Let's get this out of the way right up front: I can't prove it.
No one can prove it, actually.
That's the first thing the naysayers will point to. I understand that, and on some level, I sort of appreciate it. Fantasy football is based on stats and in stats lies logic and there's no place in logic for something that can't be explained.
So I get it.
I just don't agree and I'm here to tell you: Fantasy Karma is a real thing.
I've been playing for more than 30 years, writing about it professionally for more than 15, been at ESPN for more than a decade. In that time, I've played in hundreds of leagues, interviewed hundreds of players for my book, seen millions of them interact here at ESPN, on social media and everywhere else in our sports culture.
So I speak from a fairly strong level of experience when I tell you, oh yeah, Fantasy Karma is a thing.
Consider, if you will, The Fully Evolved League.
Formed a decade ago at Tulane University, the Fully Evolved League is a half-point PPR comprised of 12 buddies now scattered across the country. As with any group of close-knit friends, there is no shortage of characters in The Fully Evolved League.
Commissioner Nick Bimonte tells me of a fairly clever, if not highly illegal, stunt in which league member Sean created fake Gmail accounts in the preseason impersonating two other members of the league, suggesting that the penalty for coming in last should involve, well, let's just say, each other's wives/girlfriends.
Yeah. I had the same reaction you're probably having right now.
They had no idea who was behind the prank and, in fact, "Jared actually thought it was real and asked his wife if she would be OK with it."
That, my friends, is the definition of taking one for the team. The fact Jared and his wife are still married after even the suggestion? Well, who are we to judge?
Finally, after it had gotten that far, "Sean 'fessed up and explained the crazy story," Nick explains, but not before some damage had been done. To Sean's Fantasy Karma, of course. Because after catfishing league members into trying to start some sort of bizarre wife swap tradition, here's who Sean wound up with after the draft: Le'Veon Bell, Julian Edelman, Arian Foster and Justin Forsett.
So it's clear the fantasy gods already were paying close attention as the regular season wound down for The Fully Evolved League.
The 12 teams are divided into three divisions, with the top two teams getting a bye. One of those teams getting a bye? Jared.
As the league entered the last week of the season, Jared already had clinched a bye. The only thing that was left to be determined for Jared was which side of the playoff bracket he'd be placed in. If he won in the last week, he'd be on one side, but if he lost, he'd be placed in (in Jared's estimation), the "easier" bracket.
Remember, Jared's judgment led him to think it was a good marriage idea to ask his wife if he could put her on the league waiver wire, as it were. But regardless, Jared thought it would be best to make sure he ended up with the matchup he wanted, so come the final week, Jared intentionally tanked his game! And as a result, Commish Nick vaults into the playoffs, and owner Mark is eliminated.
As you might expect, Mark is furious. Says Nick, "Mark claims he placed a curse on Jared's team, and that the 'fantasy gods' would be out to get him." Well, I admire the showmanship on Mark's part, but we all know that's baloney. The fantasy gods already were summoned. Check it out:
Nick was now in the playoffs as the last seed and he and Jared were in the same bracket. The "easy" bracket. Jared is in taunting mode now, mocking Nick, mocking Nick's team and proclaiming to the whole league that he made the right call by tanking.
Of course, the fantasy gods took care of that right away. The next day, out of the blue, Mark Ingram is declared out for the year. Jared's star running back. "So," Nick tells me, "Jared makes an attempt to 'appease the gods' and says he wants to make a 'sacrifice' to the fantasy gods by dropping a player on his team and not picking one up in return."
The sacrificial lamb? Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions.
I can tell you right now that's not nearly enough to appease the gods, but what can I tell you? Jared clearly doesn't know what he's doing.
So, OK. Nick wins his first match (Jared had the bye, remember) and they are now facing each other in the semifinals.
Going into Monday night of Week 15, Nick is in the lead 104.5-89. It was the Lions-Saints game. But, as Nick explains, it was a precarious lead. "I had no remaining players, and he had Tim Hightower and Matt Prater still to go."
So the game starts and, well, I'll let Nick take it from here.
"Tim Hightower scores on a first-half goal-line plunge ... and I immediately get a text from Jared. 'In your face!!! There is no such thing as fantasy gods!!!' He would now probably win ... until a late flag was thrown on Senio Kelemete (whom I am naming my team after next year) for not reporting as eligible. Something you rarely see, especially so late after the TD happened."
What happened next would be nothing short of unbelievable, if we hadn't all seen it happen. The Saints move back to the 5 and run Hightower again. Almost gets in, but is down at the 1. They give it to Hightower a third time. And again, he doesn't get in. Stopped on the 1. Fourth down now and the Saints try to pass, don't convert and the half ends.
With about a minute left, Hightower had nine points and Prater had five, bringing the score to 104.5-103, Nick still in the lead. And with 14 seconds left in the game, Prater lines up for a 38-yard field goal. Matt Prater was 17-of-17 in field goal attempts at that time, the game is indoors, this game is over and yet ... he misses! Jared can't believe it! Wide right! (To date, that is still Prater's only miss of the year).
Jared can't believe it, but I can. Fantasy Karma, man. You see, the guy Jared "knocked out" of the playoffs, Mark? He's from Detroit. Lions fan. And when Jared tossed Stafford away, further shoving Mark's nose in it ... the fantasy gods weren't having any of that.
With the missed kick, the score was now 104.5-102. But the fantasy gods weren't done torturing Jared yet. You see, the Saints take over the ball with nine seconds left. First play, incomplete to Benjamin Watson. Then, with six seconds left ... Drew Brees throws a screen pass to Tim Hightower. Reception. 104.5 to 102.5. Hightower runs 18 yards ... 1.8 points ... and he is tackled. Game over. Final score? 104.5 to 104.3. Jared should have won that game. He had three touchdowns from David Johnson the night before. Can you believe someone had David Johnson and lost? It didn't happen much ... but to those who thumbed their nose at fair play? At playing the game the right way? Who flipped off the fantasy gods? Well, the lesson was not over yet.
Fast-forward a week, and the fantasy gods haven't finished smiling down on Commish Nick, the "last seed" who made the playoffs only because of the thrown game. At the conclusion of Monday Night Football, Nick is losing 110.3-108.6. However, his opponent had DeAngelo Williams. You know, the player who was called down on the last play of the Steelers-Ravens game? Remember, per ESPN fantasy rules, matchups aren't final until the week's stats corrections are processed. And so, when after the fact, the NFL officially ruled the final play a lost fumble charged to Williams, it meant a loss of two points in fantasy scoring. Nick wins 108.6-108.3. Championship, for a team that wouldn't even have made the playoffs if not for the machinations of the league's No. 1 team at the time.
Happens all the time.
I want you to remember the story of Jared, who now has 10 straight years in the league without having won a championship. He will spend his offseason tortured, thinking about what might have been and what he wrought on himself. The next time you think about getting cute, of talking trash before you've earned the right to do so, of trying to bend the rules, or trying to swindle someone in a trade, of lying, of doing anything that you know, in your heart of hearts, isn't 100 percent right? Ask yourself, do you really want to feel the wrath of the fantasy gods? Because while you may think it's all a bunch of baloney, I'm here to tell you ... Fantasy Karma is real, my friend. Very real.
Just ask Jared.
Let's get to it. Since it's Week 17, chances are you know who you are going with, so fewer names this week, because frankly, there shouldn't be a lot of choices for you. But I'll still have a few options in case you're scrambling.
Obviously, this is the last Love/Hate of the regular season; as always, it would be dumb to write these and have no one read them. I continue to be grateful and honored that you spend a little time each week with me and that you on some level entrust a bit of your fantasy success to me. It's something I feel very lucky to have and not anything I take for granted. So, thank you. I will see you next year!
Quarterbacks I love in Week 17:
Eli Manning, Giants: You had me at "Eagles." Oh, he gets Odell Beckham Jr. back. A motivated one? Against a defense that has allowed at least 29 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in four of the past six games? That has given up the third-most points to opposing quarterbacks this season? That just lost its coach? That has given up more passing yards per game than any other team in the NFL the past four weeks? Yeah, I'm in. Top-five play for me this week.
Matthew Stafford, Lions: Who is happy to see Chicago? Matthew Stafford and the fightin' Jim Bob Cooters. Past three games against the Bears, Stafford is averaging 346 yards (and 42 attempts), including a 405-yard, four-touchdown game earlier this season. He has been red-hot lately, completing more than 77 percent of his passes when not under pressure. Why does this matter? The Bears rarely bring it; they're bottom third in the NFL in sacks.
So you're telling me there's a chance: Brian Hoyer has played six games this season where the opposing defense does not rank in the top 10 of fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. In those six games, he is averaging 269 yards a game with 15 touchdowns and just four picks (including 293 and three TDs against Jacksonville in Week 6). He's available in over 80 percent of leagues. ... Sam Bradford now has over 360 yards in back-to-back games, double-digit fantasy points in four straight. You know I think the Giants will score in this one, but because New York is 26th against the pass during the past four weeks, I think the Eagles will put up numbers too.
The price is right: I like all the guy I mentioned above for daily play, but here are a few other names to consider, specific to their prices on DraftKings.com.
It's on the road, but it's in a dome and should be a high-scoring affair on both sides, so I like Drew Brees at just $6,700 against an Atlanta team he threw for over 300 yards against in Week 6. ... I do prefer Eli (mentioned above) at just $5,600. ... I know he has been bad lately, but Tom Brady ($7,400) always destroys Miami, and Sunday will be no exception. If you listen closely, you can actually hear the Dolphins phoning in this game. ... With more than 20 DK points in four of his past five, I like Ryan Fitzpatrick's ($5,400) chances against a Bills team that has allowed more 20-plus-yard completions than all but three teams this season.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 17
Kirk Cousins, Redskins: You know what I don't like? Other than "You like that?" jokes, which have officially jumped the shark? Quarterbacks on teams with nothing to play for, behind banged-up offensive lines. Can't imagine Kirk plays a lot in this game and I don't see him putting up huge numbers while in there. Dallas is ninth against the pass and 10th in scoring defense the past four weeks. Only 12 points when he played the Cowboys in Week 13 -- Cousins owners need to look elsewhere this week.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: It's one thing to beat up on the Raiders and Dolphins, it's another to do it on the road at Denver. He had just six points the last time he faced the Broncos, the Chargers are beat-up, and Denver has something to play for. With just one touchdown pass or fewer in five of the past seven games, Rivers is outside my top 15.
Running backs I love in Week 17
Darren McFadden, Cowboys: From nine to 18 to 20, McFadden's touch count is trending in the right direction, and the results are there. Averaging 103 rushing yards the past three weeks (on an insane 7 yards per carry), I like him as a top-10 option against a Redskins defense that should be resting starters and is 18th against the run the past four weeks. Bilal Powell, Jets: Speaking of workloads heading in the right direction, check out Powell's snap percentage the past three games: 31.1, 49.3, 62.5. While that's been going on, here's Chris Ivory's carries in those games: 22, 13, 11. With three scores in his past four games, Powell just looks like the better running back these days, and it's a very good matchup: There are only two defenses that have allowed more rushing and receiving scores to opposing running backs this year than the Buffalo Bills. A legit top-20 play this week in standard scoring (and obviously PPR). He's available in 57 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Rashad Jennings, Giants: If I had a running back who had 859 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) and five rushing touchdowns in the past six games, is that something that might interest you? Because that's what running backs have done against the Eagles the past six games. With over 115 total yards per game in the past three, Jennings has actually been useful recently (sometimes the same is said about me!). Double-digit fantasy points and at least 16 touches in three straight, Jennings has a very good chance to get another 100 total yards with a shot at a score on Sunday. Another top-20 play for me, Jennings is available in about 37 percent of leagues.
So you're telling me there's a chance: Still available in 40 percent of leagues, James White has now scored in four straight games and leads all running backs in receptions during the past four weeks (26). With the Patriots' receiving options continuing to be, shall we say, limited, White should remain a big part of a passing offense that is facing a Dolphins team that gives up the second-most PPR points to opposing running backs and is 28th against the pass in the past four games. ... I know, I know. C.J. Anderson has had more than five points just once since Week 12. But I thought he looked pretty good last week and I expect him to get double-digit touches in this game. In the past four games where he's gotten double-digit touches, he has a total of 412 yards and four scores. I will say San Diego has very quietly been playing pretty solid defense lately, but I expect the Broncos' running game to move the ball enough to make Anderson worthy of flex consideration.
The price is right: I like all the guys I mentioned above for daily play, but here are a few other names to consider, specific to their prices on DraftKings.com. DeAngelo Williams is my No. 1 player overall this week, so considering he's just the fourth-highest priced runner ($7,100), I'm happy to pay up for him against the Browns. ... Given the QB issues, Tennessee may stack the line to stop Frank Gore, but it may not matter. And at just $4,000, Gore doesn't have to do that much to earn back his price. ... Love Rashad Jennings at just $3,700. ... He's a tournament play only as there's lots of obvious risk, but Jonas Gray ($3,000) at the minimum could be pretty interesting, because the Jags have said they want to get him a lot of work this week. ... Another interesting tournament play is DuJuan Harris ($3,500), who should get the majority of work for the 49ers against the Rams (22nd-ranked run defense the past four weeks).
Running backs I hate in Week 17
Matt Forte, Bears: Banged-up and in a bad matchup with Detroit, as the Lions and Seahawks are the only two teams to have not allowed a running back to score a receiving touchdown this season, and that's important because more than 31 percent of Forte's fantasy production comes via the pass. With both Jeremy Langford and, apparently, Ka'Deem Carey to vulture touches, Forte has seen his snap percentage drop in three straight. In the past five weeks, the only runner to score against Detroit is Todd Gurley, and I have trouble seeing Forte as anything more than a shaky flex this week.
Chris Ivory, Jets: See Powell, Bilal. Scoreless in four straight and under 50 rushing yards in three of his past four games, Ivory's heading in the wrong direction for championship-minded fantasy teams.
Denard Robinson, Jaguars: I expect you'll see more Jonas Gray in this game than you'd think, and this is a poor matchup, as Houston is ninth against the run the past four weeks, has the eighth-best scoring defense and Robinson has just one rushing touchdown this season. Not convinced his passing game usage suggests he'll be anything more than a dart-throw flex.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Averaging just 3.0 yards per carry in his past six, "Don't call him Gio" hasn't scored since Week 6. He did have the big game in Week 11 with 128 receiving yards, but he has been held to fewer than 70 total yards in the five games since. Meanwhile, only three defenses have seen opposing running backs targeted less in the passing game than the Baltimore Ravens.
Wide receivers I love in Week 17
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: As of this writing, I'm the highest on him among our rankers and have him as a top-six play. I guess people are worried about Arizona's defense, but Baldwin runs the majority of his routes out of the slot (83 percent, per Pro Football Focus). There, he should avoid Patrick Peterson and see most of coverage from Jerraud Powers, currently ranked 88th in coverage out of 119 corners by PFF. Don't get cute. You're starting Baldwin.
Michael Crabtree, Raiders: So, if you discount the Chargers (really injured) and Browns (really talent-free) games, the "WR1" against the Chiefs this year has had 81 catches for 1,212 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 games. In fact, that "WR1" averages 7 for 101 and more than 15 points a game, which is usually a top-10 play. With more catches, targets and scores than Amari Cooper, it's clear Crabtree is the No. 1 in Oakland. Don't believe me? Ask an Amari Cooper owner how they felt last week. Five for 45 and a score in Week 13 against these same Chiefs, Crabtree has a score or at least 10 targets in eight of his past 10 games. Michael Floyd, Cardinals: Putting him here in case you were worried about the Seahawks' defense. I'm not. I expect Richard Sherman to be on John Brown more of the time and at home, this offense is just too good. With five or more catches in four straight games, Floyd is averaging 97 yards in those games. By the way: Not Larry Fitzgerald, not John Brown; since Week 9, the leading pass-catcher on Arizona is Floyd with 514 yards.
So you're telling me there's a chance: With a score in four of his past five games (and a 20-plus yard reception in each of those games), Jordan Matthews is becoming the king of junk time. It all counts the same and since the Giants' Week 11 bye, wide receivers have totaled 722 yards and seven touchdowns in five games against them. ... Averaging nine points a game when Brian Hoyer is the QB, I like Nate Washington's chance this week against the Jags' 30th-ranked pass defense the past four weeks. They can't all go to DeAndre Hopkins. Probably. ... Keshawn Martin had a 7-for-68 game last week and has a terrific matchup with Miami. He's worth a look if you're desperate for a WR3 in 12-team leagues or deeper.
The price is right: If you're paying full boat, DeAndre Hopkins ($8,400), Odell Beckham Jr. ($9,000) and Julio Jones ($9,000) are where I'd look first, in that order. ... He has struggled a bit recently, but Martavis Bryant at $5,300 is very much worth the price against Cleveland. ... Not cheap, but not expensive either, given the production of Eric Decker ($6,500) and Doug Baldwin ($6,700). Decker has at least 80 yards or a TD in every game this season. ... Nate Washington (mentioned above) is just $3,600. ... Definitely risky, so only as a tournament play, but no Dez Bryant and a great matchup with Washington gives Brice Butler ($3,000) some consideration. Four for 74 (on nine targets) last week, the Redskins are 27th against the pass the past four weeks, and that was when they were trying. I don't expect them to be in this game.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 17
John Brown, Cardinals: Under 40 yards in two straight, you haven't minded because he has been scoring. With Sherman expected to be on him for a good part of Sunday, I have Brown as a WR3 this week, well below where his production has been recently.
Allen Hurns, Jaguars: On top of having given up just six touchdowns to wide receivers since Week 8, the Texans held Hurns to just two catches (on seven targets) for 30 yards (and a score) in Week 6. Prior to last week, Hurns had four receptions or fewer in the past five games. Houston is a much better defense than New Orleans, so you're basically counting on a score with Hurns. Which obviously can happen, but he's more a risk/reward WR3 this week than the rock-solid WR2 he had been earlier this season.
Dontrelle Inman, Chargers: It was fun while it lasted, but on the road at Denver, you'd be silly to chase last week's points.
Tight ends I love in Week 17
Zach Ertz, Eagles: Available in 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Ertz is the obvious Jordan Reed fill-in if he's still available in your league. Here's his catch/target count over his past three games: 5/7, 8/13, 13/17. Yes, dude has 26 catches in the past three games. Reed and Delanie Walker are the only tight ends with 26 targets over that stretch. A focal point for Sam Bradford, this is a prime spot for Ertz, as only the Saints have allowed more points to tight ends this season than the Giants.
Gary Barnidge, Browns: I'm not worried about QB play here, and Barnidge had 91 yards against Baltimore with Austin Davis under center. This is a nice matchup for Gary Barnkowski, as the Steelers are tied for seventh-most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. Pittsburgh is tough against the run and should have no trouble scoring, meaning Davis will be throwing quite a bit, making Barnidge an easy top-five play this week.
So you're telling me there's a chance: Once again, no Alshon Jeffery means Zach Miller should be the focal point of an offense facing a Lions team that coughs up the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. ... It's frankly never a terrible idea to start anyone against the Saints, so Jacob Tamme is back on the "high upside TE2 streamer" radar. ... You know I like the Giants-Eagles game to be high-scoring, so Will Tye is worth a look against a Philly squad that just got destroyed by Jordan Reed.
The price is right: Zach Ertz at $3,600 is the play that should be in most lineups, but certainly, no issue using Rob Gronkowski at $7,400 against Miami. He's also flex worthy in DraftKings scoring. ... Zach Miller is another guy I mentioned, but at $4,600, he's worth mentioning again. ... Benjamin Watson is just $4,600 as well, as he exploded for 10 for 127 and a score the last time he faced the Falcons. Atlanta allows the 11th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Tight ends I hate in Week 17
Jordan Reed, Redskins: I know, it's going to be tough to bench him after last week, but I think it's strongly worth considering. I don't expect him to play the whole game (and maybe less than a half) as he's obviously a huge part of Washington's offense and has struggled to stay healthy earlier in his career. Meanwhile, it's a tough matchup anyway, as Dallas allows just the third-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Reed had three catches for 33 yards the last time they played, so given the matchup and (more important) the lack of expected playing time, you should consider viable alternatives.
Richard Rodgers, Packers: Tight ends are averaging just 47 yards a game with no scores against the Vikings since Week 11, and the bad matchup isn't the only concern here. Andrew Quarless is back and Rodgers has seemingly disappeared from the offense, with just nine targets in the past three games, putting up just three catches for 12 yards in those contests. With under 35 yards in nine of his past 10, (including a 3-for-7 game the last time he played Minnesota), he's a touchdown-dependent TE2 this week.
Defenses I love in Week 17:
Houston Texans D/ST: Available in more than 30 percent of leagues, the Texans have 34 points over the past two weeks and face a Jags team that is allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing defenses.
Cincinnati Bengals D/ST: Somehow still out there in about 30 percent of leagues, Cincy has at least 15 points in three of the past five and, with something on the line, the Bengals know their defense is going to have to carry them. At home against the Ravens, they'll be able to do just that.
So you're telling me there's a chance: I've said this a few times, but Dallas has a much better defense than they get credit for and playing at home against mostly second-stringers, I like their chances to score double digits. Eight points the last time they played the Skins, they are available in 90 percent of leagues. ... The Colts are at home, are averaging 10 points in their past two and no one ever went broke betting against Zach Mettenberger.
The defense I hate in Week 17
Detroit Lions D/ST: This game has sneaky shootout potential, just like the first one did. Don't get cute chasing points against the Bears.
And that, kids, is a season in the books. Have a great New Year, thanks again for reading and we will see you in 2016!
Matthew Berry -- the Talented Mr. Roto -- is available for exorcisms, should you find yourself facing the wrath of the fantasy gods. He is a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price.