I never met the man. Never spoke to him.
Doesn't matter. I am really, really sad.
When Bruce "B.J." Collins passed away on Sept. 23, he was survived by his parents, Bruce and Christine, his sisters Barbara and Colleen, and by the rest of the members of the South Side Fantasy Football League.
B.J. was the commish of the SSFFL and, as league member Kyle Maciejczyk told me, B.J. "was the most genuinely nice guy in the world, a die-hard Chiefs fan who injected fun into everything we did." He would buy draft-day T-shirts for everyone, personalized with team names. Collins had everyone over to his house to watch games and handed out customized scoring and matchup sheets, along with a coaster with each person's favorite NFL team on it. Whenever there was an opportunity to make the SSFFL more fun, Collins took it.
But a month before the season, Kyle tells me, the league got some terrible news: "B.J. was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his jaw."
And so, with 30 days until kickoff, the league didn't know what to do. "Due to the circumstances, we didn't even know if B.J. would be up to playing in the league, let alone running it," he said. After talking with Collins, though, they realized he desperately wanted to play that year; it was one of the few things that he was looking forward to. "So we brought the party to him and had the draft in the lobby of Good Shepherd Specialty Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania," he said.
I loved that story and the accompanying picture they sent along. It's a simple story but it's everything I love about fantasy sports. Friendship and the bonding nature of a league. A commish that goes above and beyond for his league owners and owners who give the same back when he needs it. And the craziness of making sure draft day happens, no matter what, no matter where. Liked the story so much that I put a version of it, and the picture, in my book. They sent along a nice note saying that B.J. and the rest of the league enjoyed being in the book, which I was very happy to hear.
I lived with these stories every day for over two years while writing my book, emailing back and forth many times, talking with folks, writing and re-writing their stories. As such, I developed a strong attachment to every single person in it, including B.J. Especially B.J.
We never spoke in person and we never met, but we exchanged emails a few times -- mostly just simple encouragement emails from me -- and it seemed like things were heading in the right direction. And then, two months ago, on Sept. 17, I got a note from fellow SSFFL league member Adam Andrews.
"Matthew, unfortunately I come with bad news," Andrews said. "B.J. has been placed in hospice care but continues to fight! I know it might be asking too much but is there any way you can mention him in Sunday's 'Fantasy Football Now?' If not, I understand. I'm doing everything in my power to make sure he's happy and comfortable."
As soon as I got the email, I quickly wrote back. I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the shout-out, but could I call? Can he get phone calls?
I waited and waited, maybe for an hour, eventually moving on, doing whatever else I needed to. I have a bunch of different email addresses and the one Adam used is the one I set up for the book, so it's not one I check as regularly as others these days. A few hours later, Adam had written back.
"Yes, he can receive calls but he can't speak very well," he said. "I'm with him now. The funny thing is he's having a good day and is actually updating the fantasy standings right now ... the kid's a fighter! Football truly is this kid's best medicine. He's refused to even let someone else do stats."
Included in the note was a phone number. I looked at the clock. It was now 10:45 p.m. Crap. When did this get sent in? Wasn't sure. I fired back a note.
"Are you still with him? Is it too late to call? Sorry, I don't check this email all the time. Give me a good time to call, I totally will."
I didn't get a response to that email until a few days later. On Sept. 23.
"Matthew: With a heavy heart, our great friend and family member B.J. passed away this morning," he said. "He was so happy that you wanted to call him. Thank you so much for your love and support."
It was such a heartbreaking note and I felt horrible. Very upset because of B.J.'s passing, of course, but also mad at myself. Why didn't I just call? I was worried it was too late and then I was worried if this guy Adam wasn't there, would someone else be there that knew who I was if B.J. couldn't speak? Was that number to the hospital room or was it Adam's or B.J.'s cell, or someone else's? I wanted to call when he was feeling up to it so we could have a real conversation, and it's the middle of football season when I'm working non-stop and crazed and I don't see my own family enough as it is ... and excuse and excuse and excuse and whatever, I screwed up. I should have just called and if it was a bad time, called again and again until it was a good time. Instead I didn't, and five days later, he had passed away.
He was 31 years old.
I've been beating myself up over this ever since I got Adam's email. Not that a phone call from me is any amazing thing, but it was a small gesture, the least I could do and I didn't. Despite not knowing him except over email, I liked this kid. Liked the kind of person he was, liked how much he loved fantasy football, liked the people he had surrounded himself with. And I wish I could have let him know that before he passed away and seen if there was anything else I could have done for him.
We're gonna get to the fantasy advice, but as we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday, I'd like to offer some life advice, courtesy of B.J. Collins. I'm a believer that clichés are clichés for a reason. It's because they are so true they've been repeated over and over. And yeah, at Thanksgiving, saying we have a lot to be thankful for, and to be sure to give thanks, might be the most clichéd of clichéd platitudes.
Doesn't mean it's not true.
Moments are fleeting and they are meant to be grabbed and held on to tightly. Family is defined all sorts of ways and as Adam told me, on the night before he passed, B.J. had all of his friends with him and was able to crack jokes with everybody in the room. Despite the grim circumstances, laughs were still going around up until he died, peacefully in his sleep that night.
You know, most hospitals will only allow family to visit a patient. Which is exactly why the SSFFL was allowed to be with B.J.
If you listen to my podcast or follow me on Twitter, you know (or might be able to sense) that I've been in a funk the past few days. Really bummed and annoyed the past couple of days but, before I slipped too far down a shame spiral, I thought of B.J.
Whatever I'm dealing with pales in comparison to that. And I hope the same is true for you. So whether you launch yourself into the playoffs this week or it's the end of the season for you come Tuesday, try to focus on what's important about both fantasy football and life: enjoying every moment. Whether it's your guy going in for a junk-time score, a meal with a loved one or even the fact you're breathing and reading this, if B.J. could do league stats by hand five days from his death in a hospital bed, I hope you'll take a moment, smile, and be thankful.
Me, I know I'll be thinking about his friends and family, I'll be thinking about his league mates, and I'll be thinking that I really screwed up not finding a way to take the time to do the important things. Something that I'll correct with the important people in my life and this is a great time to start. It's why I wanted to wait until now to tell B.J.'s story.
Rest in peace, B.J. Go Chiefs.
Love/Hate for Week 13
With byes over, everyone should be at full strength. so you have to be a little more discerning, as does the Love/Hate. This is not about obvious no-brainer starts (Peyton Manning) or no-brainer sits (Jonathan Grimes) but rather players whom I feel are either better or worse starts than the general perception (or where I have ranked them previously this year). For specific start-sit questions, I urge you to consult my TMR Top 200 flex rankings, updated throughout the week and into Saturday night. And after reading this and consulting this ... make your own choices.
This is a key week. I want you to win, my friend. I really do. But not nearly as bad as you do. You know your team, your rules, your options, your opponent better than anyone. Make a call you're comfortable with, because ultimately, you're the one who has to live with the decision.
I write these primarily for ESPN standard 10-team leagues, which means the top 10 quarterbacks and tight ends are considered starters, as are running backs and wide receivers inside the top 25 (splitting flex down the middle). So when you see an "If you're desperate" for a guy just outside the top 10 or top 25, that's why. Speaking of "If you're desperate," it was suggested that I change the name of that section, since they aren't true desperation plays but rather players ranked outside of starter range that have nice upside. So shout out to @arekoconnell15 on Twitter for the suggestion of "So you're saying there's a chance?"
Speaking of things to be thankful of, I'm thankful for Zach Rodgers of ESPN Stats & Information for his weekly help with this column. Let's get to it.
Quarterbacks I Love in Week 13
Tony Romo, Dallas: Believe me, I don't want to put him here. I need him to do poorly in one of my leagues, but I don't think he'll play poorly. Because on Thanksgiving, he rarely does. Past five games on the holiday, he's averaging over 300 yards and two passing touchdowns. I mean sure, last year, when I owned him and needed a big Thanksgiving game, he kept handing off to DeMarco Murray and Murray finished with three scores and Romo had just 13 points in a game Dallas won 31-24. Had he gotten just 12 points against a terrible Saints defense in that same year (128 yards, 1 touchdown), I would have won the War Room league for the second straight year as opposed to being bounced on a tiebreaker by Eric Decker's stupid four-touchdown game. The point is, Tony Romo always screws me, whether I own him or not. I don't this year and I need him to stink, which means he's gonna crush it.
If you don't believe in my bad luck and want some factual info instead ... he has three 20-point games in his past four. Plus, the Eagles have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season. So, as you watch the game and you reflect on all you have to be thankful for, also say to yourself ... yep, there goes Romo, screwing Berry again. Tony Romo drives me nuts.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit: I know. I know. He's been brutal. But I do think his fortunes change here, as he likes playing at home and likes playing on Thanksgiving, as well. Past three Thanksgiving games, Stafford has averaged 349 yards and two passing touchdowns. There's no way Calvin Johnson finishes the year with just three scores and there's no one in Chicago's banged-up secondary that can keep up with him or Golden Tate. The Bears have allowed the third most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season and the most QB points over the past six, so fire up Stafford as a top-10 play this week. Finally.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: Seems like forever ago, but in the past two starts for Big Ben at home he's thrown six touchdowns in each. Which, of course, is crazy town and not happening here. But it underscores that he plays better at home. Even if you decided to completely ignore the two six-touchdown games, he still averages 18 fantasy points a game at home versus just 11.2 a game on the road. At least 16 fantasy points in every home game this season, Rob Ryan is the most overrated defensive coordinator in football and this season he's has done nothing to dispel my belief in that. Keenan Lewis continues to be really banged up and the Saints have allowed opposing quarterbacks to average over 18 points a game when away from home this year.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami: Coming out of Miami's bye week, Ryan Tannehill has averaged 18.86 fantasy points per game since Week 6, good for eighth most over that time frame. For comparison's sake, that's more than Russell Wilson at 18.14, just less than Drew Brees at 19.83 and significantly higher than guys like Cam Newton (15.5), Colin Kaepernick (14.83), Jay Cutler (14.5), Philip Rivers (13.17), Matthew Stafford (12.67) and Matt Ryan (13.3). Still available in over 40 percent of leagues, one of the ways he's done it is with short throws, completing 73 percent of his short passes (10 yards or fewer) with eight touchdowns on such throws in his past four. Here come the Jets, who have actually played better defense recently (15th versus the pass in the past five weeks) but have still allowed 13 touchdowns on short passes this season, tied for the fifth most. Tannehill is a top-10 play for me.
So you're saying there's a chance: The Jaguars have actually played much better defense recently and in fact are a top-10 pass defense over the past five weeks. But Eli Manning has also been pretty good in that time span, averaging over 300 yards and two passing touchdowns a game. When all he has to do is throw it somewhere within 10 feet of Odell Beckham Jr., I like Eli's chances at a top-15 finish this week. ... It hasn't always been pretty, but Zach Mettenberger has averaged 14.8 fantasy points per game over the past four games and even though the Texans are getting healthier on defense, they are 29th against the pass over the past five and have allowed at least 11 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in every game this season but Week 1.
Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 13
Drew Brees, New Orleans: Look, I have him in my top 10, so you probably don't have better options, but I'm avoiding him in daily leagues or Gridiron Challenge. Has yet to exceed two touchdowns (or 20 fantasy points) in any of his five road starts this year and the Steelers should get Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor back. When Polamalu and Taylor were both on the field to start the season, the Steelers allowed only one passing touchdown in those first three games. Not a top-5 play this week.
Jay Cutler, Chicago: Hope I'm wrong on this one, really. But he's played poorly and he traditionally plays poorly against the Lions. Past five versus Detroit, Cutler has averaged just 219.4 yards and one passing touchdown a game. Meanwhile, the struggle is real for quarterbacks facing Detroit this year. Only the Bengals have allowed fewer passing touchdowns.
Cam Newton, Carolina: Other than that crazy Bengals game, Cam has yet to top 14 points in a game on the road this year and, behind a paper-thin offensive line, I don't see that changing. The Vikings have yet to allow a 20-point day to a QB at home this year (even holding red-hot Aaron Rodgers to his lowest total in six games) and they are top 10 in fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco: Ten point three. That's what Kap is averaging against the Seahawks in his career, with five interceptions to two touchdowns in those games. He's been very mediocre fantasy-wise this season and that's not changing against a Seahawks team allowing the second fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season.
Running Backs I Love in Week 13
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle: Yeah, yeah, yeah -- an obvious name. But just in case you were thinking of getting a little too cute because he's banged up and it's San Fran: He actually plays well against the Niners, averaging 98 rushing yards a game with five touchdowns in their past five encounters.
C.J. Anderson, Denver: In my next life, I want to be a running back in a Peyton Manning offense. Averaging 3.9 yards before contact per rush this season, that would rank second among qualified backs this year. Coming off a game where Latavius Murray exposed their run defense, the Chiefs have now allowed the most yards per carry in the league.
Alfred Morris, Washington: Can Colt McCoy hand off the ball better than RGIII? It doesn't matter. My team is a hot mess of crazy, but in a sea of insanity, the one island of stability has been Morris. He has run better in his career with Griffin as opposed to any other quarterback, so I did lower him a little in my ranks when Colt was named the starter. But with at least 18 rushes in every game since Week 7 this season, expect another heavy workload against a Colts team giving up the third most rushing yards per carry this season.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland: On the love list last week, I am back for seconds (see what I did there? Who says I don't cater to the holidays?) as the dude has averaged 3.4 yards before contact per rush this season, third among running backs, trailing only Justin Forsett and Jamaal Charles. Bills run defense ain't what you think it is, either. During the past five weeks, it has allowed 3.3 yards before contact per rush, fourth most in the league, and they are 26th against the run overall.
So you're saying there's a chance: If you listened to the podcast, looked at my rankings, follow me on Twitter or watched "Fantasy Football Now," you know I liked Dan Herron last week, ranking him ahead of Richardson. T-Rich vultured the score and "Boom" Herron had a fumble, but the Colts stuck with him, and working in his favor is the fact he's not Trent Richardson. He'll be involved in the pass game and, despite being decent against the run, Washington has allowed four rushing scores in the past three. ... Always dicey to play with a Patriots running back, but if you're the dice-rolling sort, I could see New England deciding to pound the rock against the Packers' struggling run defense, which means it could be another strong day for LeGarrette Blount. Worth noting the Packers have allowed the most rushing yards after contact per carry this season. ... Since assuming the starting job in Week 7, Tre Mason has the sixth most carries in the league and should be usable against Oakland's middle-of-the-pack run defense.
Running Backs I Hate in Week 13
Lamar Miller, Miami: You know I love Miller and it's been a good season for him, no doubt. But he has just four carries inside an opponent's 10-yard line the past four games, same number as Daniel Thomas. He's been banged up, which doesn't help, and there's always a chance he scores in this game, as I expect Tannehill to move the ball, but mostly through the air. The Jets have allowed the second fewest yards per carry this season, making Miller touchdown dependent to be anything more than a low-end RB2 this week.
Frank Gore, San Francisco: One. The man has one rushing touchdown in his past eight games against the Seahawks, and Seattle is strong against the run again this year, allowing the fifth fewest yards per carry. Down to just 13 touches last week, he continues to have fewer carries in the red zone than Carlos Hyde. Outside my top 25.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota: Struggling recently as he's averaged just 4.0 yards per carry in the past three after averaging 5.2 per carry in the first eight games. For all the struggles the Panthers have had on defense this year, they are giving up just 3.1 yards per carry the past five weeks, fourth fewest in the league, and are seventh against the run overall in the past five.
Latavius Murray, Oakland: I own Murray in dynasty and couldn't be happier. A preseason sleeper of mine and many others, it was nice to see him bust through last week, even in limited snaps because of the concussion. Rooting for him, but even if cleared from the concussion, I can't see him as a top-20 play this week. Still a chance Oakland will keep giving McFadden carries, and the Rams' run defense is legit. They are fourth against the run over the past five weeks.
Wide Receivers I Love in Week 13
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia: In today's installment of "bad attempts of marrying a theme with a projection," you know who is giving thanks for Mark Sanchez? Jordan Matthews, of course. Since the Sanchize got the gig, Matthews leads the Eagles in receiving yards and touchdowns. Small sample size and all that, but over the past three weeks, the only other wide receivers with at least 75 receiving yards in each game are Demaryius Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr. Good list, right? Dallas is 27th against the pass over the past five weeks.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants: I loved how, after "the catch," everyone was talking about OBJ as this next great thing while everyone who plays fantasy was, like "Uh, we've known about this for quite a while, thank you very much." Specifically, we've known about him since he came back from injury in Week 5 and has since been top 10 among wide receivers in receptions, yards and touchdowns. As I said with Eli, the Jags have played better pass defense recently, but they don't have anyone who can match up with Beckham.
Mike Wallace, Miami: See Tannehill, Ryan. All seven of Wallace's touchdowns have come in the red zone this year and, in fact, the only wide receiver with more red zone touchdowns is Randall Cobb (eight). Good matchup here, as only the Bears have allowed more red zone receiving touchdowns than the Jets. He missed practice on Wednesday, so be sure to monitor, but with a Monday game, he should be good to go against the Jets.
Keenan Allen, San Diego: Targets and receptions continue to climb, just posted his first 100-yard game and he now has two scores in his past four. The Ravens play better at home, but they have a banged-up secondary that is giving up the fourth most yards to opposing wide receivers on the season and is 25th against the pass the past five weeks.
So you're saying there's a chance: You know I like Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace this week, so it stands to reason Jarvis Landry, who has caught 77 percent of his targets this season (the best rate among active wide receivers with at least 50 targets) should also be in play as a possible flex. ... The wide receiver who is not guarded by Joe Haden has had a lot of success against Cleveland this year and losing safety Tashaun Gipson doesn't help the Browns, either, which is a long way of saying that, with Haden on Sammy Watkins (guess who is coming soon to the hate list?), I could see Robert Woods being a sneaky WR3 play this week. Worth noting that the Browns have allowed opponents to complete 71 percent of their passes without Gipson (six interceptions this year) on the field compared to 58 percent without him. ... Someone is gonna score for Arizona against Atlanta and, assuming Larry Fitzgerald is out, I like John Brown to be the one, having led all Cardinals wide receivers in yards the past two games with Drew Stanton at quarterback.
Wide Receivers I Hate in Week 13
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo: Targets declining the past few games, as has his average target depth. The Browns have allowed only one touchdown to a wide receiver in their past three games and I expect Joe Haden to be on Watkins for a good part of this game.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco: You know how I feel about Kaepernick in this game and the last time Crabtree faced Richard Sherman, it did not go well. In eight career regular-season games against the Seahawks, Crabtree has averaged 3.4 receptions and 37.3 yards per game with zero touchdowns.
Andre Johnson, Houston: Despite tying his season high with 12 targets last week, Johnson managed only three receptions as his 57 percent reception rate is on pace to be the worst of his career. Just one touchdown on the year, Fitzpatrick seems to prefer DeAndre Hopkins and it's not a good matchup to begin with. The Titans are tied for the fourth fewest touchdowns allowed to opposing wide receivers this season and are actually sixth against the pass over the past five weeks.
Tight Ends I Love in Week 13
Not surprisingly, tight end is super-ugly this week, as it has been all season. But if you don't have a stud, here are some guys who should be better than normal ...
Travis Kelce, Kansas City: The only tight end with more yards after the catch than Kelce this season is Rob Gronkowski. In his previous game against the Broncos this season, 29 of his 81 yards came after the catch (36 percent). The Broncos have allowed the second most receptions to opposing tight ends this season and there's the whole "who else are they gonna throw it to?" thing.
Antonio Gates, San Diego: I know, he's been brutal lately, but I feel he has a top-10 day in him. The only tight ends with more red zone touchdowns than Antonio Gates this season? Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas. The Ravens allowed two red zone touchdowns to Jimmy Graham last week and have now given up three scores to tight ends in their past four games. The Chargers will be hard-pressed to run on Baltimore, which means they will take to the air and Gates should have some success. He's a low-end TE 1 for me.
So you're saying there's a chance: Jared Cook tied his season high with nine targets last week, including his first red zone target since Week 5. Maybe there's a growing connection with Shaun Hill, maybe there isn't but the Raiders have allowed three touchdowns to opposing tight ends in their past three games, so you could do worse if you're looking outside the top 10. ... Once you get past the big names, tight end really becomes about just hoping for a score. So if it's just hoping for a touchdown, why not throw that dart at Tim Wright, who, despite limited snaps and targets, has six scores in his past seven games?
Tight Ends I Hate in Week 13
Martellus Bennett, Chicago: You know I'm not crazy about Cutler in this game and after a hot start, Bennett has cooled down. Past three games the man has averaged only 3.3 receptions with less than 50 yards in each game and no touchdowns. Prior to last week against the Patriots, where Gronk commanded so much coverage that Tim Wright was left wide open, the Lions had allowed only one touchdown to opposing tight ends in their previous five games. Outside my top 10.
Mychal Rivera, Oakland: Well, it was fun while it lasted. Red hot for three weeks, back into a pumpkin the past two, Rivera had just one reception for eight yards on three targets last week, it was his second straight game with four points or less. I like him in general, but don't see it turning around Sunday versus a Rams squad limiting opposing tight ends to 45.2 yards per game with zero touchdowns over the past five weeks.
Defenses I Love in Week 13:
Houston Texans: While I like Mettenberger from a fantasy angle, this will be a long day for him on the field. The Texans blitz on 40 percent of opposing dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Mettenberger hasn't handled pressure well, completing only 53 percent of his passes against the blitz, which would rank 26th in the league this season if he qualified. Meanwhile, Houston has seven picks in their five home games and Mettenberger has thrown an interception in every game this season.
New York Giants: Nothing to do with the Giants and everything to do with the Jaguars. Opposing fantasy defenses have averaged 14 fantasy points per game against Jacksonville with every one scoring at least seven.
Miami Dolphins: Why, hello Geno ...
Indianapolis Colts: I actually like them less than I did a day ago, as I believe Washington will be tougher with Colt McCoy than Robert Griffin III under center, but this is still a top-10 fantasy play this week. Washington's offensive line is a mess, and the Colts know what to do when they smell blood. They average 10.8 fantasy points per game against teams currently with a losing record. Washington has allowed the sixth most fantasy points to opposing defenses this season, including 9.2 fantasy points to opposing defenses on the road.
So you're saying there's a chance: The Rams have turned it around, as only the Eagles have more sacks than St. Louis the past five weeks.
Defenses I Hate in Week 13
New England Patriots: The past three defenses to go to Lambeau Field have all left with negative fantasy points. No defense has scored more than four fantasy points at Green Bay this season. Bill Belichick's a genius and all that, but I'd rather take my chances elsewhere than against Aaron Rodgers at home.
Green Bay Packers: It's not like the Patriots are a bunch of slouches. During New England's seven-game winning streak, opposing fantasy defenses have averaged minus-3.7 fantasy points per game. You read that right. Negative three.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- wishes you a happy and safe holiday long weekend. Genuinely. 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.