And, you know, for a writer, that's probably not a good thing.
I never know how a column is going to be received. There are times when I am writing something when I think "Oh man, they're gonna love this," and then people are like ... "Eh, it was OK. Whatever."
And then there are times where I'm like, "Oh man, there's no fixing this one; I hope folks just move along quickly. I'll be better next week, promise," and people have absolutely loved it.
I thought the story from two years ago about a poor interaction with fans when I took my kids to the Giants game would be too inside, too long and get a lot of "no one cares," and yet two years later it and the one where I addressed bullying are the ones that people bring up to me as their favorites.
Then last week's column happened. And I was floored.
You know, I wasn't even sure I'd write it. A few people who are closest to me didn't want me to ever write about it, worrying it was too personal. "It'll just give something else for your haters to use against you," said one. "What if ESPN starts thinking you're not physically well enough to do the job?" said another. "Can't you keep something to yourself?" added a third.
And I appreciated their concern and input, as always. And, if I am being honest, I was nervous. So I waited. I waited until all the tests came back negative and we knew what we were dealing with. I waited for a few weeks until I felt I had some clarity on all the emotions that ran through me that day, so I could write them in a cogent way. And then it still took forever.
My process is generally this: I think about the next column pretty much from the time I turn in the previous one. On Monday afternoons I meet with editors and pitch them what I am planning on writing about it and they help me refine and focus the idea. I spend the next two days doing research for the football part of it while thinking more and more about the theme of the column open. By this point, I have notes about various "beats" or thoughts that I know I want to express and where they are in the story. "Here's what the opening paragraph is, I want to get to this quote somewhere in the middle, this is the end point" sort of thing. I think more about it, make notes, and then on Wednesday I generally write the entire thing in one crazy-long sitting.
Last week's column took three weeks of that process and then three days to write.
And then, carefully, nervously, over the objections of a few closest to me, I let it out into the world.
And the feedback I got was incredible. Amazing. So wonderful and touching and beautiful and brilliant that words are inadequate. This is the first open in a long time that isn't really an open. There's no unifying theme or point, other than just me wanting to address you directly.
Throughout my fantasy analysis career, I have gotten a lot of negativity on the way I have chosen to present things. "Why do you write such long intros? No one cares," they email, tweet or post on message boards. "Just get to the picks." Similar criticism has followed for my podcast ("Berry just tries to be funny -- just get to the picks already") and now for the TV show ("What's with the puppets and costumes? Get to the picks!").
It has always been there and always will be. And last week I figured I was testing that in a way I never had before. "If they thought it was self-indulgent before," I told myself, "wait 'til they get a load of what I'm doing today. Man, are they going to hate this."
The opposite happened. I heard from so many. From many that I had never heard from about my work. From bosses and current colleagues at ESPN, from those who had known what had happened and those who hadn't heard yet. From fellow fantasy analysts across the industry. From cousins, old schoolmates and friends, far and wide. I heard from media critics and blogs that don't commonly write about fantasy sports in general, or me specifically. And from people in my life who shared similar scary experiences they had been through. I was so touched that people felt comfortable sharing with me but perhaps nothing meant more to me than what I heard from you.
So many readers taking the time to write, to tweet, or to post on my Facebook page. And from friends and colleagues to readers and followers, the message was universal: kindness, support and love. So much love.
It was the most gratifying response to a column that I have ever gotten. Maybe it's because of my current mindset after going through that. Maybe it's because of my nervousness in publishing it and going against the advice to keep it private.
But mostly, it's because I've always stood by my belief that if all you want are picks, you can find those a million places (starting here on ESPN, where we have some awesome analysts), and frankly, you should probably just make your own decisions anyway.
But I hope that if you know anything about me, it's that I think fantasy is more than just start-or-sit advice. It's fun, it's something we do to enjoy, it's a bonding experience and it's more than a hobby to many of us. It's a lifestyle. As I like to say: Fantasy football is life. And now, more than ever, I cannot tell you how much it meant to hear from you in a way that let me know you, too, agreed with that point of view. Like this one from Tony.
Thank you for your Love/Hate column today. I am happy that you are doing better and am looking out for your health more.
Your column made me cry today. I don't know if it's because I have two little girls too -- Grace is 8 and Anna is 5 -- or the fact that even though we don't know each other personally, I feel like I do. You've always been part of my life for as long as I can remember as I read your columns and listen to your pod every week.
While I enjoy your advice every week in fantasy I never blame you for your recommendations - like so many other people do on Twitter and elsewhere -- because hey, fantasy is just fantasy and real life is so much more important.
Take care of yourself sir.
I feel l like I know you as well, Tony. I feel like I know all my readers. I try like hell to respond to everyone I can, but sheer volume and time prevent that from happening. But still, I read every single one. I hear about your teams, your leagues and your lives. I feel like I know you guys as well and that's an amazing thing that a simple game like fantasy football has brought us together.
I believe I managed to respond to almost everyone who sent a kind tweet, text or DM about last week's column -- apologies if I missed you -- and I am still wading through all the emails, but my plan is to respond to every one of those as well. I appreciate your patience.
I cherish every single one, but this one from Steve might be my favorite.
Matthew - longtime reader, first-time emailer. I felt compelled to reach out after your Week 6 Love/Hate, both to thank you for sharing an incredibly personal story and because it touched a nerve with me. I couldn't help but reflect on what I would do/feel/think if in the same situation, and I couldn't imagine the hell your wife went through. You had me teary-eyed at my desk!
We sacrifice so much these days to 'being busy' and our careers. Those around us tend to suffer because of it. So, on Thursday after reading your article, I decided that rather than have lunch at my desk (like I do 99 percent of the time) I would run an errand with my wife. She works about a mile away from me downtown, just far enough that we rarely see each other during the work day because neither of us have the time to make the trek.
I know it doesn't sound like much, but I hope it's a small step toward reprioritizing my life and putting friends and family first over all the unimportant B.S. that dominates our days. So thank you, and keep up the good work! (In a low stress, healthy way)
Steve in Seattle
I mean, how could you not love that? The simplicity of taking lunch with your wife rather than eating at your desk? I heard similar stories of people who decided to go home from work early, call a parent or faraway friend or just hugged their kid a little tighter that night. Read them all and loved them.
So while I very much appreciate the thank-you notes from Tony, Steve and everyone else, it's actually me who should say thank you. So, truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Let's get to it. As always, please remember these are not start/sit recommendations but rather players I feel will exceed or fall short of expectations. Please consult my rankings on Sunday morning, as that, not this column, is my final thought on where certain players will fall in a given week. Unless otherwise noted, all team defense ranks are for the past four weeks. Thanks, as always, to Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Stats & Information and "Thirsty" Kyle Soppe of ESPN Fantasy for their help at various points in this article.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 7
Matt Ryan, Falcons: Hey man, I get it. Currently in contention for fantasy bust of the year, non-injury division, Ryan was drafted as QB4 and to date has been QB22 on a points-per-game basis at 13.38 (QB23, Jacoby Brissett, averages 13.36). He has as many or more interceptions as touchdowns in each of his past three games and has thrown for more than one touchdown in just one game this season. One. If you think putting him on the love list this week is an obvious call, you haven't watched him play football this season. But for me, in this week, it depends what you believe in more: Matt Ryan's struggles or the Patriots defense's struggles? For me, I'm taking Ryan in this one, as every quarterback to face New England this season -- I repeat, EVERY quarterback to face New England -- has thrown for more than 300 yards against them. The Patriots are giving up 24.19 fantasy points per game to opposing QBs so far (and it'd be even more if they had called the second Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown correctly, not that I'm still bitter or anything), and I expect the Patriots to have no issue putting up points on Atlanta -- as of Wednesday night, Caesars Palace has the over/under at 56 points, highest of Week 7 -- so yeah, I think you gotta fire him up. I have Ryan as a top-two play this week.
Others receiving votes: Speaking of high-scoring games, red-hot Carson Wentz faces a Redskins defense that will be without Jonathan Allen and very possibly could be without Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland, so, you know, fire him up, too. And on the other side, Kirk Cousins will have to keep throwing to keep up against the Eagles' 29th-ranked pass defense. In his three career games at Philadelphia, he has completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged 342 yards and thrown for nine touchdowns (and just two interceptions). ... It has been a magical year for Alex Smith and I like his chances at keeping it going against a Raiders team that has allowed opponents to complete 72 percent of their passes the past four weeks, the second-highest rate in the NFL. ... With at least three total touchdowns in three straight games, Dak Prescott is locked in as a top-five play this week, especially against the 49ers. ... Streamers should look at Brett Hundley, at home with a week of full reps with the first-team offense. Yes, the Saints' defense has improved, but Hundley is mobile, has amazing weapons and while the Saints are a lot better, they're not the '85 Bears, you know? I like Hundley's chances at beating his ESPN projection of 14 points.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 7
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Remember when "Home Ben" was a thing? I'm hoping we get back there soon, but I'm not feeling it this week. Obviously he has been out of sorts, as the offense just hasn't looked right (his current 62.3 percent completion rate is the lowest it has been since 2010). His current pace of 19 passing touchdowns also would be his lowest total since 2010 when he played only 12 games. But even if he were right, this is traditionally not a great matchup for him. In the past two years when facing the Bengals at home, he has averaged just 6.35 yards per pass attempt with four touchdown passes and five interceptions in those two games. I also worry that the Steelers won't have the ball as much in this one, as Cincy ranks second in time of possession since Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator on Sept. 15. With the Bengals coming off a bye and with two weeks to prepare for their division rival, this should be a low-scoring affair against a Cincy team that is the fourth-best scoring defense over the past month. In our initial ranks, I am the lowest on Ben, as he comes in at QB19 for me.
Others receiving votes: Derek Carr is still not 100 percent healthy and on a short week against the Chiefs, I don't see him doing much damage. In six career games against K.C., Carr has just six touchdowns and five interceptions, with only one game of multiple touchdown passes. He's outside my top 10 for the week. ... Even if Jameis Winston plays for the Buccaneers, ideally he's not playing for you on the road against a Bills team that has given up two passing touchdowns all season long and has allowed only two quarterbacks to score double-digit fantasy points this season. ... I actually kind of like Jacoby Brissett, who I feel has played really well after being thrown into a tough situation. But on the road against Jacksonville and that second-ranked defense, there are better streamers available. And considering the Colts' upcoming schedule is Jacksonville this week, at Cincy, at Houston, Pittsburgh and a bye, I have no issue dropping him for room, even with knowledge of Andrew Luck's latest setback.
Running backs I love in Week 7
Adrian Peterson, Cardinals: Fantasy value changes all the time, and there may not be a greater example of that than Peterson. Two weeks ago he was among the most dropped players through the first few weeks of the NFL season, but now, a week after his Arizona Cardinals debut, he is a top-20 play for me, even in PPR, and I am the highest on him. Volume is great, of course, as he got 26 of the 29 carries given to Arizona RBs in Week 6 and turned them into 134 yards (5.15 per rush) and two TDs. An upgrade in talent at the position helped the Cards run the ball, of course, as did getting left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone back from injury. On Sunday in London, I expect another heavy workload for Peterson against a Rams squad that has allowed 4.8 yards per carry this season, fourth worst in the league, and eight rushing scores, tied for the most in the NFL.
Others receiving votes: You're starting him regardless, but I was the only ESPN ranker to have Jordan Howard inside his top 10 in our initial rankings. Since Mitchell Trubisky took over as Chicago's quarterback, Howard has had 55 carries, more than any other running back in the league. The Panthers have allowed a running back score in three of their past four games. ... On the road against Buffalo, with either a banged-up Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, expect the Bucs to lean on Doug Martin and try to exploit Buffalo's 27th-ranked run defense. ... Before the bye, Joe Mixon had three straight games of 15-plus carries, so I expect that volume to be there again, especially on the road against a divisional opponent in the Steelers. They allow 4.74 yards per carry, sixth most in the NFL (and the third-most yards before first contact). ... I'm more of an Orleans Darkwa believer than not. I like him as a flex this week, as Seattle is just 18th against the run over the past four weeks. ... With DeShone Kizer back under center, I'm back on Duke Johnson Jr. as a flex against a Titans team traveling on a short week.
Running backs I hate in Week 7
DeMarco Murray, Titans: So, with apologies to Al Gore, here's an inconvenient truth for fantasy football. The Browns actually have a good run defense. The most rushing yards by any player in a game against Cleveland this season is 66 (Javorius Allen in Week 2). In fact, opponents are averaging 3.05 yards per rush this season, second fewest in the league. (Only the Broncos have been tougher.) They haven't allowed a running back rushing touchdown since Week 3. Lucky touchdowns can always come, and usually the best argument against a tough defense is volume, but the Titans' offensive coordinator says they plan to get Derrick Henry even more involved, so that doesn't help Murray's cause. Maybe he's still dealing with that hamstring issue that keeps cropping up, but take out that outlier 75-yard run against the Seahawks in Week 3 and Murray is averaging 3.55 yards per carry with just one score. Murray is outside my top 20 for the week.
Others receiving votes: Any of the Jets' running backs make me nervous, especially if Bilal Powell plays, further muddying a crowded backfield on the road against a Dolphins defense that has allowed opposing RBs to average 2.76 yards per carry between the tackles this season, fewest in the league. ... You live by the Patriots running back, you die by the Patriots running back. Mike Gillislee needs a score to be effective for you, and while that's always possible with New England, his recent usage and the matchup -- the Falcons have given up just two rushing scores this season -- make the odds seem unlikely. ... Aaron Jones outsnapped Ty Montgomery last week 42-20 but had just three more touches. Montgomery's ribs and Jones' talent mean that while a committee approach makes all the sense in the world for the Packers, it just complicates matters for us. My guess is the Saints concentrate on stopping the running game and see whether Brett Hundley can beat them. Very quietly, the Saints have allowed the fourth-fewest points per game to running backs over the past four weeks and are the best defense in terms of completion percentage on passes thrown to running backs in that span, making it difficult to think that one of these backs bails you out with a handful of receptions. If they split touches in a tough matchup, both are merely flex plays.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 7
Dez Bryant, Cowboys: It has been an up-and-down year for the Cowboys' star receiver, much of which is driven by matchups. Well, he has a great one this week and as of Wednesday night, I was the only ranker to have him as a top-three play this week. Everyone who has him in season-long play is starting him, but he's worth paying up for in daily, too. He has 10 targets this season on balls thrown into the end zone -- two more than any other player in the league -- and he's tied for third in red zone targets. Meanwhile, San Francisco doesn't have anyone in that 31st-ranked secondary who can keep up with Dez. The Niners are tied for the fourth-most receptions allowed and the fifth-highest completion percentage on passes 15-plus yards downfield to WRs this season. Giddy up.
Others receiving votes: You know I believe Eagles-Redskins will be a high-scoring affair, so I like Alshon Jeffery this week and Nelson Agholor is firmly on the flex radar. Zach Ertz, of course, is already in set-it-and-forget-it territory. ... With the Cowboys passing all over the Niners, San Fran will have to throw to keep up. Pierre Garcon should continue to get a heavy target share -- he's the third-most targeted player the past four weeks -- against a Cowboys team that has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, including multiple WR touchdowns in three of the past four games. ... You know I love my little Cooper Kupp, and this week, you will too. He's leading the Rams in red zone targets and receptions, and he will avoid Patrick Peterson because he plays out of the slot. Arizona has coughed up the second-most receptions, fourth-most receiving yards and fourth-highest completion percentage to opposing WRs lined up in the slot this season. ... In the same game, I expect Peterson to shadow Sammy Watkins (guess who makes the hate list?), meaning Robert Woods, who has double-digit fantasy points in three of the past four and should see a lot of burnable Justin Bethel, is worth considering as a WR3, depending on who else you have, of course. ... With Emmanuel Sanders on the shelf, I like Bennie Fowler III out of the slot on Sunday. He scored twice against the Bolts in Week 1 and I expect Casey Hayward to spend much of his time shadowing Demaryius Thomas, which means Fowler will get extra looks to exploit an L.A. defense that has allowed the third-most receptions, the ninth-most receiving yards and is tied for the most receiving scores to wideouts lined up in the slot this season. ... Death, taxes and you start your tight ends against Cleveland. Delanie Walker, who leads the Titans in receptions, should bounce back in a big way this week. ... Jimmy Graham comes off his bye to face a Giants team that has allowed at least one receiving score to a tight end in every game this season. They also lead the league in receiving yards allowed to TEs and have allowed the second-most catches. ... Austin Seferian-Jenkins was robbed of an extra 8.1 points last week, but lost in the rage (mine at least) is that since ASJ returned from his suspension, all he has done is rank fifth at the position in points, second in targets and first in receptions. Miami is sixth worst against tight ends this season. ... Three tight ends are tied for the position lead with eight red zone targets: Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz and ... George Kittle. With rookie C.J. Beathard at QB in Week 6, Kittle had seven targets, second on the team to Garcon. ... The Patriots have allowed a tight end to reach at least nine fantasy points in every game this season, partially as a result of allowing a receiving TD to a TE in all but one game (Week 4 vs. Carolina). Austin Hooper has seen 16 targets the past two weeks and leads the Falcons in red zone receptions this season.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: If you are a believer in the off-again, on-again pattern, this a "good" week for Hilton, as he was elite in Weeks 3 and 5, but a dud in Weeks 4 and 6. But I believe that was much more due to matchup and he has now had fewer than 60 yards in four of six games this year. Against a Jags defense that generates plenty of pressure (fourth-highest rate) and, as a result, has limited deep-ball production in a big way (third-lowest deep completion percentage), it makes me nervous for Hilton, as 47.8 percent of Hilton's fantasy points since 2014 have come via the deep pass. The Jaguars are one of only three teams in the NFL to not allow a touchdown pass on a ball thrown 15 or more yards this season. Hilton is outside my top 20 this week.
Others receiving votes: As discussed earlier, Sammy Watkins is this week's wideout opposite Patrick Peterson. After this week, he has a bye, the Giants (Janoris Jenkins), Houston, at Minnesota (Xavier Rhodes), New Orleans (seventh-best pass defense the past four weeks) and Patrick Peterson again. Oofa. ... Based on his usage and everything I wrote about Roethlisberger above, I can't imagine using Martavis Bryant as anything other than a hope-for-a-long-one prayer. ... Given the quarterback situation and a poor matchup, not to mention inconsistent production, DeSean Jackson is merely a big-play, touchdown-dependent dart throw. ... The 49ers' defense has allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, thanks to allowing the second-fewest receiving yards per game to them and no touchdowns. Given all the other weapons Dallas has, I would be hard-pressed to start Jason Witten this week.
Defenses to stream in Week 7
Tennessee Titans (50 percent available): You know ... Cleveland.
Buffalo Bills (64 percent available): At home against a banged-up Jameis Winston or Fitz Magic. The Bills' defense has averaged more than nine points a game thus far.
Miami Dolphins (74 percent available): Eight sacks the past two weeks. The Jets aren't terrible, but they're also not scaring anyone.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, promises to be less sappy next week. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.