They are 12 guys from Hamden, Connecticut.
Just down the road from us here in Bristol, they've been friends their whole lives, though the Hamden Fantasy Football League didn't start until 2007. The league has three sets of brothers, league member Jim Vicario tells me, "So there's definitely some good gamesmanship throughout the year."
There may be three sets of blood brothers in the league, but they might as well all be related. That's how close they all are, having been together since elementary school. They pride themselves on an excellent draft day. Explains Jim: "Starting with a round of golf and beers, the draft order is based on a different event every year." From going to the track and picking horses, playing roulette at a casino or a complicated dice game, the key ingredient for these guys is fun. Draft day punishments are handed out for missed time limits, bad draft picks and of course, "A full beer chug followed by having to run a humiliation lap for drafting an already-drafted player."
Sounds like a great league with fun traditions, but it's their trophy that caught my eye. Jim explains: "One of the members of our league is Staff Sgt. Jarrod White of the U.S. Air Force. And for the first four years of the league, the trophy consisted of a Hamden flag [how we got that flag is a story for another day]." And when the 11 other members of the Hamden Fantasy Football League found out that Jarrod was going to be deployed to Afghanistan, they insisted he take the flag to "protect him from harm and to have a piece of home with him."
Well, while Jarrod was in Afghanistan, he would often hang the flag in his barracks and the other guys in the squad grew fond of the flag. And one day, the order came in. The Air Force pilots needed to fly in and extract some troops. A previous mission to do the exact same thing had been ... unsuccessful, and naturally, the pilots were a bit apprehensive about the upcoming mission. So Jarrod donated his Hamden flag to the pilots as a measure of safety and good luck. As Jim explains: "While Jarrod's gesture may have seemed a small token, it was regarded as much more. As one of the few things Jarrod had from home, they knew how important the flag was to Jarrod. "
And so, the flag was aboard the F-16 when the 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron -- the Jersey Devils -- embarked upon its highly dangerous mission. Upon successful completion of the mission, the flag became a "lucky charm" of sorts for the squad and, at the end of the tour, it was returned to Jarrod. But that's not all he got. "He was presented with a certificate and a military coin," Jim told me, "as a thank you for his unselfishness, camaraderie and uplifting the unit's morale. The pilots also gave Jarrod their 'patches' as an ultimate sign of respect. That flag became a symbol of hope and uplifted their troops."
With Jarrod back home and safe, the flag, the patches, the coin and the official letter he was given by the Staff Sgt. were framed to make the ultimate fantasy football trophy for the Hamden Fantasy Football League.
"To have the flag/letter/patches as our trophy is indescribable," Jim said. "This trophy is extremely special to us. In fact, the trophy is treated with more respect than anything I own. It is present at every major event in our lives, from engagement parities, New Year's Eve trips, even Giants games. We are lucky Jarrod came home safe and honored that our trophy gave a little bit of hope to our servicemen. But most importantly, it reminds us that we can play fantasy football, enjoy friendship and all the other things we take for granted due to people like Jarrod and the Jersey Devils fighter pilots."
Well said, Jim. Veterans Day doesn't often fall on a Thursday, but we shouldn't need a specific day to thank all who serve. So I wanted to take moment to do just that in this column.
I often hear from members of the military who tell me fantasy football is a huge part of their lives and it helps them keep in touch with people back home, with their fellow servicemen and women, and frankly, helps take their mind off of everything else they have to face in service to our country.
I can't tell you how happy and proud it makes me to think that this silly little thing we do can somehow provide a little bit of comfort for the brave men and women in our armed forces, both past and present. Which is why I love stories like Jim's.
So it's not nearly enough, but on behalf of everyone here at ESPN Fantasy, I'd like to offer a sincere thanks to all the men and women who have ever served our country, and their families as well. The sacrifices that husbands, wives, parents, kids, significant others and all family members of military make so that they can serve is not unappreciated or unnoticed.
So thank you. Truly.
With a shout-out to Zach Rodgers of ESPN Stats & Information, let's get to it ...
Quarterbacks I Love in Week 11
Philip Rivers, San Diego: I know, I know. You'd have been better off starting me than Rivers in his last game. But I'm gonna shake-shake-shake-shake-shake, shake it off, shake it off. Hey, my kids got it stuck in my head, so why should I have to suffer alone? Off a bye, at home to the Raiders, you'll forget about that minus-3 he put up at Miami. Last three games against the Raiders, he's averaged over 300 yards and two scores a game. Oakland is struggling even more than normal recently, allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, including 25 to Rivers himself in Week 6.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: We all know Ben is great at extending plays. In fact, he's top three in the NFL this season in completions percentage and touchdown passes thrown when flushed outside the pocket. The Titans tend to be fairly aggressive defensively, which I believe will hurt them here, as Ben continues to extend plays and find ways to exploit single coverage. Plus, I am playing against him in the War Room league, so you know he's going off.
Robert Griffin III, Washington: Thought he overall looked pretty good against Minnesota, now off a bye and two more weeks to rest up, I expect him to be 100 percent healthy and running and throwing against Tampa Bay's 31st-ranked pass defense. The Bucs have allowed the highest completion percentage on deep passes (15-plus yards) this season, and thanks to DeSean Jackson, that's not improving on Sunday.
If You're Desperate: The Packers are a much better defense than Carolina was last week, but Mark Sanchez is still available in a lot of leagues and will be throwing in what should be a high-scoring game. ... Josh McCown, yes, that Josh McCown, is actually a decent streamer this week against Washington's struggling secondary. Worth noting that in the three games McCown has finished, he's averaging 16 fantasy points. ... Speaking of averages, in the five games since Tony Sparano took over, Derek Carr is averaging over 40 pass attempts a game. He did throw four scores against the Chargers last time, and while I don't believe that happens again, I do believe San Diego will get up big and the Raiders will continue to throw, throw, throw.
Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 11
Cam Newton, Carolina: Remember the old "Batman" TV show? Where after every punch Batman and a bad guy would throw, a cartoon word would come from the screen, describing the action, like "Pow!" That's what I felt Monday night, as Cam continued to get pummeled. Blam! Zonk! Kapow! Nine sacks in all last week, countless hits, and he stopped running. I doubt he's lost his talent, but his sack rate has increased with each season in the league, and he's now been sacked or hit over 500 times the last four years, almost twice as many as the next QB, so you can't blame him for being a bit gun-shy. Newton leads the league in overthrows this season with 53. And while, yes, the Falcons do seem like an opponent he should put up numbers against, the same was true last week against Philly. (For what it's worth, the Falcons had a season-high four sacks and two picks last week as well). Outside my top 10, and if you are still in contention for a playoff spot with Cam as your guy, it's in spite of him, not because.
Jay Cutler, Bears: So the Bears are really reeling. I'm telling you this because if you just look at Jay Cutler's facial expressions, you may not be able to tell. They are. Brandon Marshall being banged up isn't going to help, and, among ways in which Cutler is struggling, his deep completion percentage has dropped to 31 percent (30th among 32 qualified quarterbacks). This is not a cakewalk, as over the past five weeks, the Vikings have limited opposing quarterbacks to just 12.3 fantasy points per game while facing quarterbacks that included Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and RGIII. Yes, Stafford was without Megatron, but still. With two weeks to prepare for a Chicago team searching for answers, I expect a lot of Matt Forte in this game and for Jay Cutler to finish outside the top 10.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: So the Bills record a sack on 9 percent of opposing dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the league. Like many quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill struggles under pressure, completing only 42 percent of his attempts under pressure (18th in the league). Add in the fact that the Dolphins just lost elite left tackle Branden Albert, so now they are figuring out a new offensive line scheme on a short week and I expect Tannehill to be under pressure all night long in a low-scoring game.
Running Backs I Love in Week 11
Honestly, this week is so brutal for running backs, it's hard not to love anyone with a pulse. But here's some guys who are a cut above.
Alfred Morris, Washington: Media reports, schmedia reports ... You know who's thrilled RGIII is back? Alfred Morris, and Alfred Morris owners. In the two full games Griffin has played this season, Morris averages over 90 rushing yards a game and had two total scores. The threat of RGIII's running opens up lanes for Morris and I expect Washington to either win this game or be very competitive. In their three wins this season, Morris has averaged 13 fantasy points per game, including three rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have allowed five rushing touchdowns in their four road games this season.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans: The word's first post- post- post- post-hype sleeper, Ingram has finally become what his supporters thought he could be. With everyone else hurt in the Saints' running game, Sean Payton has fed Ingram. I mean, really fed him. Over the past three weeks, Ingram has 19 more carries than any other running back in the league, breaking the 100-yard mark in all three games. Lots of work against a Bengals squad giving up the most rushing yards before contact this season.
Steven Jackson, Atlanta: Come on everyone, and party like it's 2009. Back-to-back weeks of 18 touches, Jackson has run hard, averaging 2.2 yards after contact per rush (eighth-most among qualified running backs over the last three weeks.) I expect him to continue to get that kind of workload on the road and be effective against a Panthers team than has allowed 1.9 yards after contact per rush, fourth-most in the league this season.
Frank Gore, San Francisco: You're welcome, America. Last week, I had Gore on the hate list, mentioning how Gore had gotten 20 carries only one time this season. My putting him on the hate list was clearly the thing that motivated the 49ers coaching staff to finally give him 20 carries for only the second time all season. Big game for him last week, I expect another heavy load for him as they try to win the time-of-possession battle on the road facing a Giants team that just got gashed by Marshawn Lynch and has given up the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season.
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants: I am assuming he plays, and I am assuming he plays well, as prior to his injury, he was fourth among running backs in total yards, averaging 101 per game and trailing only DeMarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell and Matt Forte. With Aldon Smith back for San Fran (and Patrick Willis out), I expect a heavy run dose from New York to try to take some pressure off Eli Manning. I have him in a number of leagues, and I am starting him in all of them.
If you're desperate: As of this writing, it's not looking good for Giovani Bernard to play, so expect another heavy load for Jeremy Hill, who actually ran well last week when they gave him the ball. What are they gonna do on the road at New Orleans? Let Andy Dalton throw it? Exactly. ... Be sure to watch "Fantasy Football Now" on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN for the latest updates, but as of right now, C.J. Anderson would be the Broncos running back I'd start against a St. Louis team that has played solid run defense of late. ... Charles Sims got 10 touches last week and I expect that number to increase this week, maybe into the 13-to-15 range. Against Washington, that should be enough for desperation flex play status. ... same goes for Jonathan Stewart, who I could see getting enough work against the Falcons to be not horrific in a "I'm stuck at my flex and just need a warm body with some upside" kind of way.
Running Backs I Hate in Week 11
Lamar Miller, Miami: The Bills' run defense has sprung some leaks recently, giving up 342 yards and four touchdowns to opposing running backs the past three weeks, but how many carries does Miller really get here? He is banged up, running behind a reimagined offensive line on a short week against a Bills team that has been pretty stout against the run for the season (on the year they have given up the third fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs), and it held Miller to just 53 yards and no scores in Week 3. Too risky for me as a top 20 play.
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay: I expect him to lose carries to Charles Sims here, and his odds of scoring are not great, as Rainey has not received a carry inside the opponents' 10-yard line in the last four weeks. While Washington's run defense has certainly struggled since Brian Orakpo went down, I don't have high hopes for Rainey as a top-20 play this week.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo: Watch tonight's game be a shootout and then everyone reading this on Friday have a good laugh, but I am expecting a low-scoring affair. With Jackson listed as questionable, coming off his own injury and no certainty that he gets a decent amount of work, I wouldn't want to start him tonight, on the road, on a short week, against a Dolphins defense that has given up just one rushing touchdown to an opposing running back in the past six games.
Tre Mason, St. Louis: I don't care how desperate you are. Since taking over the lead back duties in Week 7, Mason has averaged only 1.4 yards after contact per rush, which is 31st among 41 qualified backs during that span. And I don't think it will take long for him to see contact when he is handed the ball. The Broncos are the No. 1 run defense and have allowed the fewest rushing yards after contact in the league this season.
Wide Receivers I Love in Week 11
Roddy White, Atlanta: After a slow start, Roddy has started to come on, averaging 11.7 fantasy points per game in the last three, tied for 16th among wide receivers during that span. Tends to kill the Panthers (last four against them he's averaged eight receptions and 115.3 yards per game with five touchdowns), and that was when the Panthers were a good defense. Which, in case you haven't been paying attention, they aren't anymore. Like, at all.
DeSean Jackson, Washington: You stand in front of a locker room and declare love and support for the quarterback, you're getting the ball. Helps that's he's already been wildly productive with it, recording five 100-plus yard receiving games this season. The only wide receiver with more? Demaryius Thomas. The Bucs are no match for him, giving up the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season and ranking 31st against the pass.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston: With at least 60 yards in five of his last six, the only wide receivers with more 60-plus yard games than Hopkins this season are Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton. It remains to be seen how he fares with Ryan Mallett throwing the ball, but I expect Joe Haden to be on Andre Johnson at least some of the time, meaning Hopkins will get to exploit the rest of a subpar non-Joe Haden secondary.
Golden Tate, Detroit: Even with Calvin Johnson back, he saw 12 targets. Leading all wide receivers in yards after the catch this season, he gets a nice matchup here, as the Cardinals have allowed the most such yards to opposing wide receivers this season. Detroit will struggle to run against Arizona, so if they are moving the ball, it's through the air, and that means Calvin and Tate. Plus, I am playing against him as well in the War Room league, so you know he is going off alongside Big Ben.
If you're desperate: Having watched all of Mike Evans' games at Texas A&M, I loved him coming into the season, so no, I don't think this is a fluke. He may not be this good consistently, but he should be able to keep the good times rolling against Washington. ... I'm buying the "Brandin Cooks is good on the turf" thing (over 78 yards a game and three scores in five games on the turf this season) so, at home, against Cincy, I'm rolling with him. ... With at least 90 yards and a score in three of his past four, Anquan Boldin is a fantasy vampire. He cannot be killed. Against a banged-up Giants secondary, he shall continue to suck the fantasy blood out of your opponent. Keep moving. Nothing to see here. Move along. ... Bad matchup and definitely high risk, high reward, but of the four touchdowns John Brown has caught this year, three of them came from Drew Stanton, who has played in only two full games and parts of two others.
Wide Receivers I Hate in Week 11
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo: This could be a long Friday for me, but yeah, I'm going all-in on hating the guys in Thursday's night game. Still banged-up, on a short week, on the road, and -- as Mike Clay and I discussed on my podcast this morning -- a decent chance Brent Grimes shadows him all game. The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season. You may not have better options this week, and he has the ability (and will get the targets) that a touchdown is not out of the realm of possibility, but this is the least confident I've felt about him since Kyle Orton took over, so he makes the hate list.
Andre Johnson, Houston: Catching only 60 percent of his targets this season, he's on pace for his lowest reception rate since 2005. Now whether that's his fault or if it had something to do with the deposed Ryan Fitzpatrick remains to be seen, but as I said in the Hopkins writeup, I expect Joe Haden to be on him at least some of the time, and who knows what we will get out of Mallett? They'll probably run more and be conservative in his first start, and you don't love his chances at scoring with just one touchdown on the year and just five red zone receptions all season. Outside my top 20 in standard scoring.
Marques Colston, New Orleans: Three straight games without reaching 50 yards, targets are going to Jimmy Graham and Cooks and giving some love to the run game with Ingram going so well. No confidence in him whatsoever. The Bengals have allowed the fewest receiving yards to opposing wideouts this season.
Michael Floyd, Arizona: Welcome to Dumpsville. Seriously, he has the skill set and offense to have a big game at any point, but what could possibly make you feel good about starting him against Detroit with Drew Stanton throwing him the ball?
Tight Ends I love in Week 11
Greg Olsen, Panthers: Even with Cam struggling, he still finds a way to get the ball. An elite fantasy tight end that is worth the price in daily leagues, he should find the end zone against a Falcons team that has allowed tight end touchdowns in two of the last three weeks. (The one game they didn't was the Detroit game where the Lions didn't have any healthy tight ends).
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis: Two first names, always a crowd-pleaser. Especially when a guy averages 14.4 yards per reception, second-highest rate among qualified tight ends. That tends to also please crowds. He's scored in seven of nine games this year, and I don't see this being a low-scoring clock-control slugfest, you know? The Patriots have allowed the most yards after the catch to opposing tight ends.
Mychal Rivera, Oakland: Depends which side you fall on, but I'm falling on the side of "tons of targets from a QB that's throwing the ball almost 40 times a game" versus the fact that the Chargers defense have played the tight end position well this year. Some of it is junk time, to be sure, but it still counts. To give you an idea of what Rivera is doing (still available in almost 60 percent of leagues) , over the last three weeks, the only tight ends with more fantasy points than Rivera are Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. And for what it's worth, in their last game, the Chargers did allow 79 yards and a touchdown to opposing tight ends. Very solid No. 2 tight end.
If you're desperate: Only three teams give up more receptions to opposing tight ends than Tampa Bay, so Jordan Reed (despite Week 9's debacle) should be a very strong PPR start and a decent standard league option. ... It appears Kyle Rudolph is back and if Chase Ford can have success in this offense, I like my chances with Rudolph. ... Austin-Seferian Jenkins has scored in two of the past three and got eight targets from Josh McCown in his first start back. ... Jared Cook could easily see some junk time against a Broncos team that has permitted the second-most receptions to opposing tight ends this season.
Tight Ends I Hate in Week 11
Charles Clay, Miami: Averaging just 9.3 yards per reception this season, 25th among 30 qualified tight ends, I'm not fully buying the recent semi-surge in production. Just 31 yards the last time he faced Buffalo, Bills are tied for the third-fewest touchdowns allowed to opposing tight ends this season.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia: One. One reception in his last two games. Brent Celek is getting more love, and I'm not even sure it matters. The Packers have allowed a touchdown to an opposing tight end in only one of nine games this season.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco: Remember when he used to be Vernon Davis?
Defenses I Love in Week 11
Miami Dolphins: Since Week 3, the Miami Dolphins are the only fantasy defense with at least four points in every game. During that span, the Buffalo Bills have allowed at least nine fantasy points to opposing defenses in six of seven games.
Buffalo Bills: Recording a sack on 9 percent of opposing dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the league, we already talked about the loss of Branden Albert on the line for Miami. Guess it makes sense that, since I hate both offenses in this game, I'd love both defenses.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos' fantasy defense has excelled against poor competition. Against teams in the bottom half of the league (in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing defenses), Denver has averaged 11.7 fantasy points per game compared with only four per game against the top half. And only the Jaguars have allowed more fantasy points to opposing defenses than the Rams this season.
Minnesota Vikings: A top eight fantasy defense this year, they are available in 75 percent of leagues and they are off a bye and play opposite Jay Cutler. Cutler's been known to turn the ball over a few times, you know?
If you're desperate: ... Over the past five weeks, the only fantasy defenses with more points than the Cleveland Browns are the Dolphins and the Cardinals, and now the Browns face the inexperienced Ryan Mallett. ... The Washington Redskins are not a great defense but they have had two weeks to prepare for a Tampa Bay team that gives up the third-most fantasy points to opposing defenses.
Defenses I Hate in Week 11
Philadelphia Eagles: I know, they've been great. But this is Green Bay. In Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers has not thrown an interception at home since 2012, and the Packers have limited opposing fantasy defenses to less than one point per game.
Seattle Seahawks: Averaging only 3.5 fantasy points per game on the road this season and I don't think that trend changes at Arrowhead. Alex Smith doesn't really turn the ball over and in the Chiefs' last three home games, opposing fantasy defenses have scored minus-1 point.
New England Patriots: Again, feel this is a high-scoring game. The Colts have allowed exactly one fantasy point per game to opposing defenses this season.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is feeling rather patriotic this week. 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. You also may have heard: He has written a book.