To this day, I still feel totally stupid.
So about two years or so ago I'm at a bar with three friends watching "Monday Night Football." It's a typical sports bar, complete with cheap wings, beer specials and cute, flirty waitresses.
The waitress, as required by sports bar law, is wearing a tight T-shirt and is really touchy-feely, especially with me. At some point during halftime, she tells me she is a fan. Since she works at the sports bar, ESPN is on all the time and she knows who I am. I do a good job, she says, brushing my arm as she walks away.
The minute she walks away, there is a quick huddle to break this down with more urgency than Peyton in a two-minute drill.
Friend 1: Dude, that's a layup.
Friend 2: Yeah, she's hot. (Realizes his girlfriend, Friend 3, is there. Looks at her for confirmation that it was OK to acknowledge this. After a second, it's granted.) Like, really hot.
(The girlfriend gives him a glare. "You don't have to go overboard.")
TMR: She's a waitress. Her job is to flirt. She's bucking for a big tip and she thinks because I'm on TV I've got the most money.
Friend 1: Nah, that's more than standard waitress flirting.
Friend 2: Yeah, she digs you.
TMR (rolls eyes): Yeah, OK.
I'm gonna pause the story here for a sec. My job is to give advice. All day, every day, people ask and I answer. The advice is usually fantasy sports related but occasionally I step outside that realm. This is one of those times. The rest of this story has zero to do with fantasy football and everything to do with another life lesson learned at the hands of a crazy chick. So if you don't want to read it, feel free to just skip down to the "Guys I love" section below. For the rest of you, heed my words. They'll save you a ton of aggravation.
Never hit on a waitress.
One of my steadfast rules. Bartenders, dancers, hostesses ... anywhere a cute girl interacts with large groups of guys, all day, every day. They get hit on all the time. I mean all ... the ... time. So I never go there. I like to flirt, who doesn't, but it's just one of those things. I don't hit on waitresses. Don't want to be that guy, you know?
The game (and I don't mean the one on TV), goes on all night. By now, most tables have cleared out (game was a blowout) and cute waitress is now making no pretense of coming by to see if we need anything else. We close the tab and give a big tip. (Just because I see through it doesn't mean it doesn't work.) Still she's staying and talking. She was a psychology major in college. Another red flag, as my friend Jon McDaid taught me long ago: Never date a girl who was a psychology major. They're crazier than the standard level of crazy.
We stay in touch, electronically, for a week or so. And then, my friends, I do it. I break my own rule and ask her out. She says she'd love to and we make tentative plans for a night the following week. And immediately, it starts going sour. I don't hear back. OK, I'm getting blown off. Odd, but whatever. Happens. But what follows? I'm pretty sure it could happen only to me.
So, on the day I was supposed to go out with her, those same buddies (minus the girlfriend) are going out and invite me along. Turns out they are going back to the same bar. So we're sitting there, hanging out, when suddenly ... she walks in. Not working, she's dressed in cute "date" clothes. She sits next to my buddy who has the girlfriend.
He looks shocked as well. We all keep drinking and decide to pretend this makes sense. She leaves to go to the bathroom and we have another quick huddle.
Friend 2: I don't know. I came back here last week with another guy and I talked to her for a while because she recognized I was here with you that last time. And I told her I was coming tonight but that's it.
I can't tell you how stupid I feel. It's so weird. I'm sitting there, with my friends and this girl, but she's all over my friend with no acknowledgement of the fact that two days ago we had plans to go on a date. It's insane. She's all over him, he's embarrassed. As is often my strategy when I am faced with something vaguely humiliating and no idea what to do about it, I order another drink and just ignore it. And by extension, her. But eventually, she corners me alone.
Her: Why aren't you talking to me?
Me: We had plans. You blew me off and then you show up to meet my buddy.
Her: I know. I really like him. Like, a lot.
Me: OK ... But we had plans for a date.
Her: I know, but I didn't know what to do. After we met, I thought about it and I changed my mind. I like your friend. So I thought I'd show up.
Me: Uh, again, that's fine if you like my friend, but all the chitchat since that night?
Her: Well, I didn't know what to do.
Me: It's easy. Don't flirt with me. Don't tell me you're single and would love to hang out. Don't agree to a date. Really, it's not tough.
Her: But then you wouldn't talk to me and you're really nice. We can be friends, right? I really want to be your friend.
Me: You are an insane, crazy woman. Who the hell in their right mind makes a date with a guy, blows it off and then shows up at the appointed time and place to go out with his friend? While I'm still here? Didn't you notice when you met all of us he was with a very cute girl who was all over him? What's wrong with you? What about this did you think was a good idea?
That is what I wanted to say. What I actually said was, "Yeah, I'm not really interested in being friends. Good luck."
This isn't about the girl, though It's about the feeling. The red-faced, stupid, humiliating feeling I felt as I sat there all night. I remember it vividly and the stupid feeling is the worst. I knew better, ignored two "crazy chick" warning flags and went for it anyway.
Especially when you get that feeling in fantasy. You bench your stud and he goes off. Or, you play your slumping stud with the bad matchup instead of the hot running back on your bench that you think is a fluke. You go on national TV and say "bench Adrian Peterson" ... and then Luis Castillo gets hurt and AP sets NFL records. The stupid feeling.
Sometimes I think, at its core, the key to fantasy is to avoid the stupid feeling.
This week, I have Mike Sims-Walker ranked ahead of both Steve Smiths. That's what I feel in my gut. That's what the matchups tell me. But would I really bench those guys for him this week?
In my gut ... yes, I would. Because while either Steve could go off, Sims-Walker is red-hot and has a great matchup, which neither Smith has this week. If I bench Sims-Walker and he goes off again ... I'll get the stupid feeling. If he doesn't, you know what? I made the right choice. Yes, it didn't work out, but given all the facts before me, it was the correct call. Just didn't work out, and I can live with that.
The moral of the story is that the stupid feeling comes when you do something even though you should know better, but you just ignore the voice inside your head and do it anyway. Whether it's starting a big name just because, at the end of the season, he'll have the best stats, or whether it's hitting on a waitress with a psych major. If it doesn't feel right, just don't do it.
We finally get to this week's Love/Hate with the usual caveat. These are guys I think will do better or worse than generally expected. For specific info on whether I would start this guy over that guy, check out my ranks (and they'll be updated Friday afternoon).
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Bills: Only 13 touches last week and he didn't do a lot with them. But even in his first week back, he still got more touches than Fred Jackson (he had 12) and being home to the Browns cures a lot of ills. Struggling running game, struggling passing game, player's confidence, you name it. There's no problem that can't be made better by having a home game against the Browns. Seriously, if President Obama could arrange for the economy to play the Browns a few times a year, we'd be all good. Jackson will have a big game as well and if you're stuck, I could see Trent Edwards putting up 200 yards and two scores.
Jerome Harrison, RB and Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Browns: So wait a minute. Braylon Edwards got to leave Cleveland for a Super Bowl contender? How many guys from the Browns are gonna start picking fights with LeBron's posse? Five? Ten? How about the entire special-teams unit? Do I hear the entire 53-man roster from the congregation? Anyway, for all my Browns jokes, the Bills' defense ain't all that either and both Harrison and Massaquoi will be involved in the passing game in a contest where they will be down.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs: Cowboys giving up the 11th-most fantasy points against opposing quarterbacks and very quietly, Cassel has sucked less than you might think. Double-digit fantasy points for three straight weeks and it's not like Larry Johnson is gonna do anything. By the way, tight end Sean Ryan is a deep sleeper here.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: The struggles end here. For now.
Brett Favre, QB, Vikings: Ask a waitress out. Say positive things about Brett Favre. Why don't I just root hard for the Yankees and violate everything I hold dear? Ugh. He'll go off against the Rams as will the rest of the Vikings. And begin self-loathing ... now.
Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: Love, love, love them Eagles at home, off a bye, against the Buccaneers. Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson are all obvious, so I put Celek here in case you were worried his production was tied to Kevin Kolb. It's not.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: Deeper sleeper here, but he's caught 10 passes the past three weeks, including four for 64 yards last week. And no surprise given the injury to Troy Polamalu, but the Steelers are actually seventh in the NFL in points allowed to opposing tight ends. As our Scouts Inc. reports note, the Lions will likely utilize three-step drops and a short passing attack to move the chains through the air against an aggressive Pittsburgh defense. And to me, short passing means Brandon Pettigrew.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: Hear the one about the Portis and the Hare? Slow and underperforming, they represent the Redskins' offense. But on the road against the Panthers' 32nd-rated run defense, I think Portis goes off, especially against a defense that is a bit banged up. Chris Cooley is going to have a big game here as well.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Love that he's now dangerously close to becoming too obvious to even write about.
Glen Coffee, RB, 49ers: More than 100 total yards last week, and the Falcons are top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.
Mike Sims-Walker, Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh: They don't all play for the same team. No, I don't mean that, rather, I am just pointing out that I am grouping guys on different teams here together because this game features two bad defenses that can be beat by the pass. I have all three guys in my top 20.
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: Guess who's throwing it to Sims-Walker?
Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts: Can we call Manning to Garcon "The French Connection"? Just for me? Please?
Nate Washington, WR, Titans: Despite not really playing in Week 1, Washington now leads the Titans in targets and has scored in three straight weeks. I expect the Titans to be down in this game and have to throw. Which means Nate is worthy of a start.
Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller, Jets: The Sanch-ize has a good game as you can't run on Miami, but you can sure throw. Edwards is not gonna do anything in this game other than decoy, which is just fine.
Week 5 players I hate
Steve Smith and Mario Manningham, WR, Giants: With Eli Manning banged up (my guess is he doesn't play), I expect the Giants to take a conservative approach and really try to get their run game going. Which means not passing. Add in the Asomugha Effect and I have the hottest wide receiver in the NFL outside my top 10 this week.
Every single Raider and Buccaneer: Seriously. No Cadillac Williams, no Zach Miller, no Kellen Winslow. No anyone else you might be thinking of starting from one of these two teams. They are bad, they are on the road, they have tough matchups and they are bad. I know I already said bad, but, well, it bears repeating. Bleah.
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: Maybe I'm a running-back-is-half-empty kind of guy, but whereas you may have seen two touchdowns last week, I saw 19 carries for 30 yards and now I see a matchup against the Steelers' third-ranked run defense.
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals: Yes, he has more passing yards against the Ravens than any other team in his career. I know. And the Ravens are 23rd against the pass. But he also has yet to throw for over 250 yards in a game, he is a turnover machine (six turnovers in four games) and it's at Baltimore, where the Ravens have given up only two passing touchdowns this year.
Julius Jones, RB, Seahawks: Things that might surprise you: I'm playing in a fantasy league with Duff from Guns N' Roses this year and he's good at it. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still have hope for my Redskins. My columns are late not because I'm lazy but actually the opposite. I'm working too much and don't know how to say no. And the Jags are actually decent against the run.
Steve Slaton, RB, Texans: Friend of the podcast, yes. But also on the road against a team that has had two weeks to prepare and is currently sixth against the run.
Sammy Morris, RB, Patriots: Denver defense is legit. You're starting Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, of course, but I don't foresee big numbers from them either. Latest word on Fred Taylor, by the way, has his missing a month for ankle surgery.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins: Last time I said bench Ronnie Brown on Monday night he made me look stupid. So fair warning here about a guy who has four touchdowns in the past three games. But my guess is Rex Ryan focuses on stopping Brown and takes his chances with Chad Henne. Of course, when it comes to Chad Henne, aren't we all taking our chances?
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- would like to point out, in all fairness, there are lots of professions he has never successfully dated. He is a five-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site 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