game.
If you're desperate I'm hanging tough on Randall Cobb, who can get outside the tackles on runs, unlike Cedric Benson. And they're gonna need to throw against the Seahawks. Mike Williams was in this space last week so here he comes again; Fantasy Zombie. I expect Ramses Barden to get more of the work vacated by Hakeem Nicks, but you'd have to be pretty desperate. Randy Moss gets the Vikings this week. How bad do you think he wants to score?
Wide receivers I hate
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: I get it. One of the best in the NFL. But there are two concerns. One is Kevin Kolb. Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald have played together in 10 different games. Larry Fitzgerald has two touchdowns in that time. Two. And his last one from Kolb was Week 3 of last season. Second, Philly's defense is good. Really good. It leads the NFL in turnovers, opponent completion percentage and lowest yards per attempt for opponent. You think the Eagles know Kolb gets rattled when you put pressure on him? Yeah, me too. Fitzgerald has five receptions for 67 yards this year. That's not an average, that's his total. Given the lack of other offensive weapons they have, I expect the Eagles to do what they've been doing. Dating back to last year, over their past seven games, the Eagles have allowed seven passing touchdowns. Seven. In seven games. Larry will be great again, but not this week.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Speaking of this game and being legit, Patrick Peterson is all that and a "Raymond" boxed set. With Jeremy Maclin unlikely for this game (according to Chris Mortensen), I expect Peterson to be on Jackson most of the game. I have Jackson outside of my top 20, making him a flex play at best.
Andre Johnson, Texans: So you saw my note about Schaub and the how much running the Texans do, so you know where I'm going with this. But just so you get a full picture, at the start of Week 3, there are 59, count 'em, 59 players with more red zone targets than Andre Johnson's one. Including guys like Ronnie Brown, Clay Harbor, Anthony Fasano and Damian Williams. I know the talent is there but you can't tell me the production will be, especially against a solid Denver defense that just shut Julio Jones down. And the Texans don't have a Roddy White to pick up the slack. Which they don't care about. Because why, class? That's right. They run. Johnson is yet another big name I have outside my top 20, a flex play this week, nothing more.
Tight ends I love
Brandon Pettigrew, Lions: Often it takes a lot of time for a team to give up five scores to opposing tight ends. The Titans have managed it in two games. Second on the Lions in targets and top-10 in the NFL among tight ends, this is a pretty nice matchup.
Martellus Bennett, Giants: I liked him in the preseason, mentioning him in a few articles, but I'd be lying if I said I thought he'd be this good. But he's got the same number of targets this year as Jermichael Finley and Tony Gonzalez and one more than Rob Gronkowski. And with Hakeem Nicks out, Eli will lean on him even more.
Dennis Pitta, Ravens: Your NFL leader in TE targets and tied with Jimmy Graham for most receptions among tight ends. He's a big part of that offense and, off the field, Pitta is apparently very close friends with Joe Flacco. That never hurts. Just putting him in here because I've gotten a lot of questions about whether he's legit. He is.
If you're desperate Scott Chandler has scored in two straight and they are using him more in the red zone with the injury to David Nelson. Jermaine Gresham has 13 targets, tied for 11th among tight ends, but it's been a slow start. Redskins have given up the third-most points to opposing tight ends, including a score in each game. And their defense is reeling with the loss of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo.
Tight ends I hate
Jacob Tamme, Broncos: See Manning, Peyton.
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Fred Davis, Redskins: I loved Fred Davis in the preseason. I was dead wrong. He is not a part of this offense in any significant way. And I don't see that changing with any regularity. I would drop him for Bennett, Pitta or Kyle Rudolph if any of them were still available.
Greg Olsen, Panthers: You'll find out soon enough why. But I'm avoiding for now, including tonight.
Defenses I love
Seattle Seahawks D/ST Obvious name, but including them because I wouldn't bench them just because the Packers are coming to town. They're really strong at home and Green Bay's offense still isn't 100 percent in sync.
If you're desperate the Lions D/ST should be fine to use in a road game against the mess that is currently the Titans.
Defenses I hate
Washington Redskins D/ST: Bad secondary, and now they're gonna have real trouble generating a pass rush. Or did you not see Sam Bradford stand back there for an hour looking for receivers?
And that's all we have. Good luck in Week 3 with whatever you decide to do. Either way, there's a 100 percent chance I'll be here next week to lend an ear.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- wonders if Phil will trade the name of his "So-and-so" for the name of "the Actress" from a Love/Hate two years ago. 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.
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