"How do I do a Halloween fantasy football column that isn't totally hacky?"
It was Wednesday and my editor Pierre Becquey and I were having a discussion about this very column. He refrained from saying "Have someone else write it?" which is among the reasons I like him. I needed an open, I wanted to use Halloween as a natural theme but there were a few problems.
First, I'm not a Halloween guy. I tend not to dress up; I just don't enjoy it, as anyone who sees me on TV knows, I'm just not a clothes guy. It's always during football season, where I'm working seven days a week and just have no time to think or plan for anything. Second, I have only a few funny Halloween stories from my life and so far, I haven't figured out a way to write them in a way that I could print them and still keep my job, so there's nothing I can glean there. Finally, it's all so obvious and terrible.
At least to me. Writing is very, very hard and I mean no disrespect to anyone else in my industry. Many, many people, both on ESPN and on other sites, do really good work. And since coming to ESPN, I actually won't read other people's work because I don't want anything to influence me one way or the other. So the following observation is based on years of reading fantasy, nothing recent. ... But the obvious ways to go with a Fantasy Halloween thing are just terrible to me. Here's the top five hackiest themes I've read over the years:
Matty's Pigskin Pick 'em picks
I always enjoy playing Pigskin Pick 'em, our football pick 'em game. I play both straight up and against the spread. Last season, I was in the 95.7th percentile on ESPN.com against the spread.
This season, I decided to publish my picks. You can find them every week on my TMR page, where there's an uncomfortable amount of me but also links to various articles, videos and podcasts and now, every week, my picks against the spread. Check it out here: Matthew Berry's home page.
4. The "candy" theme: "Against the Steelers, Chris Ivory will be the neighborhood mom who gives you raisins instead of Snickers." "Reggie Wayne will light up the Texans like a kid's face when he finds no one home but there's a bowl full of candy in front of the door."
3. The "Halloween" theme: No specific narrow theme but rather just overusing lots of Halloween imagery and phrases. Players that will prank you or that you'll want to carry a torch and pitchfork to, matchups that are candy sweet and you see lots of witches, ghouls and goblins thrown about.
2. The "Here's the players who really scare me this week" theme. Yawn.
1. The "Who is gonna be a fantasy "trick" or fantasy "treat" this week theme.
All terrible, all unoriginal, all made me think, way back when, that if I could write even somehow coherently, I'd be OK as I made my way up the fantasy analyst ranks.
So I'm not a Halloween fan.
So why even do an open on it? Why? Because I got 34 of these things to write! Twice a week for 17 straight weeks. Add in the preseason and I have 40 opens to write in five months. Dude, my life isn't that interesting! There's only so much I can mine from my life and the various news of the day. I'm not passing on a gimme theme like Halloween.
I just want to make it sort of interesting. And frankly, the only thing interesting to me about Halloween is what women choose to wear as costumes. Sexy nurse. Sexy cop. Sexy Sponge Bob. Doesn't matter. They all work, bless their hearts.
And I'm not at all surprised that among the most popular costumes this year, according to the Wall St. Journal are "Snooki" and "The Situation" from MTV's "Jersey Shore."
The reason women love to dress as a sexy pirate or sexy cat or sexy sexy person is the same reason that "Jersey Shore" is a huge hit and a cultural phenomenon. We live vicariously through the kids, wishing we could all fist-pump our way through a life filled with partying, T-shirt time and girls that are DTF.
When the Current Mrs. Roto and I aren't busy doing our own GTL, we watch it together and absolutely love it. Haven't missed an episode. We both agree Sammie's kind of a pill with Ronnie.
And it's the same way with the costumes women wear. It's the one day of the year they can step out of their comfort zone and wear whatever they want without fear of people looking at them weird. They can channel their inner Snooki and make out with a juice head while dancing on a stripper pole as DJ Pauly D's sick beats thump in the background.
And with six NFL teams on byes, plus some big names banged up and a few terrible matchups, this might be the week you step out of your comfort zone. Do I really have Ryan Fiztpatrick ranked ahead of Drew Brees? Am I starting either Mike Williams over Larry Fitzgerald? And do I really have a tight end you've never heard of (and couldn't spell his name even if you had) ranked as a top 15 guy this week? You're damn right I do.
Before you put on the Situation Abs T-shirt or the Snooki poof wig, you'll be setting your lineup. And when you do, consider all the women who, for one day this weekend, will dress as a sexy teacher or a sexy fooball player or a sexy Obama. They had the guts to do something different than they normally do. Do you?
Let's get to this week's loves and hates. If you don't get the premise by now, you never will. Numbers in parentheses are my Wednesday rank and the average score of the other three rankers. Use your brain, use my Friday rank updates as a barometer on where I stand on each player (for all your "this guy or that guy" questions in standard scoring), watch both editions of "Fantasy Football Now" on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. ET on ESPN.com and at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2, make sure you check the inactives as they get announced and follow me on Twitter for the latest ranks, tweaks to my rankings and news up till kickoff.
As The Situation said on Twitter recently (you're damn right I follow all those kids), "God grant me the stamina to satisfy hot chicks, the courage to deny grenades, and the wisdom to know the difference." He was talking about women, but it easily could be fantasy football players. Here's to your wisdom.
Week 8 players I love
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills (7, 15): Not Aaron Rodgers. Not Drew Brees. And not Peyton Manning. Over the last four games played, the best fantasy quarterback in the NFL is Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yes, Arrowhead is a tough place to play. But so is Baltimore. The Jets have a pretty good defense, and he put up 20 points on them. He's completing more than 60 percent of his passes, has at least three touchdown passes in two straight games, and the K.C. offense will run all over the Buffalo defense. Which means the Bills are behind, they're passing and the Ivy League kid makes you smart on Sunday.
Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers (10, 18): When Raheem Morris said the Bucs were the best team in the NFC, he was full of bunk and hooey. That's crazy talk, but Freeman as a top-10 guy this week? Factually correct. Look, he's the 13th-best fantasy quarterback this year, and if you take out the players that aren't available this weekend, he moves up to ninth. He struggled against Pittsburgh, but everyone struggles against Pittsburgh. He has double-digit fantasy points in five of six games this year, and he's bound to get a few points rushing as well. Against the Cards, who have given up 13 points a game to quarterbacks at home this year, he'll have another solid game.
Jon Kitna, QB, Cowboys (14, 14): Speaking of Raheem Morris, thank goodness for him. Otherwise Roy Williams' statement that Kitna was as good as Tony Romo would be atop the crazy-quote leaderboard. But whether my other rankers believe in the fountain of youth, the lack of a Jags defense or the lack of a Dallas defense that will keep Kitna throwing to as talented a group of wide receivers as there is in the league, we all agree that Kitna is a decent bye-week fill-in.
Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins (15, 13): With news that Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall missed practice Wednesday, I'll be moving Henne up Friday in my update. If either of those guys doesn't play, Henne should have a good game, especially since the Bengals are really struggling to generate a pass rush. Henne is gonna have all day to sit back and pick apart that Cincy secondary.
Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins (11, 10): Told you. (I'm going as a smug jerk for Halloween).
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks (14, 14): This week we all like Lynch, who had 83 yards and two touchdowns the last time he played the Raiders. The uniform has changed and so has the year, but the one constant is that the Raiders can't stop the run. Especially on the road, expect Pete Carroll to pound the rock with his new toy.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys (19, 18): More than most weeks I can remember, my fellow rankers and I are in agreement a lot. Anyway, it's clear the Cowboys don't trust their offensive line. I mean, I'm sure they'd leave their wallets around them and stuff, but as far as blocking in pass protection? Ugh. This has become a check-down offense, with the quarterback taking very few seven-step drops recently. They want the ball out the quarterback's hands quickly, and that only increases now the less mobile Jon Kitna is in for Tony Romo. Jones will get runs and a lot of screen passes and dump-offs, one of which I bet he takes to the house.
Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins (25, 29): More of a gut call here, but the Bengals have given up five scores to opposing running backs in their past four games. In three home games this year, Williams has just 30 total touches. But in three road games, he has 42 total touches. I think Williams gets 10 fantasy points one way or the other in this game.
Darren Sproles, RB, Chargers (30, 41): San Diego has no one else to throw to these days. And against a tough Titans defense, I can see Philip Rivers needing to check down more often than not.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts (9, 12): When you play the worst pass defense in the league, your quarterback is Peyton Manning and you've got everyone else around banged up ... you're a top-10 start no matter what. Says so right there in the rule book and everything.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs (8, 12): You realize, of course, that if he caught the pass in the end zone against the Colts, he'd be a top-10 fantasy wide receiver ... for the year. As it is, you're starting him against a Bills secondary that is giving up an average of 25 fantasy points per game on the road to opposing wideouts and is still banged up.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings (7, 15): 21. 9. 16. Sorry, just listing his point totals since Randy Moss showed up and moved Harvin to the slot, which suits his talents much better than the outside. He's a top-10 guy the rest of the year.
Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks (21, 24): Since his bye two weeks ago, he leads the NFL in targets. Williams uses his body, not speed, to get separation, which means it doesn't matter where Nnamdi Asomugha is. Williams will get his.
Davone Bess, WR, Dolphins (30, 35): Apparently, I'm all in on the Dolphins this week. But at least my fellow rankers are catching up on Bess, who has a score in three straight and, as mentioned a lot before, is facing a banged-up secondary that will be focused on Brandon Marshall.
Kellen Winslow, TE, Buccaneers (6, 11): You know I like Josh Freeman against the Cardinals. Well, guess who he is throwing it to? The Cardinals have given up four scores to opposing tight ends in the past four games.
Tony Moeaki, TE, Chiefs (8, 11): Until further notice, we are all starting our tight ends against the Bills, OK? Seven touchdowns allowed in the past four games. Seriously, I'm not sure who scores more: Tight ends against the Bills or DJ Pauly D after The Situation blows it.
Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Rams (16, 25): I mentioned in this week's pick-up column about how much the Rams like this kid and how he tied for the team lead in targets last week. The Panthers have given up at least five fantasy points to opposing tight ends in every game but two: opening week, when they were a much different team, and the Chicago game, where Todd Collins was a hot mess. If you are looking this low for a tight end, I like the rookie for five points or so.
Seattle Seahawks D/ST (5, 8): Still available in 35 percent of leagues. I apologize that I'm not buying that the Raiders are suddenly the 2007 Patriots. But with a lot of hurt parts in the passing game for the Raiders and a No. 2-ranked run defense for the Seahawks, I see another double-digit game for the Seahawks' defense and special teams.
Washington Redskins D/ST (6, 10): A better fantasy defense than a real-life one, they have two terrific playmakers. If I was doing the lame, player-dressed-as theme, LaRon Landry would be going as Troy Polamalu and Brian Orakpo would be DeMarcus Ware. The Redskins are plus-eight in the turnover category; only the Jets are better. I'm pretty sure Matthew Stafford throws at least one pick and maybe two in this game, and the Redskins will continue to move their playmakers around to get the best matchups.
Week 8 players I hate
Drew Brees, QB, Saints (8, 4): I know what you're thinking. No, really. TMR is all knowing, and frankly, seeing your thoughts, you should be ashamed of yourself. I know I am, because I agree with you. Well, except for the part about me being nuts on having Brees here. But check it out: He has eight interceptions in his past three games. Against Arizona, Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Come on. He has been the fifth-best fantasy quarterback this year, but look at who the Saints have played. No one good, frankly, except maybe the Falcons, and it's not like they have an elite secondary. Without a run game to help set up the pass, teams are dropping seven and even eight guys into coverage. Now he plays the Steelers, who are tied for the fewest touchdown passes allowed and give up only nine points a game to opposing quarterbacks. The loss of Aaron Smith hurts the Steelers' pass rush a bit, but not enough since I don't expect Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas to play. I always say don't bench your studs, but I'm not convinced Brees is a stud anymore until he gets a running game back. During a week with six teams on byes, you probably don't have better options, but yeah, I say Ryan Fitzpatrick has a better day than Brees.
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals (19, 10): I'm probably being too harsh on him and I'll raise him a bit in my Friday update. But the truth is he's not a very good quarterback. His two monster games -- one of which was last week, when I also had him as a hate, so here's fair warning -- have come in blowout games in which the Bengals were playing catch-up to New England and Atlanta. I don't see Miami exploding to a big lead the way the Patriots and Falcons did (though I clearly like the Dolphins a lot), so I don't see huge fantasy numbers from Palmer. He has had 10 points or fewer in three of his past five games (including the two home games he has played this year), and the Dolphins' defensive strength is their corners. You have to attack Miami's safeties and get them to bite, which means Cincinnati needs to run Cedric Benson a lot to set up play-action. Palmer will be OK, but not great.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (17, 14): See defense, Redskins.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers (33, 20): I hope I'm wrong. I loved him in the preseason and have him on two teams. The fact that he actually practiced Wednesday is a good sign. But he has yet to prove it on the field, he has Mike Tolbert taking goal-line carries away and Darren Sproles getting the third-down stuff, and the Titans' defense ranks ninth in the league against the run.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders (37, 28): The Seahawks' No. 2-ranked run defense ain't the Broncos' D. And he's competing for the goal-line scraps with Marcel Reece after McFadden gets his. I just don't see a big day here.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints (20, 11): Can someone be Madden Curse-adjacent?
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Broncos (19, 9): Seems to me it always rains in that London game. Plus, Lloyd has gone from 14 to 10 to three targets over the past three weeks. I know the Oakland game got out of hand last week, so it's a bit of an aberration, but long flight, single digits in his past two games and an improving 49ers defense that is top 10 in the NFL in fewest points allowed to opposing wide receivers put him outside the top-10 receivers for me.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (25, 16): With only two touchdowns all season, Fitz has had just one double-digit game this year, and that was in Week 1 (and was only 10 points). If Steve Breaston plays (as opposed to just being active and standing on the sideline), Fitz goes up a bit, but seriously, if he had a different name, you'd drop this guy, right? It's a better matchup than it might look despite the Bucs giving up the sixth-fewest passing yards. They've given up at least one touchdown to an opposing wideout in every game this year. But when doing my ranks I just couldn't see him having a huge game or being someone I'd feel confident starting. Unless Kurt Warner comes out of retirement tomorrow, I'm gonna feel the same way come Sunday.
Jeremy Shockey, TE, Saints (21, 14): As you might have noticed, I'm sort of down on the Saints this week.
Minnesota Vikings D/ST (15, 12): I'm listing them here because two of my fellow rankers have them as a top-10 play this week. And while I realize the Patriots' offense isn't the Patriots' offense anymore, the Vikings' defense isn't what it used to be either. With scores of two, minus-2 and zero in their three road games, the Vikes just don't appeal to me at all against Tom Brady and Co.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- believes that thy should not pay to play on other sites. 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. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend