I miss the room.
I should rephrase that. I miss "the room." That's what sitcom writers call the conference room where they would all gather every day. All day, every day, you are in "the room." Pitching jokes, breaking stories, rewriting scripts -- it can be exhausting, but it's awesome. You just laugh and laugh all day long.
Because you are stuck in the same small room with the same people every day -- often for 10 hours or more a day -- pretty much everything goes. It's a creative environment, so ideally everyone should feel free to pitch whatever idea or joke, no matter how outlandish, because you never know what will spark something or lead down the path to where you need to go.
One of the many failed sitcoms I wrote on was called "Union Square," and it was one of those terrible Thursday night sitcoms between "Friends" and "Seinfeld." There were a lot of reasons it failed, and I learned a lot about what not to do on a sitcom there (that's a whole other column). But it didn't fail because the writing staff wasn't funny. There were some hilarious guys on that staff, including a writer/actor named George McGrath. George has done tons of things, including writing and producing with Tracey Ullman on "Tracey Takes On," but he is probably best known for co-writing a ton of the old "Pee-wee's Playhouse" stuff with Paul Reubens. He was also the voice of Globey among others.
Anyway, George is hilarious, and I loved working with him. And he would often pitch the most outlandish things. Most of them are unprintable here, and what is printable I've forgotten in the many years it's been since that show. But one thing that has always stuck with me was his attitude. He'd pitch something insane -- like, I'm making this up now, but something like:
George: What if Gaby discovers she was actually born a man?
(Rest of room stares at George. George stares right back.)
George: You heard me.
Both playful and defiant at the same time, I loved how he just owned it. Most times, when a pitch falls dead, writers would quickly backtrack. My go-to after I pitched a joke that bombed was to say, "Or we could do something funny. That's another way to go."
George never backed down. He just owned it.
"You heard me."
As regular readers of this column know, I have hijacked that phrase and embraced that attitude for my bold predictions column. You are now reading the seventh annual football edition.
Now, to truly be a bold prediction, it needs to be, well, bold. Peyton Manning will throw over 40 touchdowns this year is not only not bold, it's actually much more likely to happen than not. A bold prediction would be to say Peyton Manning will play all 16 games and yet throw for only 20 touchdowns. That is very unlikely to happen.
I've made a ton of predictions this preseason and, while the odds say it's unlikely all of them will come true, they are steeped in research, scouting and facts that suggest they are much more likely to happen than not.
The idea for this column is not to nail low-percentage outrageous predictions, but rather to highlight players I have strong feelings about, one way or the other. These are scenarios that are not likely to come to pass, but they aren't impossible, either. And frankly, it's not important whether I get it right. You heard me. For your consideration: In last year's edition, I said Matt Forte would gain over 2,000 all-purpose yards and score double-digit touchdowns. I got the scores right (12), but he finished with 1,933 all-purpose yards, so technically, I got it wrong. But considering Forte went in the third round and finished as the No. 3 running back, folks who were bullish on Forte like I was made out pretty well on that pick.
In this column last year, I nailed things that were not obvious: Eddie Lacy as a top-10 running back, Knowshon Moreno leading the Broncos' running backs in fantasy points, and big years for Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, the Bengals defense, Cordarrelle Patterson, Antonio Brown and Carson Palmer.
Of course, I also predicted huge years for Lamar Miller, Aldrick Robinson and David Wilson, and I was down on DeMarco Murray. Among other misses. So yeah ... be warned. This is high-risk, high-reward territory we are entering. Please use this column as intended: to highlight players I have a strong feeling about one way or the other, to make you feel better about your own predictions and to subtly remind you that I have a premium fantasy football site called RotoPass.com, now with a fancy box to the right!
So here ya go. One bold prediction per NFL team, in alphabetical order, with my thinking behind it. You heard me.
You Heard Me 2014:
Arizona Cardinals: I say Michael Floyd, currently being drafted 32 picks after Larry Fitzgerald, finishes at least 10 spots higher than him in total fantasy points among WR. My thinking: This isn't even all that bold, but what I am gonna do? Talk about Andre Ellington for the fifth straight column? Floyd had more yards last year than Fitz on 17 fewer targets. The difference was touchdowns, which are fluky. Can't see Fitzgerald scoring twice as many touchdowns this like he did last year, especially given how much downfield throwing they want to do this year. Take two touchdowns away from Fitz and give them to Floyd and you have Keenan Allen.
Atlanta Falcons: I say Steven Jackson, currently going 28th among running backs, has one more great year left in him and finishes the year as a top-12 running back. My thinking: Six scores in the final six games last year in a lost season behind a terrible offensive line showed what he could do in this offense if he can stay healthy. That's the concern, of course, but hey, this is bold prediction time. He stays healthy and has a big year. If I keep writing it, it eventually comes true, right?
Baltimore Ravens: I say Torrey Smith is a top-10 wide receiver this year. My thinking: Same as hinted at in 100 Facts and written about in Love/Hate. Perfect fit for Gary Kubiak's offense, he's improved every year and just got unlucky with the touchdowns last season. Big year coming.
Buffalo Bills: I say Mike Williams, currently being drafted 71st among wideouts, is the highest-scoring fantasy wide receiver on the team. You heard me. Hey, these are supposed to be bold. My thinking: Love me some Sammy Watkins, but he will immediately be a focal point for team defenses. How effective will EJ Manuel be in getting him the ball? Meanwhile, Williams is good red zone threat (as our player card notes, his 2.7 fantasy points per game on red zone passes since 2012 is 15th among WRs) and I could totally see us looking up at the end of the year and him having some sort of Jerricho Cotchery "how the hell did that happen?" 10-touchdown kind of year. Fantasy zombie.
Carolina Panthers: I say Cam Newton finishes outside the top 10 at quarterback. My thinking: It would be his first year outside the top four in ESPN standard scoring, but the number that makes me nervous is 467. Counting sacks, hits while throwing and hits while running, Cam Newton has been pounded 467 times the last three seasons. Twice as much as any other quarterback. The next-most is Ryan Fitzpatrick with 230. Cam's fantasy production is dependent on his willingness to get hit, while running, at the goal line. If he eases up even a little, for any reason. ...
Chicago Bears: I say Jay Cutler is a top-5 fantasy QB this year. My thinking: The Bears' offense has that kind of pop. Cutler and Josh McCown combined would have had the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks last season. He just needs to stay upright.
Cincinnati Bengals: I say double-digit rushing touchdowns for Giovani Bernard. My thinking: Much better inside runner than he gets credit for, the fear over Jeremy Hill is overblown. Four of his five rushing scores last year came inside an opponent's 10-yard line, so we've seen him get and convert the opportunities.
Denver Broncos: Montee Ball is the No. 1 running back in fantasy this year. My thinking: With a better defense and Peyton already having the record, the Broncos lean more on the run game this year, and that means tons of yards and touchdowns for Ball.
Detroit Lions: Joique Bell not only has more touchdowns and yardage than Reggie Bush, he also has more receptions and is the better PPR play. My thinking: Actually has more receptions the last two years than Bush. That's skewed by the fact that Bush played in Miami one of those years and wasn't used in the passing game, but still. They gave the money to Joique, he's a better fit for Detroit's new offense and I just don't like Reggie Bush very much.
Green Bay Packers: Jordy Nelson is the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy. My thinking: Has the talent, the quarterback and the offensive scheme to get there, just needs to play all 16. With a viable run game, the Packers will get to sell their play-action to go over the top to Jordy.
Houston Texans: The Texans' running back with the most fantasy points this season turns out to be Alfred Blue. My thinking: Arian Foster is a health risk, of course, and it's not like Jonathan Grimes has a long track record. Alfred Blue keeps drawing rave reviews.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Cecil Shorts III, currently going as the 38th wideout off the board, has eight touchdowns and over 1,000 yards, which is what Keenan Allen did last year. You heard me. My thinking: Shorts is finally healthy, and whether it's Chad Henne or Blake Bortles, the Jags are going to be decent this year. Not amazing, but not a joke either.
Kansas City Chiefs: Travis Kelce, currently being undrafted, finishes the year as a top-12 tight end. My thinking: Finally healthy, had a monster preseason, and they don't have a lot of other options to throw to.
Miami Dolphins: Mike Wallace, currently WR 35 in average drafts, finishes the year as a top-15 fantasy wide receiver. My thinking: Playing the "DeSean Jackson role" in Bill Lazor's offense imported from Philly, they will move him all over the field and take shots deep. He's by far the most talented offensive player they have and they know it, so expect them to feed him the ball.
Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson is a top-5 fantasy wide receiver. My thinking: A perfect fit for Norv Turner's offense and off-the-charts physical skills, he was productive last year with a terrible offensive coordinator and questionable QB play. All those things are improved this year. LOVE.
New England Patriots: Shane Vereen is a top-10 fantasy running back. My thinking: Has the ability to be a three-down back, just hasn't gotten the chance. With only fumble-prone Stevan Ridley, uninspiring Brandon Bolden and some unproven rookies to compete with, Vareen has a clear path to the most playing time he's had in his career. And we know New England running backs will score.
New Orleans Saints: Pierre Thomas breaks the single-season reception record by a running back (currently 101 by Larry Centers in 1995). My thinking: Caught 77 balls last year, and the 89 targets to Darren Sproles are now up for grabs. Don't believe in the pass-catching ability of Mark Ingram or Khiry Robinson, and Brandin Cooks will take only so many of those Sproles targets.
New York Jets: Geno Smith is a top-12 fantasy QB. You heard me. My thinking: Showed that kind of ability last year in flashes (five different 20-point games, more than Andrew Luck or Tony Romo, same as Newton and Russell Wilson). The Jets added weapons in offseason, he has looked good in preseason, and it's not uncommon for quarterbacks to take a big step forward in their second seasons.
Oakland Raiders: Maurice Jones-Drew, currently going 31st among running backs, is a top 15 fantasy back. My thinking: Healthy again, he's been a top-10 back on teams that were worse than the Raiders will be this year.
Philadelphia Eagles: The highest-scoring fantasy pass-catcher on the Eagles this year is Zach Ertz. You heard me. My thinking: Jeremy Maclin can't stay healthy, Riley Cooper is inconsistent and Ertz is a physical beast (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) who will be a big part of the offense and the best red zone threat at Chip Kelly's disposal.
Pittsburgh Steelers: I say 900 yards and six scores for Markus Wheaton, which would likely make him a top-30 wideout. My thinking: No Emmanuel Sanders or Jerricho Cotchery, I'm not a Lance Moore believer and they will be throwing. A lot.
San Diego Chargers: I say Donald Brown, currently going nine rounds after Ryan Mathews, is the highest-scoring running back on the team. My thinking: Mathews has issues with health and hanging onto the ball.
San Francisco 49ers: I say Vernon Davis is not a top-10 tight end. My thinking: He's very touchdown-dependent for his fantasy value and, with a full season of Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin back and the addition of Steve Johnson, I don't see him getting nearly as many targets, in the red zone or otherwise.
St. Louis Rams: Shaun Hill finishes as a top-20 fantasy QB. My thinking: There's really not a lot I believe in on this Rams team. Love Zac Stacy, good defense, the wideouts have some upside, but I can't bring myself to think any of them do something special. But it'll be a nice offense, and Hill is a lot better than people think.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I say Mike Evans is the highest-scoring fantasy rookie wideout. My thinking: Everyone is talking about Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin is getting a lot of love and Sammy Watkins is in the conversation, but no one seems to be really talking about a 6-foot-5 guy who is the No. 2 receiver in a passing attack that features a QB who loves to throw a jump ball.
Tennessee Titans: I say Jake Locker, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter all outperform their ADP by 20 spots each, 15 for Locker. (Locker QB 27, Wright WR 34 and Hunter WR 49). My thinking: In Ken Whisenhunt I believe. Don't feel great about their run game, but with health and a little luck, these parts of the passing game will build on last year's success.
Washington: I say Robert Griffin III is a top-5 fantasy quarterback. My thinking: It's just preseason. I understand the criticism, but all the offseason additions (players and coaches), a full year of Jordan Reed and finally back to full health, the rushing and pass-happy play calling vaults him into the top 5.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- - boldly predicts everyone on Twitter will be super-positive this season, starting with this column. 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. You may also have heard: He has written a book.