You Heard Me, the football edition
I didn't get it.
Many years ago, my good friend Andy Wichern and I were sitting in a sold-out Las Vegas showroom. We were watching the late Danny Gans, the then-reigning Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year, doing another impression. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was howling with laughter.
We just stared at each other, blankly. People are knee-slapping, spilling drinks all over themselves, literally falling onto the ground holding their sides -- what the kids call "rotflmao" -- and Andy and I are looking confused at each other. "It's them, right? It's not us. It's them."
Not to write ill of the deceased because the man was, by all accounts, a wonderful family man, but I hated every minute of his act. So did Andy. We were the only two.
But why hate it? I mean, it wasn't funny, but so what? Lots of stuff isn't funny. But there were three things I truly hated about it.
First, it wasn't funny in a painful way. He was an impressionist and this was a typical joke: "Any Garth Brooks fans here?" (Applause and yells.) "Yeah, Garth Brooks is one of the biggest stars in the world. I mean, he is one of the [mimes being fat] biggest stars in the world." (Starts singing in a Garth Brooks voice to the tune of "Friends in Low Places") "I've got fat in all the wrong places."
And people are howling at this. Actual convulsions. That was the second thing that drove me nuts. How much everyone loved this safe, middle-of-the-road, fairly obvious humor.
Look, I'm all for family entertainment. The current Mrs. Roto has a 5-year-old and I'm much more aware these days of what is and is not appropriate, and of the things we can all enjoy together. So I get it.
This wasn't family entertainment -- it was safe entertainment, and that's an important distinction. Any of the "Toy Story" films are family entertainment, but they aren't safe.
But the biggest thing that drove me nuts -- I mean, absolutely bat-guano crazy -- was that he would start every impression like this: "Hey everybody, it's me, Cliff Clavin. You know, I'm just a mailman hanging out at this bar in Boston. Yeah, did you know " and then he'd launch into some lame Clavin-type fact.
Wait, what?!? Seriously. What?!??
Why are you introducing an impression? The point of an impression is that you recognize the voice and mannerisms of a famous person. If it's a good impression, you don't need to say who it is. We know who it is; that's the joke. I'm getting all fired up just thinking about it again. Someone bring me a brick and the number of a good lawyer.
It was safe, it was wimpy, it showed a complete lack of confidence in both his own ability to accurately do the impression and his audience to get it.
It's everything I hate about show business, and I'm in the minority. Because they lapped it up. Laughter and applause out the wazoo. In fact, there was additional laughter and applause outside, waiting to get into the wazoo. That's how beloved he was.
I respond to strong personalities. It's why I'm a huge Howard Stern fan. Love the music of Eminem. Think Tucker Max's writing is hilarious. The only thing I watch religiously besides sports is "The Daily Show." And over the course of my career, I have tried to emulate those I admire in my own way.
I want to be bold, outspoken, brutally honest. I don't always accomplish it. Partially because some of what I want to write or say isn't appropriate for ESPN audiences, at least in the mind of the people whose job it is to determine such things. And partially because that's not my job; Most of the time, my job requires me to do reasoned analysis of player's performance in order to come up with safe predictions, by which I mean that they have a relatively high probability of actually happening.
This is not one of those times.
This is my shoot-from-the-hip column, my chance to show some fantasy cajones, to step up to the plate swinging for the fences, to be the anti-Gans.
This is my bold predictions piece. These are things that are not reasonable to expect. There is some reasoned thought behind them, but frankly, not a lot. If there were a lot of factual basis and probability behind them, of course, they wouldn't be bold.
As I wrote in this year's baseball version of "You Heard Me," this is me, out on a limb, alone on an island, holding tight to my ill-fated belief that this is the year Felix Jones finally stays healthy and breaks out. These are gut calls wrapped in faith and hope, sprinkled with statistical backing and baked in the Oven of Dreams, right next to my TMR-gets-more-hair apple tart.
For the new kids in school, the idea of this column is that you and I had a conversation like this:
TMR: I say Jacoby Jones finishes the year as a top-30 fantasy wide receiver.
TMR: You heard me!
Jacoby Jones is currently going 54th among wide receivers in ESPN standard leagues, but he scored six times last year and, just like I wrote in this year's "100 Facts" column, he averaged 16.2 yards per catch (more than teammate Andre Johnson). So yeah, I want to break me off a piece of some Jacoby Jones.
Here's my suggestion on how to get use out of this column, other than printing it out and using it to make yourself feel better about your own crappy predictions at the end of the season: Understand that just because something is unlikely to happen doesn't mean it can't. It was unlikely that Jamaal Charles would rush for almost 1,000 yards in the final eight games of 2009. The unlikely part wasn't the skills -- I and many others had been yelling at Kansas City to free Jamaal and kick Larry Johnson to the curb -- but rather that Charles would get 161 rushing attempts and be the focal point of an offense that had spent a lot to acquire Matt Cassel in the offseason. So I'm looking for things that are considered unlikely to happen but still could.
The point is not so much to nail impossible predictions but rather to illuminate some players I have strong feelings about, one way or the other. For example, last year in this column I predicted a strong year for Ryan Grant, saying he would go for better than 1,500 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Technically, I was wrong. Grant did have 11 touchdowns but finished with 1,450 total yards, falling 50 yards short.
But considering his average draft position last year was in the mid 30s and he finished tied for seventh among fantasy running backs, that's pretty good value. If you drafted him based on this article last year, I doubt you are upset that I overestimated by 50 yards.
They're not all winners, kids. This is high-risk, high-reward territory we're about to enter. I've done a bold statement for every team in the NFL with a quick line of reasoning and I've thrown in some random ones for fun. Every one of these things I'm about to list is unlikely to happen, but certainly could.
Is that enough posterior-covering caveats yet? Doesn't matter. I'm going for it. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times. Go big or go home. No guts, no glory. No clichés, no word count. You can call it bold, you can call it outrageous, you can not call it anything at all because talking out loud to a column is weird.
But no matter how you slice it, this is what I think will happen this year.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald finishes outside the top 10 of fantasy wide receivers and, in fact, isn't a top-20 guy for as long as Matt Leinart is the quarterback. My thinking: No Anquan Boldin and the lack of Leinart arm strength means more running; plus, there are injury concerns from preseason. And the scores last year masked a three-year low in yards per catch for Fitzy.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan throws for 18 touchdowns or less. My thinking: Run-first team with a quarterback who has shown issues with staying healthy and decision-making. A healthy Michael Turner, whom I love this year, hurts Ryan's scoring as well.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco eclipses 4,000 yards passing and 28 touchdowns, producing close to what Philip Rivers did last year. You heard me. My thinking: a 63 percent completion percentage last season, he had 70 more passing attempts, 600-plus more yards and seven more touchdown passes from his rookie year to Year 2, and the Ravens didn't add Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth so they could throw less.
Buffalo Bills: Shawn Nelson, currently going 32nd among tight ends, is a top-15 fantasy tight end. My thinking: I've already been on record with Fred Jackson over C.J. Spiller, so I can't use that one again. Someone has to catch the ball in Buffalo. Nelson is a nice, big red zone target who needs to stay healthy to succeed, but don't we all?
Carolina Panthers: For only the second time in his career, Steve Smith has double-digit touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards. My thinking: He seemed to have a strong connection with Matt Moore at the end of last year, teams will be way too concerned with stopping the Panthers' rushing attack, and the Original Steve Smith appears to be extra motivated this year.
Chicago Bears: Under Mike Martz, Jay Cutler has a worse statistical season than he did last year. My thinking: Last year, Cutler threw the ball 555 times, ranking fourth in the NFL. How much more can he really throw it? He's known for poor decision-making, and in a Martz offense, the quarterback gets killed under the pressure, leading to more interceptions for Cutler.
Logan Morrison of the Marlins will walk out for an at-bat with the Fantasy Focus theme song as his music. He has promised, if he gets 10,000 followers on Twitter, he will do this. Come on, fantasy friends! Do it! Follow @LoMoMarlins, and while you are at it, follow @MatthewBerryTMR. It'll bring you good fantasy karma and you'll win your league this year. Promise. You heard me!
Cincinnati Bengals: Under 1,000 yards and the "under" on 6½ touchdowns for Chad Ochocinco. My thinking: run-first offense that now has more mouths to feed in the passing game, combined with a poor finish yardage-wise for Chad and a busy non-football offseason.
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo throws for more than 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns, which would be the best statistical year of his career. You heard me. My thinking: He's done both numbers before but not in the same season. Now he has the most weapons he's ever had and is firmly entrenched in an offense that could easily be this year's Saints.
Denver Broncos: Over on 1,000 yards for Jabar Gaffney. My thinking: Honestly, I don't have any strong feelings for any Denver player, but Gaffney, a guy who knows this offense very well, could find success like he did over the final two weeks of 2009.
Detroit Lions: Nate Burleson gets to nine touchdowns for the third time in his career. My thinking: Predictions on Calvin Johnson or Jahvid Best were too easy. Nate reunited with Scott Linehan, an improved Stafford throwing to him and defenses keying on Megatron all lead to fantasy goodness.
Green Bay Packers: Greg Jennings finishes the year as a top-5 fantasy wide receiver. My thinking: He finished 20th last year, but as the lead receiver on one of the most fantasy-friendly offenses in football, there's no way he scores just four touchdowns again. And if he gets back to the 9-12 range he showed the previous two years, watch out.
Houston Texans: Arian Foster gets 1,300 total yards and 10 scores. My thinking: I'm angry that Ben Tate got hurt because I would have done this same prediction regardless; go read my Love/Hate if you don't believe me. Anyway, great offense and, with no confidence in Slaton, they'll commit to Foster full-time.
A study will be published proving that the moral decay of America's children can be directly tied to the lack of cartoons in which humans and talking animals combine to solve crimes. You heard me.
Indianapolis Colts: Pierre Garcon has a better fantasy year than Reggie Wayne. My thinking: Go read my 100 facts column. And rewatch the Super Bowl from last year. Unless you're a Colts fan, in which case I'd never ask you to do that to yourself.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Sims-Walker, currently being drafted as the No. 18 wideout, finishes outside the top 35 of fantasy wide receivers. My thinking: No longer a surprise for defensive coordinators, he's a bit injury prone and was very inconsistent last season.
Kansas City Chiefs: A career year (at least 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns) for Dwayne Bowe. My thinking: another year in the offense for Cassel, a very motivated and something-to-prove Bowe after a tumultuous offseason, and defenses focusing on stopping the run game.
Miami Dolphins: Brandon Marshall is not a top-10 fantasy receiver. My thinking: A run-first team, a new quarterback and system, an injury history and a touch of the crazies make me think this won't be a smooth season for Marshall.
Minnesota Vikings: Bernard Berrian is the leading fantasy receiver. My thinking: Harvin's migraines and Rice's hip slow them down enough for a finally healthy Berrian to connect with He Who Shall Not Be Named.
The Dallas Cowboys, with Kim Khardashian standing by Miles Austin on the podium, win the Super Bowl.
New Orleans Saints: Pierre Thomas is a top-10 fantasy running back this year. My thinking: If I keep writing it, it will eventually come true. Also, the Saints were tied for third in rushing touchdowns, Mike Bell is gone and I'm not worried about that many vultures by P.J. Hill or Ladell Betts.
New York Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw has a better fantasy year than the guy going seven rounds ahead of him, Brandon Jacobs. My thinking: I can actually see. Bradshaw is the better player and it's not close.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez doubles his touchdown passes from last year, to 24. My thinking: a year of experience under his belt, the addition of Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards for a whole season, defense keying in on stopping the run.
Oakland Raiders: Michael Bush has more than 1,300 total yards and eight touchdowns. My thinking: He has the talent and Oakland can run the ball. Justin Fargas is gone, Darren McFadden can't stay healthy and Jason Campbell will make this a respectable offense.
I continue my streak of never making a "taking my talents to South Beach" joke. And the Heat don't win the NBA title. You heard me.
Fantasy Focus Football
Nate Ravitz and Matthew Berry continue their preseason previews as "Double Trouble" features Philadelphia and Washington.
Pittsburgh Steelers: After he gets back from suspension, Ben Roethlisberger is still not a top-12 fantasy quarterback. My thinking: The loss of Willie Colon means Ben runs for his life even more, and a healthier Steelers defense and the emergence of Mendenhall means more balanced games and fewer shootouts.
Seattle Seahawks: Justin Forsett is a top-15 fantasy running back. My thinking: I know there's been a Julius Jones resurgence and Leon Washington is around, but I feel talent wins out ultimately, and he's the best guy they have.
Jeffrey Ross, the roast master, becomes a judge on "American Idol" and makes that show watchable again.
And as long as we're talking long shots, I say I get 100 percent of these right. You heard me.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- was also annoyed he spent $100 on his Danny Gans ticket. He 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. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend
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