So it's been a week, but in case you forgot, or missed it, here's something I wrote in last week's "Love/Hate" column, in the "Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 8" section:
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: Twelve points against Jacksonville, 11 against Cleveland, 16 against the Texans. What gives you confidence to start him against a Colts team allowing the second-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season?
Six touchdowns and 522 passing yards later, Ben had the sixth-best fantasy day among QBs in ESPN standard scoring since 1970. Tristan Cockcroft wrote more about where Big Ben's performance rates all-time but the headline, as it were, was that one of the QBs on the hate list, whom I ranked 15th among QBs last week, pulled down 44 points in ESPN standard scoring.
Well. As you can imagine, folks noticed this and had lots to say on Twitter, Facebook and in my feedback inbox. We did angry emails last week, so don't worry, I'm not rehashing that, but I thought I would share one nice one.
Peter Hannes (Racine, Wis.): I have read your Love/Hate every single week since 2009. Your content before the picks is usually pretty great and something I enjoy reading. Over the years I've felt tempted to email you several times for various reasons, but this week I had to finally reach out. You're going to catch a lot of flak for the "Hate Big Ben" pick last week and I want to be a voice of reason in a sea of hysteria. Given the facts, that he hasn't played well most of the year, the Colts D is pretty good, there was no reason in the world to think he would have gotten half as many fantasy points as he did. You're going to get blasted by a lot of idiots and as hard as it may be, I hope you remain unfazed and keep doing what you love. People think you're some sort of soothsayer, like you hijacked the DeLorean, went to next week and stole the sports almanac. Your reason is based on statistics and logic, just keep plugging away and don't let the naysayers bring you down.
Well, Peter, that's very kind of you to take the time out to write, and I appreciate you being a long-time fan. Means a lot to me. And to show my appreciation, I thought I'd respond by telling you a story I've never told before.
It was the fall of 2007, my first year as ESPN's full-time fantasy guy, and I was to do a 90-second "Start 'em/Sit 'em" segment for "Sunday NFL Countdown." The show Chris Berman and Tom Jackson are on. Our flagship show. The big one. As far as I know, I was the first live person to do a fantasy segment on the show (RIP Hector and Victor), and back in 2007, while people were very kind, not everyone was convinced a fantasy football segment would work best for our NFL show of record. Hall of Famers. Super Bowl winners. Boomer. TJ. And ... uh ... me?
I mostly tried to just stay out of the way in those days, not speak unless spoken to, that sort of thing, having this weird feeling that if I made myself known, someone would look up and be like, "Wait, we're doing a fantasy segment? That's not real football. Get him out of here!" Understand this is all in my mind; people were very nice, but they didn't realize I was fighting over three decades of neurosis at that point.
So anyway, it's Week 4 of the 2007 NFL season and I am talking to the producers about my fantasy segment. I'm saying names, and he keeps saying no. They want big names, they say. They're not convinced a lot of people who watch them play fantasy, so if I at least have something to say about a big-name player, like "bench Peyton Manning" or something, they can promote that in the previous segment (called a "bump" in TV lingo) and have people stick around for this segment. I am desperate to please and I want the segment to continue on as having any kind of fantasy on a big show like this was a big thing. So a few names get rejected, they want bigger and I say ... "Well, I'm not crazy about Larry Johnson this week." The producer looks at me. "Really? Great. Sit Larry Johnson. Sold."
One of the top draft picks of the 2007 season, Larry Johnson was coming off a season of over 2,000 total yards and 19 touchdowns. But he had struggled to start the season. Struggled in a big way. Through his first three games, Johnson had run the ball 50 times and gained just 140 yards for a paltry 2.8 yards-per-carry average. No touchdowns. In Week 3 he had run the ball 24 times for just 42 yards, a 1.8 yards-per-carry average along with one catch for minus-5 yards. Twenty-five touches and he finishes with 37 total yards and no touchdowns? Ugh. Johnson was facing a Chargers team giving up just 3.7 yards per carry and one that held Green Bay to just 42 rushing yards in Week 3. But all that aside, he just looked slow to me. I had been writing about him in my column, dogging him a bit.
The previous year he had 470 total touches, including a playoff game. That's not a typo. Four hundred seventy touches for Larry Johnson. So I believed there was something to his struggles. But I'm not sure I wanted to say it on national TV. I mean, you guys know I'm a big believer in "start your studs," and Johnson was a first-round pick across the board that year. No one is benching their first-round pick in Week 4. They're just not. But whatever, I want to please, they want a big name, so there I am on national TV, in front of millions of people, saying "Sit Larry Johnson" and explaining why.
If you don't remember, I'm sure you can guess what happened next. Johnson goes nuts, getting 148 total yards and leading KC to a 30-16 win. Good times. Twitter didn't exist then, I didn't have a Facebook yet but I certainly got plenty of email about it. Not a lot of it as nice as Peter's.
OK, so hold that thought and cut to that following Wednesday. I'm walking in the hallway and all of the sudden, walking toward me, is Mike Ditka. Da Coach. The legend. The Hall of Famer. The Super Bowl winner. The icon. I mean, there were entire "Saturday Night Live" skits about how amazing this guy is. I mean, come on. He's Ditka.
Now, because we were also doing "Fantasy Football Now" on Sunday mornings for ESPN.com, I would just do my segment for "Countdown" and then walk over and join the rest of the crew on set. Which meant, in essence, that the only time I really spent time with the NFL guys was when I was actually on TV with them; even though I'd been there for a few months and we're four weeks into the football season, I still hadn't met a lot of people and, like I said, I was trying to keep a somewhat quiet profile.
But it's Ditka. I'm a huge fan. (Who isn't?). And there's literally no one else around. This is my chance. So we're walking towards each other and, as we pass each other, I gather up my courage.
Me: Uh, hey, Coach?
Me: I, uh, just, uh, wanted to formally introduce myself. My name is Matthew Berry and I'm the ...
Ditka: You're the guy who said to sit Larry Johnson, right?
I nod silently and quickly walked away.
So, every week I rank about 200 players, times 17 is 3,400. At the time I made the Larry Johnson call, I had been doing it for seven years, so that's almost 25,000 calls. And that's not including baseball and basketball, both of which I did for many years, doesn't include those I've made doing radio or TV hits, doing chats, answering emails and texts from readers and friends ... I couldn't tell you how many predictions I make in a single day, let alone a week or my career.
But up until that moment in the hallway, I'd never really thought about it from a public perception. I mean, I made my picks, but they were for smaller websites, local radio, what have you. This was ESPN. This was "Sunday NFL Countdown." This was the only thing Mike Ditka knew about me.
I felt pretty dumb about that one for a while and I realized that because of the power and reach of ESPN I had to make calls that I 100 percent believed in. I ultimately was proved right on Johnson that year, as he limped to just 559 yards and three scores in eight games before getting hurt and being lost for the season. But I just wouldn't tell someone to bench their first-round pick in Week 4. I just wouldn't.
I can't predict the future -- no one can -- and I know this. I also know based on the sheer volume of ranks and predictions I have to make in any given week there are bound to be misses, some of them whoppers. But I also know that I hit a lot more than I miss.
So as long as the foundation of the analysis is solid, I'm good. I really do appreciate the note, Peter, but I gotta tell you, I slept great Sunday night. Make no mistake, I hate when I get stuff wrong. And there have definitely been calls that went sideways where, when I looked back at it, I said to myself ... "you know, I missed that piece. Should have thought of that and changed the prediction." I tossed and turned after the Larry Johnson call. There have been other calls that have kept me up nights. But not this one. The analysis was right; it just didn't work out. If you are at a blackjack table and you have 18 and the dealer is showing a five, you definitely don't hit. But you could, and it's possible that you turn up a three. It was the wrong call, but it worked out. Happens.
I don't want to come across as defensive, because I am not feeling that way; I just want to reassure you that I don't put players on the love or the hate list without having a solid reason for it. And when you make your calls for your team, you should also make them with conviction. Have a strong understanding and logic as to why you are doing what you are doing. Because if it doesn't work out (and this is fantasy football we are talking about, so there's definitely a chance of that), you'll at least feel OK about it. You made the right call. It just didn't work out. Happens. Just like putting Ben on the hate list last week. Given the same information again, I'd make that call every time.
Before we dive in, quick addendum to the Ditka story. A few weeks later, I walk into the green room and many of our NFL analysts are in there, including Ditka. I see one former player I haven't met yet and as we shake hands, I tell him I'm the fantasy football guy. He says "Oh," but his expression is clearly dismissive. Ditka sees this and pipes up, speaking to me but loud enough for everyone to hear: "You know, I don't play but all my kids do. I gotta tell you, they love it. Everywhere I go I get asked about it. What you're doing is really important."
Then, to the former player, he says: "Kid knows what he's talking about."
The former player nods, now with more of an "OK, cool, good to know, you're one of us" kind of vibe. Ditka's the best. Just an amazing human being. He is beloved here, and rightfully so. Anyone who has met him loves him. One of my favorite people at ESPN. After meeting him, it's very clear. In a fight between an Imperial Starfleet and Ditka, Ditka wins.
As always, a tip of the cap to Zach Rodgers of ESPN Stats & Information for always replying to my emails and questions with helpful answers. Zach is always very sure in his takes. Let's get to it.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 9
Tom Brady, New England: We've kept it under wraps, but he plays the Denver Broncos this week. Leading all players in fantasy points the past month, I expect his success to continue Sunday. You can't run on Denver but you can throw on them, and that's exactly what Tom will do, just like he has in the past five games he's faced Denver (over 1,500 yards, 13 TDs, one pick). Don't get cute.
Cam Newton, Carolina: I know, I know. He's been bad. He's been specifically bad at home, too, averaging seven points a game fewer than on the road. But I believe in Rob Ryan's defense; I believe they will be underprepared, as Rob Ryan's teams often are, and not have the right game plan, especially having to travel on a short week. It is allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing QBs this year, and I am encouraged by Cam's rushing attempts (12 last week). He didn't do much with it but if he's running that much (averaging 12 carries a game over the last three, in fact), I expect good things against a Saints defense that has allowed at least 15 points to every non-Cleveland-or-Minnesota QB they've faced.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco: His best game of the year was against these very Rams in Week 6, he's now off a bye and at home. Kaep should have a very clean pocket (Rams are last in sacks) and when he has to run, he'll be successful (Rams have given up the third-most rushing yards per game to opposing QBs).
Carson Palmer, Arizona: There are only two other QBs who have at least 16 fantasy points in every game they've played this year: Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Pretty good list to be on, right? That's what we are dealing with here in Carson Palmer. Averaging 18.8 points a game (sixth among QBs) and 38.5 pass attempts a game, he's facing a Cowboys team on a short week and that just gave up 299 yards to Colt McCoy.
If you're desperate: Andy Dalton is almost three points a game better at home than he is on the road, he should get A.J. Green back this week and even though Jacksonville has played better defense recently, it just means they've been bad instead of horrific. ... As of this writing, it looks like Robert Griffin III is playing Sunday and while it's a tougher matchup than you might think, if the Washington QBs were one fantasy player, they would be the 13th-highest scoring QB so far this year. You add in some rushing from RG III and a solid 15-17-point game is easily in reach. ... Finally, I like Eli Manning comming off his bye this week, even with Vontae Davis back at practice to solidify the Colts defense. Eli has thrown for at least two touchdowns in every home game this year and I believe it continues Monday night as the Giants play catch-up on the scoreboard.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 9
In a week when you've got Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan on a bye, it's hard to hate any quarterback, frankly. At least any one you'd consider starting. You really need me to hate on Derek Carr? Honestly, if I put any names down here it would just because I am "supposed to." Yes, I have Ben Roethlisberger outside my top 10, but I feel like he'll certainly be usable this week, especially with the Ravens playing without Jimmy Smith. Check my rankings this week for whom I like more than others, but unless you want me to trash Ryan Tannehill or Teddy Bridgewater, I'm moving on.
Running backs I love in Week 9
Mark Ingram, New Orleans: All he needed was a chance! And, uh, three and a half years in the league. Averaging a career-best 5.7 yards per carry this season, when he got a full workload last week, he made the most of it. I don't expect Khiry Robinson or Pierre Thomas (who has already been ruled out) to play on Thursday night, so expect another heavy dose of Ingram against a Panthers team allowing the most yards per carry (5.2) in the league this year.
Andre Ellington, Arizona: Remember when they wanted to limit his touches because of his toe injury? Since Week 5, the only running backs with more carries than Ellington are DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster. He's also tied for second on the Cardinals in targets. The Dallas defense isn't great, they just aren't on the field that much: giving up 4.8 yards per carry this season, fourth-most in the league, expect a top-10 day from Andre Ellington.
Lamar Miller, Miami: Another week, another mention for Lamar Miller. The Dolphins offensive line is no joke. Averaging a career-best 3.3 yards before contact per carry this season, (seventh-highest among qualified running backs this season) Miller has double digits in four of the past five (and the one game he didn't was a nine-point effort). He faces the Chargers, a West Coast team traveling east for a 1 p.m. ET game and that has given up 3.3 yards before contact per carry the past three weeks, second-most in the league in that time frame.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis: Giants allowing 11.0 yards per reception to opposing running backs this season, second-most in the league. A big part of the passing game for Indy, Bradshaw has six receiving touchdowns this season, twice as many as any other running back. Top 10 play.
Ronnie Hillman, Denver: I'm writing this on Wednesday night and he was limited in practice today with a shoulder injury. But I'm expecting him to play and play well. Averaging 3.4 yards before contact per rush, (fifth-most in the league, just behind Jamaal Charles), he's a few unlucky vultures away from being a superstar. Like him a lot on Sunday, as in the last two games without Jerod Mayo, New England has allowed 5.4 yards per carry (they were giving up 4.2 yards per carry in their first six games with him). If Hillman does miss the game for some reason, Juwan Thompson would be a top-20 play for me.
If you're desperate: The Chiefs are 18th against the run and, what are the Jets gonna do, let Michael Vick throw it? Chris Ivory should get enough quality work to be a solid flex. ... I don't expect Doug Martin to play and Charles Sims is just off injury, so Bobby Rainey should have one last week to prove he can be a legit every-down back. Against Cleveland, I think he proves it.
Running backs I hate in Week 9
Same deal as with the quarterbacks here, as running back has already been such a tough position this year, and then you have six teams on a bye. So hard to really hate anyone, but here are some runners I'm not all fired up about.
Frank Gore, San Francisco: He easily could have a big game. I have no faith in the Rams' run defense in general and if he gets 17 carries or so, great. But St. Louis sold out to stop the run last time it played San Fran (16 for 38 for Gore) and in his last game (against Denver) he got just nine carries. I definitely don't feel great about putting him here (or feel strongly he's on the "hate" list), especially given the matchup, but Carlos Hyde has more runs inside an opponent's 10-yard line than Gore does ... just not feeling a huge game here.
Jonas Gray, New England: I know, I know ... you're desperate this week and you see 17 for 86 yards last week and you get all excited, but I've been burned too many times by Patriots running backs. The Broncos have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league this season and the way to beat them is through the air. Feel this is a heavy Shane Vereen game, so Jonas Gray is outside my top 25.
Any Rams running back: Three-way split, they just lost Jake Long and they are on the road at a 49ers team that gives up the second-fewest rushing yards after contact this year. Bleah.
Wide receivers I love in Week 9
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina: The always dangerous Thursday night recommendation, but you know I like Cam, so it stands to reason I like his No. 1 receiver. Only Steve Smith and Jeremy Maclin have more deep touchdowns than Benjamin, so you have to like his chances against a defense that has given up the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston: Antonio Brown. T.Y Hilton. Those are the only two wideouts this season with more games of at least 60 yards receiving. Hopkins has six such games this year and Sunday will be No. 7 with a better-than-average shot at a score as Philly's secondary has struggled all season long. Eagles are 26th against the pass and are tied for the third-most touchdowns allowed to opposing wide receivers.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants: At least nine targets a game since Week 3 (only other guys you can say that about are Demaryius Thomas and Antonio Brown), it's just a matter of time before the touchdowns come. He's also tied for sixth in red zone targets, so if Eli is going to keep throwing for two per game, there's a good chance one is to Randle.
If you're desperate: Tony Romo or Brandon Weeden this week, it doesn't matter, I like Terrance Williams against a struggling Cardinals secondary. ... Andrew Hawkins has at least five games with at least 70 yards receiving (once again, only Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton have more) and it'll be six after facing the Bucs. ... Brandon LaFell has quietly been a top-12 fantasy receiver since Week 4, averaging over 12 points a game. ... Not worried about A.J. Green coming back. Against the Jags and with a banged up-run game, there will more than enough to go around for Mohamed Sanu. ... Mike Evans now has at least 50 yards in four straight, has scored in two of the past four and Joe Haden should be on Vincent Jackson at least half the time.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 9
Percy Harvin, New York Jets: Just no confidence in the Jets going to KC and moving the ball, and if they do, I don't feel it'll be through Harvin, as the Chiefs have limited opposing wide receivers to the third-fewest receptions this season.
Julian Edelman, New England: As Brandon LaFell has emerged, Julian Edelman has submerged. See what I did there? Last four weeks, he's averaging fewer than five receptions a game and under 50 yards receiving. With Gronk at full strength and Tim Wright starting to come on, he has just one red zone reception in October, so a score is unlikely. Which would be fine if he was getting volume, but he's not. Hey, it's the Patriots -- anything can happen, but probably not.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco: It's been mostly dink and dunk stuff to him, there's a lotta mouths to feed in San Fran and he's not even playing that great. Over the past five weeks, Crabtree has caught only 50 percent of his targets, tied for 77th among qualified wide receivers during that span. I know he scored against the Rams last time they played, but I'd hate to hang my hat on that as I don't feel San Fran will be playing catch-up the way they were last time.
Tight ends I love in Week 9
Jordan Reed, Washington: I know, Niles Paul played more snaps last week but that was due to run-blocking concerns. Still managed seven receptions and, assuming RGIII plays, the ball will be going further down the field than it was under Colt McCoy. A crazy talented tight end, he's a matchup nightmare to start with and they've done a good job of getting him isolated in very winnable one-on-ones.
Jason Witten, Dallas: Only one team in the NFL has fewer sacks than Arizona. With a clean pocket for whoever is under center for Dallas, expect Witten to run more routes this week against an Arizona team that is 32nd against the pass.
Larry Donnell, New York: Not worried about the fumbles, I like the fact that he got seven for 90 in his last game, that he's not just a red zone guy (though he remains a huge red zone target) and that the Colts have allowed the fourth-most yards to opposing tight ends, the sixth-most fantasy points and just got torched by Heath Miller. Giants will have to throw to keep up in this game, and Donnell is one of the guys they will throw to.
If you're desperate: Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates and ... Dwayne Allen? Yep. All tied at the top for the most games with at least eight fantasy points among tight ends. He's a little too touchdown-dependent for my taste, which is why he's in this section, but it's a good matchup here as Giants have allowed 14.9 yards per reception to opposing tight ends, the most in the league. ... With the Brian Quick injury, they are running out of guys to throw to in St. Louis, but Jared Cook leads the Rams in targets, receptions and is second in yards. He's yet to score a touchdown (meanwhile, Lance Kendricks has four) so that's just some bad luck. That'll correct itself sooner rather than later and while the 49ers do play the tight end tough, there should be enough targets and work for Cook to have some use in deeper leagues. ... Don't expect Tyler Eifert back this week, which means another week for Jermaine Gresham to enjoy added targets against a Jags team giving up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Tight ends I hate in Week 9
Charles Clay, Miami: Has yet to break three fantasy points in any games this year other than the one week he scored a touchdown. So like many tight ends, he needs a score to be relevant, but just more so. The Chargers are tied for the fewest touchdowns allowed to opposing tight ends this season and as our player card notes, over the past four games, TEs have combined for 91 yards versus San Diego. No thanks.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco: Remember when he was Vernon Davis? Averaging only 2.5 receptions and 24.5 yards per game since his Week 1 two-touchdown performance, this is not a great matchup as the one thing the Rams do well is play the tight end, allowing the ninth-fewest points to opposing tight ends and only two scores to them all season.
Defenses I love in Week 9
Kansas City Chiefs: Over the past five weeks, the Chiefs defense has averaged 11.5 fantasy points per game, third-most in the league. Welcome to Arrowhead, Mr. Vick.
Cincinnati Bengals: They've been brutal this year and no Vontaze Burfict but, you know, Jacksonville. Only one team has not scored double-digit fantasy points against the Jags this year and that team scored eight. Worth the price in daily formats.
Cleveland Browns: This has not been the Buccaneers' year. ... averaging over seven points a game at home this year, expect the Browns to have no problem with Tampa Bay.
Minnesota Vikings: Ranking sixth in the league in fantasy points this season, and over the past three weeks, the only defense with more fantasy points than Minnesota are the Dolphins (who were just gifted two pick-sixes by the Jaguars). Impressive performance by Washington last week and getting RG III back should give them a spark, but he'll be rusty and it's still a so-so offensive line. Washington giving up over seven fantasy points a game to defenses the past five weeks.
If you're desperate: I could see Washington being all right here as Teddy Bridgewater continues to show growing pains. ... The Pittsburgh Steelers always play Baltimore tough and have yet to have a negative score this season.
Defenses I hate in Week 9
Denver Broncos: Scoring under six points a game in all non-Jets games this year, the Patriots have held opposing fantasy defenses to minus-18 points during the past month, fewest in the league during that span.
New England Patriots: You want to go in against Peyton Manning? Me neither.
And that's a wrap on Love/Hate for Week 9. I've just presented you with you a bunch of researched opinions that I feel good about. But it's your team. Make your decisions. Own it. Because you'll sleep better at night, win or lose.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is sure of his convictions in this week's call, but definitely hopes there's not another record-setter on the hate list. Once a season is enough. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. You also may have heard: He has written a book.