Back after a week off, so let's open up the mailbag and see what came in while I was away.
Josh (Ferndale, Mich.): TMR, just wanted to send you a hearty congratulations on the healthy birth of your twins. This does not merit any sort of response, just wanted to add one more smile to the many I'm sure you're experiencing this week. Mazel Tov.
TMR: Thanks, Josh. I really appreciate that. As I mentioned in the preseason Love/Hate column, and as was mentioned on Sunday NFL Countdown, Fantasy Football Now, Numbers Never Live and multiple times on the podcast, my twin ... wait for it ... daughters (!) were born last Tuesday and are 100 percent healthy, except their lungs, which I think are 110 percent healthy.
In an upset, I did not name them Brenda and Kelly. Anyways, Josh, I really appreciate you taking the time to write. It's gratifying to know how supportive my readers are of my new family and the time I took to be with them last week. What a great start to the mailbag!
Rick Hayden (Houston, Texas): Are you [expletive] me? Your job is to dole out Fantasy Football advice, you only work 18 weeks out of the year and you're taking one off?!? It's no wonder I don't listen to what you have to say ... the guys at (another site) are much more accurate, and they don't take a week off and leave the people paying their salary hangin with no advice. You're a joke man ...
TMR: Hmm. That one wasn't as nice ...
Petey (Unlisted): DO YOUR JOB!!! Where's Love/Hate? I hate U!!!
TMR: Neither was that one ... huh.
Chris Snyder (Sewell, N.J.): Are you crazy? This is your bread and butter and you're taking off a week... Take it in the summer, regardless of what you think no one gives a [something that smells bad] about baseball fantasy as much as football. You suck ! YOU BLOW BERRY.
TMR: Wait, do I blow or do I suck? Because I am starting to get mixed messages here.
Eric Flatow (New York, N.Y.): Mr. Berry, are you really taking a week off from your love hate column? Is giving fantasy advice for 17 weeks of the season really so stressful that you need a bye week? I check in to see your love/hate every week, and I was shocked today when I saw that you'll "be back" week 9. Dude. I could easily do your job. Everyone says that, but I think I have like 40 freakin (another site) fantasy trophies. I've been in this game for over a decade and I could take you one on one any damn day. Get your priorities straight and stop slacking off. You have the easiest job ever. Do it for the whole damn season. Seriously, I'm more than happy to step in for you at any time. I work in sports too. I haven't taken a full week off... ever.
TMR: I like how you called me "Mr. Berry." Shows respect. But about not ever having taken a week off, ever? Maybe you oughta. Just sayin'.
Dan Callahan (Bartonville, Ill): Need to change your name to the Talented Mr No Show! Guess you can make it up in the offseason, choosing women bowlers you "love". Throwing darts at players' pictures to choose starters is more reliable than you anyway.
TMR: I see what you did with my nickname there. Very clever. But the joke's on you, Dan. Throwing darts is how I choose players! By the way, mark it down. Another big year in store for Kelly Kulick.
Bobby Anderson (Mesa, Ariz.): You "work" 16 weeks out of the year and you need one of those weeks off? Pathetic. I'd kill for your job, and do a better job might I add.
TMR: I'm sure that's true, Bobby, but how will you do my job if you're in jail for murder? How about maim for my job? Would you do that? Or running a red light for my job? I know. Jaywalk for my job!
Sam Margolin (Unlisted): Why are you taking vacation in the middle of football season? You only work 4 months a year.
TMR: Beginning to think we need to get ESPN PR on the case about the daily fantasy baseball podcast I do, the preseason ranks and draft kit articles, the weekly fantasy baseball column and all the Fantasy Focus online shows we do.
John (Boston, Mass): You've given me every trash piece of advice and I've taken it. Your crazy stats, your thrown-together last minute articles. I'm done, it's official, I'm done. You skipping a week during your trash season is an insult to your fans. I will never open up another one your articles ever. You have fooled me too many times so shame on me.
TMR: You're totally done? Like done done? No break-up read? Maybe just a quick glance for old times sake? What about a crazy-one-for-the-road read where you bring another columnist in with the two of us? Come on, let's not end it like this.
Walt Wendelstein (Thousand Oaks, Calif.): Matt, you've got to be kidding me. The Fantasy Football season lasts about what - 15 weeks? 16 weeks? So, those of us who ritually look at "Love/Hate" on ESPN go to that link and see "I'll be back: The Talented Mr. Roto will return for Week 9". Unless you, or someone in your family, are sick -- or trapped under something heavy -- there is no excuse to miss a week during the Fantasy Football Season. The season is about 30 percent of the year, be absent during the other 70 percent.
TMR: How heavy does the object we are trapped under have to be? Three times our weight? Four? I mean, what if we were trapped under something like an electric fence? Those aren't heavy, but they're pretty dangerous. Or what if we were trapped under water? Are we using the metric system or the Avoirdupois System to measure the size of the trapping object/liquid? Can we adjust for pressure? And does it have to be the whole family? Like, say I was free but one of my daughters was trapped under something heavy. Can I be excused to wait with her or is it just an only those that are trapped kind of deal? Just trying to figure out what is acceptable and what there is no excuse for.
Michael Benedict (Seattle, Wash.): I really love Matthew Berry's analysis, but man, it seems like he's just phoning it in this year. No pickup/drops article ever, and the love/hate article seems to come at his whim. Not sure what he's doing that's outranking writing a column for ESP[interjecting explitive]N every week but, Jesus, I know there are literally thousands of people waiting in line to work as fantasy analysts. Like I said, I love Matt Berry, but I'd love even more to hear from someone who actually took the time to write an article each week. So sick of MB just doing it when he's in the mood.
TMR: You and I have different definitions of the word "love."
Jason M. Carroll (Louisville, Ken.): Hey Bro, hope all is well. Noticed you alluded to a personal thingy last week and then no Week 8 love/hate. Anyway it's only a game so take no [let's say ... guff] from any of the loonies out there.
TMR: Thanks, Jason. Appreciate the concern. Many asked, so I can now tell you that the personal thingy was that, prior to birth, one of the twins was discovered to have a reduced heart rate, so we were rushed to the hospital (about 10 minutes before a Numbers Never Lie taping, no less). That's why I missed the Wednesday ranks in Week 7 and a couple of podcasts. One long night in the hospital but everything ended up fine and then a week later, the twins were born completely healthy. So all good.
But I think the important thing we learned this week is that if there are no rankings, Love/Hate column, Fantasy Focus podcasts, or advice on Sunday NFL Countdown, Fantasy Football Now, SportsCenter, NFL Live, Numbers Never Lie, Fantasy Focus digital video, ESPN radio, Twitter, Facebook or in an ESPN.com chat to complain about, people will improvise.
Time to dive back into Love/Hate for Week 9. As always, this is not a start/sit column. If you want to know who specifically you should start and sit, look at my player rankings on Friday afternoon. Now that we have a decent sample size of the season, I'm changing it up a bit at the request of my Facebook friends. I'm no longer doing the list off my fellow rankers, but merely these are players I feel will exceed or fall short of their typical output. And I'm bringing back the "If you're desperate" suggestions. Let's dive in.
Week 9 Players I Love:
Eli Manning, QB, Giants: What's the more surprising thing? That I have twin daughters or that I would ever have Eli as a top-5 quarterback? But the numbers, as they say, never lie. At least 18 fantasy points in four of the past five, and Eli is averaging 304 passing yards a game. Only Aaron Rodgers has a better yards per attempt than Eli's 8.83. Meanwhile, the Patriots give up 323 passing yards a game and have just 15 sacks on the year. Guessing one has to do with the other.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: So, today in misleading stats, we present the Browns, who have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Here's who they have faced this year: Andy Dalton in his first-ever start (and some relief work by Bruce Gradkowski), Kerry Collins, Chad Henne, Matt Hasselbeck, Kyle Boller, Charlie Whitehurst and Alex Smith. If those names look familiar to you it's because you pass them over every week while perusing your league's free-agent wire. (Fine, whatever, I like Dalton and Hasselbeck too. I liked the joke more.) Anyway, I have a lot of respect for Joe Haden in the Browns' secondary, but Schaub is a top-10 play this week, easy.
Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos: I told you not to watch him! As ugly as last week was, and it was ugly, he still wound up as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in ESPN standard scoring. I find the whole "Tebowing" thing hilarious. We just need a picture of someone doing it at a bar, with a computer in front of him, praying for his fantasy team. The Raiders allow the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, and that includes the Chiefs game, where Matt Cassel did nothing because his defense kept picking off Boller and Carson Palmer. Between the rushing and inevitable late, meaningless touchdown pass, it won't be pretty but it will add up to a top-12 play this week.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: Wanna win a bar bet? Ask someone how many games this year Mark Sanchez has had fewer than one total touchdown? I'm guessing they won't answer "one," which is the correct answer. Six of seven games with at least two scores, and I think Sanchez makes it seven of eight against Buffalo's 24th-ranked pass defense. Despite what you saw last week against My Crappy Redskins (their new official name), the Bills don't have a great pass rush. Sanchez will have plenty of time, especially on play action after establishing a strong ground game.
If you're desperate: If he plays, I like Kevin Kolb at home against the Rams, and Tarvaris Jackson has over 300 yards in the past two games he's finished, and against an angry Dallas team, he's gonna need to throw.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Just a reminder to not get cute just because he's facing Pittsburgh. He had 149 total yards and two scores the last time he faced them. Always start your studs, kids. Right up there with no swimming for an hour after eating and look both ways before crossing the street. Just a rule of life.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: A super-obvious name, but I'm including him here so I can print the following email.
Mark Lewandowski (St. Cloud, Minn.): Matt, Did you just take Week 8 off? I look forward to your love/hate column every week... by the way I took advantage of your tip on Fred Jackson in the pre-season. Next time some loudmouth jerk with keyboard muscles is ripping you a new one, remember you highlighted Freddy J as a good sleeper!!
TMR: Just wanted to show I actually get a ton of very nice emails. It's just impossible to be funny off them. Thanks, Mark. Glad the Jackson call (one of my big "boring guys who will produce and going too late" guys) worked out. See? Not funny. Go ahead, I'll wait for it. "How is that different than the rest of the column?"
Shonn Green, RB, Jets: Truth time. I didn't have two daughters last week. I was actually off at a rehab facility for Shonn Greene addiction. Every time I think I quit him, I get sucked back in. Get this monkey off my back! But Greene had 112 yards in his last game, three straight games with over 20 touches, the Jets have at least 200 total rushing yards in their last four games against Buffalo and obviously, the Bills are a different team this year, but the game plan is not gonna change. Run to set up the pass, especially against a team that allows the 13th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs and will be without Kyle Williams.
Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers: Yeah, yeah, Green Bay has a good run defense. But despite playing only six games this year, Tolbert is actually sixth in the NFL in receiving targets among running backs. He's a big part of the Chargers' passing game and just a guess here, but I think San Diego might be throwing in this one. With Ryan Mathews and Curtis Brinkley banged up on a short week coming off Monday Night Football, I expect Tolbert, who was back at full practice Wednesday, to get the majority of work and be a top-15 play this week.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots: Hard to trust him after last week and always a fool's errand to try to guess what the Patriots will do in any given week. But last week, the Patriots were playing from behind for a lot of it and the New York Giants (28th against the run) are not the Steelers. New England had only 12 rushing attempts last week and clearly, the game did not go the way it wanted. The Pats need to get back to a more balanced attack, and I've seen too much of Kevin Faulk over the years to be worried after one game. Only three teams have allowed more rushing touchdowns this year than the Giants, so I'm going back to the Law Firm as a low-end No. 2 back.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders: I don't think Darren McFadden is playing. In his career, Bush has eight games where he has gotten at least 16 rushing attempts. He has at least 90 yards rushing in seven of them.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: As a flex play this week, I think you could get lucky with Pierre. Yes, it's a pass-first team and Sproles is there, but starting in Week 5, when Gerald McCoy went down with an injury for the Buccaneers, Tampa has allowed 543 total yards and five touchdowns to opposing running backs in just three games. I'd downgrade Thomas a little if McCoy plays -- he did practice on Wednesday -- but even still, Pierre's a decent flex play.
If you're desperate: Chris Ogbonnaya is available in 98 percent of leagues and, with Peyton Hillis still hurt, should get the majority of work for the Browns. Only if Hillis is inactive. Also, Marion Barber has a score in three of his last four games.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Rams: Happiness is the Cardinals' secondary.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: Was surprised to see I was the only one who had him as a top-10 play. Thought the Eagles looked awesome last week, and as our Scouts Inc. gang notes, the Bears' safeties have been playing even deeper lately trying to stop the big play. The Bears play a lot of Cover 2, trying to keep everything in front of them, and against DeSean Jackson, I expect them to continue to do so, leaving a lot of underneath stuff for Maclin, who has three straight double-digit points weeks.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks: Double-digit fantasy points in every game Tarvaris Jackson has finished. Just saying.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Not a great matchup and Hines Ward may come back this week, which doesn't help, but wanted to mention him because of something Nate and I talked about on the podcast the other day. Brown is tied for the 11th-most targets in the NFL. More than guys like Hakeem Nicks, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Johnson, Greg Jennings, and his own teammate Mike Wallace, to name a few. Recently, he's converted those opportunities (169 yards in his last two games) and he's available in more than 70 percent of leagues. No more than a low-end No. 3 guy this week against the Ravens, but I like him overall.
If you're desperate: I like what I saw out of the Chiefs' Jon Baldwin on Monday and I don't like what I've seen out of Miami's secondary, and I kinda like the Seahawks' Doug Baldwin in a game where Dallas' secondary is banged-up and Seattle will struggle to run the ball. Arrelious Benn is available in 99 percent of leagues, I love his talent, the Buccaneers have said they want to get him more involved and, given how much the Saints blitz, I could see Benn getting deep for one. Finally, Early Doucet has nine fantasy points in three straight games and the Rams allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers: The Chargers have allowed the fifth-most red zone passing touchdowns in the NFL, as Plaxico Burress owners (or anyone that said to drop him) are well aware. Ahem. Meanwhile, Finley leads the Packers in red zone receptions, touchdowns, yards and is tied with Greg Jennings in targets. I know he's been very frustrating to own this year, but this is a game you start him with confidence.
Kellen Winslow, TE, Buccaneers: Because the Saints blitz so much and there's no Earnest Graham, Freeman will be looking elsewhere for the quick passes, the check downs, etc., and I feel Winslow gets enough of these to make him a top-12 play this week.
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets: The Bills allow the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and you know I like Sanchez this week. Keller has lead the Jets in targets the past two weeks and, while that hasn't translated to fantasy production, I expect that to change and Keller to put up a top-12 week.
Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: Available in 92 percent of leagues, he's scored in two straight and the Bears give up the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Against the Cover 2, I like fantasy zombie Brent Celek.
If you're desperate: Interesting note: Since Max Starks was signed by the Steelers for the Titans game, Heath Miller has at least eight points in three of four games, has 18 receptions (same number as Mike Wallace, one behind team leader Antonio Brown over that time frame), has 23 targets (third on team) and is averaging over 54 yards a game with two scores in four games. He's available in 57 percent of leagues. Also, you'd have to be super-desperate and in a crazy-deep league, but Daniel Fells has two scores in his past four and Oakland gives up the 11th-most points to opposing tight ends.
Cincinnati Bengals D/ST: Somehow still available in over 30 percent of leagues, the Bengals are the fourth-highest scoring fantasy defense in the league. The Titans scare no one these days. (You'll never guess who is coming up in the hate section!)
Philadelphia Eagles D/ST: Averaging 13 points a game over the past two, and here comes the human turnover, Jay Cutler. Took the "dream team" secondary a while to adjust to the new scheme, but the bye week seems to have accomplished what it needed to and this is once again a good fantasy defense that is still available in 20 percent of leagues.
Oakland Raiders D/ST: The Tebow giveth, and then he giveth some more. The Broncos allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses, and Oakland's D/ST had 11 points the first time these two teams squared off.
If you're desperate: The Redskins, for all their problems, still have the seventh-best scoring defense in the NFL and are at home to a West Coast team traveling east with Alex Smith as its quarterback.
Week 9 Players I Hate
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Averaging just 10 points a game since the bye week, he's completing just 53 percent of his passes and his 6.68 yards per pass attempt is 25th in the NFL (and less than Curtis Painter, by way of example). The Steelers' defense is back to being the Steelers' defense, so I'm blech-o for Flacco. I know. Doesn't have the same ring.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: I actually think he's played well from an NFL standpoint, but a scant two-plus seasons after getting there, Mike Martz has figured out Matt Forte is Chicago's best weapon. Cutler's not going to do anything but hand off or throw short dump offs to Forte against Philly.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills: After a hot start, he's averaged just 10 fantasy points a game. Jets held Tom Brady to 14 points, Philip Rivers to seven and I don't see Fitzy doing better than either of those guys. The Bills' offense goes through Fred Jackson.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: Jeremy from Linwood, N.J., writes in: "Is there any player in the history of fantasy that has destroyed more teams he is on (without getting injured) than Chris Johnson? I think he tripled his twitter following, as so many people are anxious to tell him how much he sucks."
He's been absolutely brutal. I don't remember a bigger non-injury bust, based on average draft position, than CJ2K. When I do my rankings, much of it is based on expected production, of course, but some of it is based on my confidence in actually starting the guy. If he were on my team, would I start him or this other guy? I have zero confidence in Chris Johnson. It's not the Titans' offensive line; is it Javon Ringer? And the Bengals have the second-best run defense in the NFL. Ugh.
Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs: He'll be OK, as he's still a guy getting the majority of carries and several running backs are unavailable due to bye weeks. But Miami is better than you think against the run (the Dolphins allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs) and I wanted to point out Battle's upcoming schedule after Miami, with that team's rush defense rank in parentheses: Denver (17th), at New England (9), Pittsburgh (8), at Chicago (12), at Jets (25), Green Bay (10), Oakland (16), at Denver (17). Jets are no longer "The Jets" but they are a better run defense than their current rank. After getting gashed by McFadden in Week 1, the Broncos have become solid against the run (ninth-fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs) ... so really, only Oakland is a decent matchup that's left. Battle screams of sell high.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos: There is a good running back in Denver. His name is Tim Tebow.
Steve Johnson, WR, Bills: Much like his quarterback, after a hot start Johnson has cooled off. Five points or fewer in three of his past four games. Oh, and there's the Revis Island thing.
Nate Washington, WR, Titans: Obviously a big week last Sunday, but Leon Hall and the Bengals allow the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and they've given up just one touchdown to a wideout in their past five games.
Lance Moore, WR, Saints: Another guy with a big game last week, but that was preceeded by four games of fewer than five points. Ugh. He might have a good game but New Orleans spreads it around so much, it's hard to trust anyone other than Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston in that offense (and last week, not even Colston!). Don't get sucked in expecting a repeat.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans: Not sure if you've noticed, but I'm buying the Bengals' defense.
Green Bay Packers D/ST: Yes, Rivers has a bunch of turnovers. Yes, the Packers have a good defense. But from a fantasy perspective, they aren't all that. Just 12th in total points, they've scored a total of nine points in their last two games against the Rams (and A.J. Feeley) and the Vikings (in Christian Ponder's first start). On the road at an angry San Diego team that will have to throw a lot with its run game banged up, I'm not feeling it.
Chicago Bears D/ST: All in on the Eagles.
And there we have it, Week 9, Love/Hate is back and in the books. Good to be back. Oops, wait. One last email just came in.
Pauly (Shelton, Conn.): Stay away Berry ... you've forgotten your Fantasy Football roots, and you can't manage to do your work around a few BS appearances on television ... nobody gives a crap about your obvious "made for TV' sound bites, and you've lost focus on the weekly guidance anyway. Thanks for the memories, but now please get lost and stay there.
TMR: So if I skipped the column again I would have made you happy? Now you tell me!
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- did not name his daughters Donna and Andrea either. 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