Thirty years ago this past summer, I graduated high school, and like many of my friends at that time, I was killing time until I went off to college. On July 15 of that year, an aimless Friday in my hometown of College Station, Texas, my good friend Sean Lofgren and I were wandering around Post Oak Mall, cool kids in a small town that we were. We walked by the mall movie theater, and eager to not go out in the heat, we decided to buy a ticket to whatever movie started next.
It was an action film starring a TV actor named Bruce Willis. Neither of us had heard anything about "Die Hard," but hey, the poster had a building blowing up. How bad could it be?
Two hours and 12 minutes later, give or take a few for previews, our lives were transformed. We loved that movie and have spent the past three decades trading quotes from the movie back and forth. We saw it many more times that summer, we got on a plane to make sure we were in the same city to go see "Die Hard 2" the weekend it opened and there were many holidays where "Die Hard" DVDs and other related gifts were exchanged between us. For a while, Sean called his car "Argyle."
Since that time I've watched it many more times over the years, I've made my kids watch it, and it remains one of my five favorite films ever.
I am not alone, of course. "Die Hard" became a cultural phenomenon that summer, earning more than $140 million worldwide in 1988 dollars, earning four Academy Award nominations and spawning four (!) sequels. It also made Bruce Willis a bona fide movie star. Before the release, the studio was so nervous about Bruce that they put his face behind the big building on the poster.
I bring this up because the other day on the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast, Field Yates asked everyone on the show what their favorite Christmas movie is, and I answered quickly, honestly and without a second's hesitation:
Not surprisingly, not everyone agreed. Big dumb-dumb Daniel Dopp and Grinchy Stephania Bell said it's not a Christmas movie, whereas super-smart Field said it was. Others weighed in via social media and we quickly had to move off the argument as we were running behind.
You and I can debate draft-day fantasy strategies, player evaluations and whether a hot dog is a sandwich (it's not), and I will respect your right to have a different opinion than mine. Politics, pop culture and pizza, you name it, I will respect your differing opinion on any subject under the sun.
BECAUSE IT'S WRONG.
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
"Die Hard" is one of the all-time great action movies.
It created a whole sub-genre of action movies ("hero trapped alone somewhere").
It's incredibly quotable.
It's got one of the all-time great villains in Hans Gruber.
And it's the greatest Christmas movie ever made.
Oh, and by the way ...
It's not close.
Look, I know it has been written about and debated a lot before. I know other shows here at ESPN have had this debate, other fantasy analysts have, and Nate Ravitz and I ourselves had this debate multiple times on the podcast many years ago.
But the argument was reignited this summer when Detective John McClane himself, star Bruce Willis, at the end of his Comedy Central roast, said, "Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It's a goddamn Bruce Willis movie."
And just recently, a Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter survey found 62 percent of all American adults said it was not a Christmas movie.
We "'Die Hard' is a Christmas movie" truthers can always use one more thing to point at for the misguided among us. So let me, just like a lonely cop halfway across the country just trying to see his estranged wife for the holidays but suddenly surrounded by machine gun-wielding crazies, dive into this madness. I am, however, wearing shoes.
The big argument against "Die Hard" being a Christmas movie usually centers around at least one of these four things:
1. It was released in the summer.
2. You don't need Christmas for the plot. The story could happen at any time.
3. It's an action movie, with guns and violence and things blowing up. That isn't Christmas.
4. Bruce Willis said so.
So let's start with No. 1. Do you know when "Miracle on 34th Street" was released? You know, the classic movie about a girl and a lawyer trying to prove Santa Claus is real? Currently ranked as the third-best Christmas movie of all time by Rotten Tomatoes, the movie was released on May 2.
If being released in the summer discounts "Die Hard," then "Miracle on 34th Street" has to go out the window as well. Or to put it another way, last year, between Dec. 15 and Dec. 22, "Pitch Perfect 3," "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "The Post" were released, among others. Are they Christmas movies?
Of course not. Studios release movies when they think they will make the most money. "Jumanji" and "Star Wars" could have easily been released during the summer, same as "Die Hard" could have come out in December.
As for No. 2, this is actually not true. The movie is based on a book called "Nothing Lasts Forever" by Roderick Thorp. In the novel -- the source material for the film -- the story takes place on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, and is told through the main character detective's perspective. The Christmas Eve date is actually crucial to the plot. Yes, buildings can be taken hostage anytime, BUT for this movie to work the movie creators need a few things.
They need a lot of people in the building late at night in one area, making them easy to corral and have no interference. Hans chose this date (the company's annual Christmas party) for this specific reason. As we see in an early scene between Hans and Takagi, Hans knows everything about Takagi and the Nakatomi Corporation. Hans needs relative quiet and minimal security at the building initially to infiltrate it (it's Christmas Eve) and the movie creators need a reason -- someone not on the guest list, "the fly in the ointment, Hans," the monkey wrench, the pain in the ass -- so that things won't go as planned for the bad guys.
The emotional arc of the movie -- one of the many reasons it works so well -- is knowing the relationship between Detective John McClane and his estranged wife, Holly (Holly! She's named Holly for Christmas sake) Gennaro. What he is willing to risk for a woman he isn't even sure wants him anymore and his family given limited resources and his life constantly threatened is what makes the risks and actions he takes believable. Christmas is the most realistic reason for McClane to (a) be visiting his estranged wife, and (b) randomly find himself at a party that no one expects him to be at. It's also why Al Powell, on his way home from a Twinkie run, is the only cop readily available to notice what's going on for much of the movie. If the movie is set at any other time, it doesn't work as well, there are more plot holes and frankly, it's not as good. This is not a superhero movie, this is a movie where real people do real people things, and that realism is grounded in the movie being set on Christmas Eve.
Let's quickly jump ahead to No. 4. Well, the full quote Willis said (at the end of a roast, where everyone is joking, no less) is this: "'Die Hard' is not a Christmas movie. It's a goddamn Bruce Willis movie."
OK, that's like me saying this isn't a fantasy football article (which we are getting to soon, I promise), it's a Matthew Berry article. Sure, I'm writing it, but the ultimate theme of it is fantasy football.
Anyway, Willis said it this summer and then a million articles and fans breathlessly reported this as fact, acting as if he is the definitive arbitrator of this. Drives me up a wall.
Remember, Willis also thought doing "Mercury Rising" was a good idea. Take it from the co-writer of "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles." I know a stinker of a movie when I see one. Bruce has been in more than his share. By the way, I actually really like Bruce Willis as an actor. I just couldn't care less about his opinion on this subject.
Because the man who created the world of "Die Hard," screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, said it was a Christmas movie. He has said it many times, in many interviews and in many tweets, including this one, where he even made a handy chart to compare "Die Hard" to "White Christmas":
- Steven E. de Souza (@StevenEdeSouza) December 27, 2017
I'm not sure how anyone argues with the guy who actually wrote the movie and created the world as to whether or not it is. To me, that's the end of the debate. A Washington Post article also notes that producer Joel Silver, while they were making the movie (before anyone could see it and have an opinion on it) remarked that the movie would be played every Christmas. He was right, of course, but it just goes to show that in addition to creative choices, it was also a commercial decision by the producer of the whole thing to target Christmas audiences.
So that should end it, but I'll just say that I don't buy the "too much action" argument. My second favorite Christmas movie ever is "It's a Wonderful Life" and that starts with our hero contemplating (very seriously) suicide. Some would say that's not in the holiday spirit, some would say that's exactly the holiday spirit, as it's a depressing time for many. Including Detective John McClane, who misses his family and knows he has only himself to blame for a lot of it.
The themes of love, redemption, family, forgiveness, making sacrifices for the ones you cherish, making sacrifices for those you have never met, strangers turning into lasting relationships (shoutout to Sgt. Al Powell!), protecting those who need it no matter what the consequence (shoutout to Takagi), and hoping for a miracle when everything looks bleak are as Christmas as you get.
There's lots of Christmas music throughout and there are many references to Christmas, from John McClane's teddy bear gift on the plane to "Let It Snow" playing over the end credits. There are visual jokes (who can forget the elevator guest with a sweatshirt reading "Ho Ho Ho ..."), specific plot points (Christmas wrapping paper can be handy to hide a gun, no?) and many quotes referencing it.
As Hans says: "It's Christmas, Theo, it's the time of miracles. So be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock."
People celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways. Some with one family, some with many. Some with friends, and some just take a day for themselves. There is no one right way to celebrate Christmas. It's not cookie-cutter. So the fact that "Die Hard" is not a cookie-cutter Christmas movie is what truly makes it a Christmas movie to me.
John McClane: Merry Christmas, Argyle.
Argyle: Merry Christmas. [to himself] Man, if this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year's.
Same, Argyle. Same.
Let's get to it now. As always, "Loves" are players I expect to exceed the ESPN projection, "Hates" are players that I believe will fall short. This is NOT a start/sit column. Always check the rankings Sunday morning and be sure to watch Fantasy Football Now, as this is written on Wednesdays. Things change during the week, don'tcha know? Thanks, as always, to my own Sgt. Al Powells, "Thirsty" Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast and The Stat-a-pillar, Damian Dabrowski from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+.
Here we go. Week 2 of the playoffs. As John McClane would say: "Yippee-ki-yay, m-----f-----."
Quarterbacks I love in Week 15
Philip Rivers at Chiefs (Projection: 20.4 points): Vegas has the over/under in this game at 53.5 points. Rivers will have to chuck it in this one. Ten times this season a QB has thrown for multiple TDs or passed for 340 yards versus the Chiefs. Rivers is averaging 24.5 fantasy points in his past five games with at least 35 pass attempts, and entering this game with a banged-up running game, I like Rivers to go over his projection and continue his terrific season.
Jared Goff vs. Eagles (Projection: 20.3 points): I know, I know. If you managed to survive last week after Goff's historically brutal performance, I can understand the trepidation of going back to the well here. But back in L.A., where it's warm, I expect Goff to heat up. Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. At home this season, Goff ranks fourth in touchdown percentage, fifth in TD-INT rate, second in passer rating and first in fantasy PPG. When on the road this season, the Eagles are giving up the third-most quarterback points per game, and given the state of their secondary, gimme the over here.
Kirk Cousins vs. Dolphins (Projected: 18.0 points): Same as Goff, I get never wanting to play him again after Monday night's mess. But since Week 10, the Dolphins are allowing a league-high 24.1 fantasy points per game to QBs and the fifth-most passing yards per game in that span. The Dolphins struggle to create pressure and Cousins is a different quarterback when he has time. Pressured? Three touchdown passes, four interceptions. Not pressured? Twenty touchdown passes and five INTs. The Dolphins helped Tom Brady get back on track last Sunday and this week, in Minnesota, I say they do the same for Cousins.
Dak Prescott at Colts (Projection: 18.2 points): The Colts are allowing opponents to complete 71.9 percent of passes this season (second-highest rate in the NFL). It's worth noting that since Dallas acquired Amari Cooper, Prescott's 74.1 percent completion rate tops the league. The Cowboys also stay on the field, extending drives. Since Cooper showed up, the Cowboys have converted third downs at the second-highest rate in the NFL. The Colts are the sixth-worst third down defense this season (41.9 percent), so I'm thinking Dallas' efficient ways probably continue Sunday. Dak has been a top-five fantasy QB with Cooper as his teammate, so gimme the over here.
Others receiving votes: The over/under for the Patriots-Steelers game is currently 52.5 points. In games this year where 50-plus points are scored, Tom Brady is averaging 22.8 points per game. Here are Brady's passing yardage totals from the past four games: 254, 283, 311, 358. At home this season, the Steelers have allowed the second-most quarterback points per game, so while he makes me a bit nervous, I do think Brady has a good fantasy game against Pittsburgh. ... Don't look now, but over the past three weeks, the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy is ... wait for it ... Josh Allen. He has at least 18 points and 99 rushing yards in three straight games. Yes, the passing is still a work in progress, but believe it or not he's delivering more value with his legs these days than Lamar Jackson. At home against a Lions defense that appears to have packed it in for the season, there's a low floor here, so he's definitely risky, but a solid reward is available as well. If you need a streamer you could do worse. Allen is available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues. ... Since Week 11, Denver is allowing a league-high 335.8 passing yards per game. In that same span, Baker Mayfield is averaging 297.7 passing yards per game (seventh most in the NFL). Baker is going to be a star.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 15
Aaron Rodgers at Bears (Projection: 17.4 points): I know, he had a good game against the Bears earlier in the season (the crazy game where he left injured and then came back and scored almost all of his points in the fourth quarter), but that seems like a million years ago. This time at Soldier Field, Rodgers faces a Bears team that allows the second-fewest yards per pass attempt this season and gives up an average of just 13 points to opposing QBs when playing at home. A-Rod just hasn't looked like himself this season and while he was fine fantasy-wise against the Falcons, he got 44 yards on the ground (not typical) and he still didn't look 100 percent right. He's Rodgers, so I won't be surprised by anything he does, but I'm taking the under here.
Jameis Winston at Ravens (Projection: 18.9 points): The Ravens are not going to get beat by the deep ball that Winston loves to throw, as the Ravens are allowing a touchdown on just 4.3 percent of deep pass attempts (third-lowest rate in the NFL). They also give up the second-fewest yards per deep completion this season and have the second-lowest completion percentage against deep passes. Over the past two weeks, Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes have thrown a touchdown pass on just 3.8 percent of their passes against the Ravens, basically half of their rate for the season against the rest of the NFL (7.5 percent). Fantasy aside, Winston is not as good as either Matt Ryan or Patrick Mahomes. I'll take the under here.
Matthew Stafford at Bills (Projected: 12.8 points): What's crazier? This super-low projection or the fact I'm taking the under on it? We are running out of words to describe how bad this offense looks. Since the Week 6 bye, Stafford is averaging just 11.3 PPG. Traveling east to play a Bills defense that allows a league-low 185.8 passing yards per game this season (since Week 10, it's down to just 127 yards per game) and a league-low 9.3 yards per completion, the Lions are devoid of talent in the passing game except for Kenny Golladay, who should be shadowed by Tre'Davious White. On the road and outdoors, where Stafford has struggled even when things were going well, he isn't even a consideration in two-QB leagues.
Running backs I love in Week 15
David Johnson at Falcons (Projection: 16.7 points): I love the workload. Over his past six games, he's averaging 22.8 touches per game (only Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley and are averaging more during that stretch). I love the matchup, as the Falcons allow a league-high 7.46 receptions to running backs per game and the fourth-highest yards per carry against this season (4.99). And, of course, I love the versatility of the player (only DJ, Elliott and Gurley have 220 carries AND 40 receptions this season). So I guess the point of this entry is that, I love David Johnson this week.
Leonard Fournette vs. Redskins (Projection: 17.2 points): Much like a QB after throwing an interception, you've gotta have a short memory in this game. And that's certainly true for those who started Fournette last week and somehow managed to survive. I'm back on Leonard this week, mostly because if you are like me and are a glutton for punishment, you watched the Redskins completely give up last week. Since Week 9, Washington is allowing 30.5 running back points per game (fifth most, and a 52.7 percent bump from what they allowed during the first eight weeks this season). During that stretch, Washington is allowing the second-most running back rushing yards per game (139.8). Fournette is sure to get a heavy workload in this one, as the Skins will trot out Josh Johnson at QB, who was sitting on his couch two weeks ago, and put him behind a decimated offensive line that has the backups of backups playing. There are some turnovers coming here and short fields for the Jags, further adding to his appeal.
Joe Mixon vs. Raiders (Projection: 17.1 points): In his past three games, Mixon has 388 total yards and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Since Week 5, Mixon has accounted for 45.7 percent of Bengals touches (fourth-highest rate) and 74 percent of Bengals carries (third highest). Do you know how many running backs have more games than Mixon with at least three catches and 85 rushing yards this season? One. And his name is Ezekiel Elliott, a player whose projection is more than 30 percent higher than Mixon's this week. I like Zeke plenty, but I love Mixon at this number in this spot, especially against a Raiders team that allows more red zone drives than any other. Gimme the over.
Dalvin Cook vs. Dolphins (Projection: 17.0 points): Even in a broken, awful Monday night game, Cook still bailed you out. You know I like Cousins to bounce back here, so it stands to reason I'm on Cook as well. Dalvin has more than 100 total yards or a touchdown in four of his five games since returning from injury, and that has been with very limited volume. Against a Dolphins team that since Week 6 is allowing the second-most rushing yards (158.5) and the second-most yards per carry (5.42), I want the over here.
Others receiving votes: These are all flex-or-worse options, but very quietly, Doug Martin has a rushing touchdown in three straight games. You don't even have to think Martin is all that good. The Bengals are allowing the third-most yards per carry before first contact. It's not all that hard to run when people aren't hitting you, ya know? ... Apparently, there's a theme of redemption this week. Not just John McClane's, but also many players who disappointed last week, like Josh Adams. Understand that there is a significantly low floor here, as he is not involved in the passing game, and if the Rams start blowing out the Eagles, he'll sit for Darren Sproles. But you can run on the Rams -- I think Doug Pederson saw what Chicago did to them last week -- and over the past three weeks, Adams ranks seventh in percentage of team rushing attempts (64.5 percent, ahead of guys like Barkley and Christian McCaffrey). Plus, with Carson Wentz out, the Eagles will want to lean on the running game even more. Last week's low carry count was more a product of the game environment (the Eagles had the ball for less than one-third of the game) than it was a lack of confidence in their talented rookie. ... If you're truly scraping the bottom of the barrel, it's worth noting that no team has been run on more than the Cardinals this season (31.4 attempts per game). I'm not saying Ito Smith is a world beater, but 60 yards on 11 carries last week and multiple catches in eight of his past 11 games, he has out-touched Tevin Coleman in each of the past two games and he's averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry in that stretch. ... The Chiefs are the 25th-ranked run defense over the past four weeks and are allowing more than 5 yards a carry for the season. If Melvin Gordon sits, I'm in on Justin Jackson, who is averaging 6 yards per carry over the past three, sixth best among all RBs. Small sample warning, of course, but he should get the majority of work for the Bolts. In the past two games, which Gordon missed, the Chargers' top back has averaged 16.3 fantasy points per game, which on a per-game basis would make that person a top-12 RB in fantasy this year.
Running backs I hate in Week 15
Mark Ingram II at Panthers (Projection: 13.2 points): This one is close and I think the projection is in the right area, but Ingram makes me nervous this week. The Panthers are allowing the sixth-fewest yards before first contact to opposing running backs this season (1.97, 24.9 percent better than league average) and over the past three weeks, Ingram ranks 19th among running backs in yards per carry after first contact. Do you think the Panthers keep this close? Because so far this season Ingram needs a blowout to get reasonable volume. In the three Saints games this season that were decided by at least three touchdowns, he averaged 15 carries per game. However, in the six other games in which he played where the score was within three scores, he averaged just 10.8 carries per game. In addition, he has just five catches in his past four games, so he's not getting work in the passing game. So it really comes down to whether you think the Saints go into Carolina and blow them out, and if you think he scores.
Marlon Mack vs. Cowboys (Projection: 12.3 points): He fell into the end zone last week, but in general, Mack has needed the big play for fantasy production. More than 18 percent of Mack's career points have come on 20-plus-yard rushes (better than Ingram, Kareem Hunt and Gordon, among others). That big play, however, is unlikely to come against the Cowboys, who are top five in fewest rushing plays of 10 and 20 yards-plus allowed. The Cowboys are the second-best defense against the run the past four weeks.
Sony Michel (Projection: 12.5 points) and James White (12.6) at Steelers: Yes, Michel had a 40-yard carry negated by a James Develin penalty (thanks, James Develin), but in the past two weeks, the box score shows only a 3.24 yards-per-carry average. He gets no passing game work and Develin keeps vulturing touchdowns. Thanks, James Develin. The Steelers are a top-12 run defense the past four weeks. Meanwhile, for a variety of reasons, White isn't getting nearly the usage he was earlier in the season and the Steelers have allowed the second-fewest RB receptions this season. Gimme the under on both guys.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 15
Brandin Cooks (Projection: 16.1 points) and Robert Woods (16.3) vs. Eagles: You already know I'm in on Goff this week. Since Week 4, the Eagles are allowing a league-high 43 receiver points per game. Vegas has this game projected for north of 50 points and that's good news for Cooks, as he is averaging 9.5 targets and 20.3 points (when healthy) in such games this season. Meanwhile, Woods is coming off a season-high 13 targets last week. Since 2012, here's a list of players with at least 12 straight games of 60-plus receiving yards: Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones and now -- Robert Woods.
Julian Edelman at Steelers (Projection: 15.2 points): Edelman has more than 17 points in five of his past six games, and he leads the NFL in slot catches (37) and targets (52) since he debuted this season. The Steelers are allowing a league-high 124.3 slot yards per game this season on a league-high 14.3 slot attempts per game. Brady is going to have to throw to keep up with Ben in this one, and when he throws, he looks most often toward Edelman.
Jarvis Landry at Broncos (Projection: 12.2 points): Things have clearly turned around for Landry recently, as he has more fantasy points in his past two games than he did in his previous four. The Broncos are also allowing the fourth-most yards per slot reception this season and are obviously without Chris Harris Jr. now. And while the Browns have been creative with Landry's usage, he still ranks third in slot targets this season. Give me the over on his projection this week.
Jared Cook at Bengals (Projection: 12.4 points): In a whoa, crazy-crazy year, nothing may be crazier than Cook's season. He has four games this season with seven-plus catches and 100-plus receiving yards. The only other TEs who can say that are Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. The Bengals are allowing opponents to complete 77.5 percent of passes thrown to tight ends this season (third highest) and the second-most red zone drives per game this season.
Others receiving votes: The 49ers have allowed a touchdown on 11.1 percent of deep pass attempts (the second-highest rate in the league). I know he was quiet on Monday night, but I like Tyler Lockett in a boom/bust WR3 sort of way this week. ... With 19 targets in the past two weeks and 80 or more receiving yards in each game, Curtis Samuel is on the flex radar in a matchup with a Saints squad that has given up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs. ... In each of the four games A.J. Green has missed, John Ross has a touchdown. He hasn't received a ton of volume, but against a Raiders team allowing a league-high 3.9 red zone drives per game this season, he's a decent long-shot flier if you're desperate.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 15
Mike Evans at Ravens (Projection: 15.2 points): The Ravens are allowing the second-fewest yards per deep completion, so it'll be tough to record the big gain, and Evans has scored just twice in his past 10 games. He's always a threat to score, of course, but you know I'm down on Winston this week and he's been spreading the ball around so much (in the past five games, Evans is getting just 6.6 targets per game after averaging almost 10 per game prior to that). You have to start him, but you probably don't feel great about it, and I'm taking the under here.
Kenny Golladay at Bills (Projection: 12.3 points): Over the past three weeks, Golladay is catching just 50 percent of his targets, and his receptions and yards have declined in each game during that stretch. And now he and the Lions travel to Buffalo to face a Bills defense that has given up the third fewest fantasy points to WRs this season. With shadow coverage likely coming from Tre'Davious White, I'm taking the under on Babytron's projection this week.
Jimmy Graham at Bears (Projection: 9.6 points): Graham hasn't gone over 55 receiving yards in seven straight games, and during that stretch he is averaging just 28.6 yards. He has no TDs in five straight games, and I don't have a ton of confidence that that changes against a Bears team that is top 10 in terms of fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends and hasn't given up a touchdown to a tight end at Soldier Field since Week 8.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- says, "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs." He is the 2017 FSTA Fantasy Football Analyst of the Year and the creator of RotoPass.com and RotoPassDaily.com. He is also one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.