It is almost closing time at a bar in the middle of Indianapolis somewhere, it is the dead of winter, and I'm trying to flag down a bartender. And that's when he approached me.
"Hey Matthew," he said, holding out his hand. "I'm [name], the [position] coach for the [NFL team]."
I immediately recognize the name and extend my hand. "Hey, man, great to meet you."
As we shake, he says to me, "Hey, can I ask you a favor?"
As I quickly rack my brain trying to think of what I might have said about any of his players, I'm like, "Uh, yeah, sure. What, uh, can I do for you?" "Can you get [name] to unblock me?"
It was a fellow ESPN colleague, and apparently he had tried to debate something with this person. "I was just having a debate, but I think so-and-so took it wrong, and maybe they didn't realize who I was, but I'm a big fan of that person, and well, could you get them to unblock me?"
Cut to a shot of me just blinking and staring.
"Well, uh, yeah. I'm certainly happy to send so-and-so a note and ask for you."
We talked football for a while after that, and I got some good nuggets and his cellphone number, so it was great for me, but I couldn't believe it. The guy said he was a fan -- who knows, maybe he was -- but I honestly felt that the entire point of the conversation was for me to get this person at ESPN to unblock him on Twitter. Nuts.
But maybe I shouldn't have been shocked. It's a topic that comes up more often than not. It's not the most common question I get; that would be "Who do I start on Sunday?" It's not the second-most common question I get; that would be "Really? They put you on television?" But it is a question I hear people ask.
"Why'd you block me on Twitter?"
The answer, I suspect, is different for a lot of people. For me, it's all a very quick process -- I see a tweet that's mean-spirited (or outright mean) and I hit block. I give it less than one second of thought. But I can tell you, in general, that I don't block people randomly or by accident. If you have read me for any amount of time, you know that bullying is an extremely important topic for me and I consider "trolls" to be nothing more than online bullies. I mean, what other reason is there to send negative tweets to someone you've never met? It's to try and make that person feel bad, right? So yeah, I am very quick to block on Twitter. Because life is too short to deal with people who feel the need to try to harm someone or put negativity into the universe, especially when it is about a hobby we play for fun, like fantasy football.
I bring all this up not to complain or whine, "Waah, people are big meanies online," but rather because I want good to come out of negativity. And I think we have a chance to do that because it's Jimmy V Week.
Wednesday marked the start of the 10th annual Jimmy V Week, an ESPN initiative that extends across all ESPN platforms and programs to help drive awareness and generate donations for the V Foundation for Cancer Research (v.org/v). One hundred percent of all donations go directly toward cancer research (which is not the case with every charitable organization).
Jimmy V Week and the overall support of the V Foundation for Cancer Research is the best thing we do, and nothing else even comes close. In the past 10 years, ESPN has raised $13.7 million for the V Foundation through Jimmy V Week alone, part of the $45 million the company and its employees have raised for the foundation since 2003.
Fighting cancer is important to me because it's important to everyone. There's literally no one in the world who has not been affected by cancer in one way, shape or form. I've lost family members; I've lost dear friends; I've lost colleagues. A close member of my family is battling it as we speak, with all of us along for the fight.
So I like to do what I can to help. Every year there are ESPYS auction experiences, and I am proud to be a part of a few of them. Shout-out to Jack Sitt for his generous donation to win the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast experience (he and his father sat in on the show and spent a Sunday watching football with us) and to Mark Brown, who also made a generous donation to win the Fantasy Football Now experience. (Stephania Bell and I had dinner with him and his friend Matt Becker; they got to see a live taping of Fantasy Football Now and watched football with us all on another Sunday.)
But it's not enough. I continue to want to do what I can in whatever small way I can contribute to this great cause.
Which brings me back to that common question: "Why'd you block me?" Or "Whatever I said, I'm sorry. Can you unblock me?"
At which point I tell them what I am about to tell you: I am happy to unblock anyone. All I ask in return is that you make a donation to the V Foundation. It's that simple. It's a policy I have had for many years, and I am using this week to mention it again in hopes of raising some more money for cancer research. It doesn't expire this week, by the way; it's always there.
Here's what you do:
1. Go to v.org/v and make a donation of any amount. We can all afford different amounts -- give what you can.
2. You'll be sent a copy of the receipt. Send it, along with your Twitter handle that you want unblocked, to email@example.com.
That's it. Now, it may take a bit of time to get through everything, but rest assured that if you do that, you will be unblocked. That goes for Facebook or Instagram as well. Realize that this doesn't give you carte blanche to act like a jerk again. You can be blocked again. But it does wipe the slate clean, as it were.
Now, a few things: First, you should know is I am not very good on Twitter. I'm actually not very good at all on social media, including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope. Now that I think of it, I'm not very good at most everything, including interaction of any kind, social or otherwise.
For those of you who HAVEN'T been blocked by me on Twitter, well, first, thank you for being polite on social media (or if you're not, congrats on just getting muted), and whether you follow me or not, it's still a great excuse to donate. Over the years many people whom I have not blocked have used this as an excuse to donate.
I will tweet at and in some cases retweet every single person who donates to the V Foundation and sends a copy of the receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will also go one step further.
Have you been blocked by someone else at ESPN? Maybe we're good, but you mouthed off to Adam Schefter? Went too far with Jemele Hill? Got into it with Darren Rovell? Just as I did for that coach I mentioned, maybe I can help.
I want to be clear here: I can't promise anything. The only thing I control is my own feeds. But, I am friendly with almost all of my ESPN colleagues, and if you follow the steps above (donate, send receipt and your handle to email@example.com) and mention you've been blocked by an ESPN personality, I will personally reach out to that person and say, "Hey, so-and-so made a donation to the V Foundation. Would you mind unblocking them for Jimmy V? Pretty please?" Knowing how generous most of my colleagues are and how important this is to all of us, I bet most of them will say yes.
Again, no promises, but I will ask. And if any of my ESPN colleagues are reading this, I hope you'll share this and make your own offer to your followers. The firstname.lastname@example.org email address works for all ESPN talent.
Whether you donate or not, I urge you to watch Jimmy V's speech from the 1993 ESPYS. It'll be the best 11 minutes you'll spend all week.
Don't give up.
Don't ever give up.
That's not just great life advice, but as we enter Week 13 of the fantasy football season, it seems to apply here as well. Let's get to it.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 13
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: The sun comes up, the sun sets, you start Ben at home. In averaging an absurd 27.5 points per game at Heinz Field this season, Roethlisberger has yet to throw for fewer than three touchdowns in any of the four home games he's played. Yes, the Giants defense is playing well recently, but it's faced quarterbacks Josh McCown, Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton. That's not exactly murderers' row they're shutting down. They're a good defense playing well, but I'm sorry. The Giants are either going to have to rush four (not generating a ton of pressure), giving Roethlisberger time to find his guy, or they're going to rush more guys and have to play some man coverage, which, you know, good luck with that against Antonio Brown. I'm the only one of our rankers with Roethlisberger as a top-four play this week.
Matthew Stafford, Lions: In the six home games the Saints have played this season, there has been an average of 64.7 total points scored. The Saints have allowed multiple passing scores or at least 315 passing yards in nine of 11 games this season. This is going to be a shootout, and when it gets like that, Stafford puts up numbers. In the five games Stafford has played in which at least 40 total points have been scored, he's averaging 290 passing yards a game along with an impressive ratio of 13 passing touchdowns to just one interception. I know Stafford has been fairly pedestrian recently, but the Saints have given up multiple passing scores to Jared Goff, Trevor Siemian and Colin Kaepernick recently. He's an easy top-10 play this week.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: Rivers has multiple passing touchdowns in four straight games and is averaging 317 yards a game in his past seven non-Denver games. Yes, the Bucs defense has looked a lot better recently, but it's one thing to shut down Russell Wilson at Tampa Bay (traveling cross-country after a tough win, that one always felt like a trap game for Seattle). This feels different, as the Bucs are the ones who have to fly with the game in San Diego. It's a bit of a gut feel here as well, but I'm going with the "Rivers is a stud who keeps throwing in this one" trend over the "Bucs have played good defense for two games" trend.
Others receiving votes: Aaron Rodgers is the answer to this trivia question: Name the only player to have more fantasy points the past four weeks than Colin Kaepernick. Yes, Kap is running (373 rushing yards in six starts), but did you know he's fifth in passing yards the past four weeks? Chicago's defense has started to show some leaks, and now linebacker Danny Trevathan has been added to the list of injured Bears on D. ... Similar to Kap, Tyrod Taylor's rushing keeps his floor high. He has scored at least six points with his legs in five of the past six games, and he should have Sammy Watkins in a game against a Raiders team that allows the eighth-highest completion percentage on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air. Since Week 8, only Brock Osweiler has failed to throw multiple touchdown passes against the Raiders. ... If you are truly in scraping the bottom of the barrel mode, deep-league territory I've gotta say, I actually think Ryan Fitzpatrick is OK here. The Colts have allowed at least two touchdown passes in eight straight games; cornerback Vontae Davis might miss this game; and the game is in New York.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 13
Cam Newton, Panthers: We discussed this on the podcast as well, but since the Panthers came out of their Week 7 bye, Newton has been the 22nd-best quarterback in fantasy (15.8 PPG). He has just five passing touchdowns in his past five games. He's just not the same guy these days -- you can see it when you watch his games. The Seahawks should get DE Michael Bennett, safety Earl Thomas and CB DeShawn Shead back for a defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to 15 points or fewer in eight of 11 games this season, including the past three. With the Hawks at home after an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay, you're going to need a lot of running from Cam in this one to get him into the top 10, and I don't believe you can count on that based on recent production. He's a QB2 for me this week.
Eli Manning, Giants: Already struggling on the road - Manning has fewer than 200 passing yards in three straight road games -- this is a tough matchup against a top-five scoring defense over the past four weeks. The Steelers have yet to allow more than 18 points to a quarterback in a game at home this season. Last week, 18 points got you QB17. With the Steelers allowing the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks all season, it's hard to see Pittsburgh allowing Manning to come in there and go nuts. The past two QBs Pittsburgh has faced at home? Dak Prescott (18 points) and Tom Brady (17 points). Manning is outside my top 10.
Running backs I love in Week 13
Jordan Howard, Bears: You had me at San Francisco. Need stats on that? I got stats on that. No team in the NFL has given up more rushing yards per game over the past four than the Niners, who also allow a league-high 3.30 yards per carry before contact this season. Howard is averaging 132 total yards per game in his past four and leads the NFL in yards after contact per carry since he became a starter in Week 4, so expect a heavy workload and a top-10 weekend from Howard on Sunday.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: Bit of a gut call here, as he hasn't been great since returning and the Chargers are actually playing decent run defense -- they are 14th against the run the past four weeks. But 14th ain't, like, fifth or something, you dig? The Chargers have given up five RB rushing scores in the past five games and at least 76 rushing yards in seven of the past nine. Among running backs, only Le'Veon Bell has more touches than Martin's 52 the past two weeks. So even if Jacquizz Rodgers is active for this one, I expect a heavy workload for Martin, and he does seem to be getting healthier: His yards per carry by game since returning: 2.1, 2.6, and 3.8 (vs. Seattle). He's a solid RB2 for me this week.
Latavius Murray, Raiders: Averaging more than 19 touches a game in his past five, Murray has separated himself from the three-headed monster he was a part of earlier in the season (DeAndre Washington was a healthy scratch last week). The Bills have allowed five touchdowns to opposing running backs in their past five games, so Murray should have a decent chance to score here. Look, Derek Carr should have no issues moving the ball at home in this one, and if the Raiders get it close, they'll score. No team has allowed more goal-to-go drives to result in a touchdown than the Bills. And if they get in close, the ball will go to Murray, who (as our player card notes) has the fourth most red zone touches per game since Week 4.
Carlos Hyde, 49ers: Even as Kaepernick's rushing opens things up for Hyde, you have to love the workload the running back still gets. Hyde has been very good recently, with at least 19 touches in two straight games, and he leads the NFL in yards per carry after contact the past four weeks. Again, considering how banged-up the Bears defense is and the mobility of Kaepernick, which loosens up the defense, expect another productive week against a Bears team that has given up 18 points a game to opposing running backs in the three weeks since their bye.
Others receiving votes: That's double-digit touches for the Lions' Theo Riddick in four straight games, and he should have another productive Sunday because, you know, New Orleans. ... Slowly getting more and more work each week, the Patriots' Dion Lewis is averaging 5.94 yards per touch since returning. I like his chances for a solid flex-level game with upside against the Rams' 26th-ranked run defense the past four weeks. ... Deeper leaguers in need of help can consider the Jets' Bilal Powell, as he has played just two fewer snaps than Matt Forte the past two games and faces a Colts team that has allowed a league-high five receiving scores to opposing RBs this season. ... Another gut call here, but after Tevin Coleman scored last week, I expect even bigger production in his second game back against a Chiefs team that is 31st against the run the past four weeks.
Running backs I hate in Week 13
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: As I mentioned in the Cam note, this is a Seattle defense that is at home, angry and getting a lot healthier for this game. The Seahawks have allowed a running back rushing touchdown in just three of 11 games so far this season, and if J-Stew isn't getting into the end zone, that's an issue. He's failed to gain more than 42 yards in three of the past four; he ranks 31st (out of 40 qualified RBs) in yards before contact per carry this season; and the Seahawks are in the top six in the NFL in yards before and after contact per carry. Stewart is merely a touchdown-dependent flex play this week.
Todd Gurley, Rams: A rookie quarterback making his third start ever on the road in Foxboro, Massachusetts -- what could go wrong? Expect the Patriots to stack the box to stop Gurley, as teams have done all season. Gurley is averaging just 1.63 yards before first contact per carry this season (third worst in the NFL), and wouldn't you know it, the Patriots are allowing the third-fewest yards before first contact per carry this season. Also, they have not allowed a running back to rush for a score in eight of their past nine games.
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks: Like the rest of the Seahawks, he didn't look great last week, and it's hard to get up much confidence this week, too. Ranking just 27th in time of possession this season (last season they were 11th), the Seahawks aren't grinding out drives the way they used to. Maybe it's success in the passing game, maybe it's lack of consistency in the run game, but either way, after last week I can't imagine trusting Rawls as anything more than a flex play this week against the Panthers. Carolina has allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs since Week 2, is fifth against the run the past four weeks and has given up 100 total yards to opposing running backs just once since a Week 7 bye.
Wide receivers I love in Week 13
Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas, Saints: Thomas is easy. He's as hot a wideout as there is in the NFL in a good matchup, but Cooks is a gut call. After last week's zero-reception debacle for Cooks, I expect Drew Brees to force-feed him the ball (and the Lions not to make the same mistake the Rams did, bringing double-coverage to Cooks every play and leaving many other players exposed). There's a zillion great stats that show how awesome Brees is at home fantasy-wise, so here's just one: He's averaging 27.6 percent more yards per pass attempt at home this year than on the road. In the four home games since their Week 5 bye, Cooks and Thomas as a tandem have gained 604 yards and scored six touchdowns (that's 75.5 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per player per game). To put that in perspective, if you extrapolate it over a 16-game season, each player would have 1,208 yards and 12 touchdowns. Yeah, you're starting both guys.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: I know, I know. He's been struggling recently with back-to-back games of fewer than 65 yards and single-digit fantasy points in five of the past six, but I like his chances at a bounce-back this week. Washington has struggled with the slot quite a bit recently, allowing 109 yards or a touchdown to the position in five of the past six games, allowing an average of more than nine catches for 113 yards per game to the slot. You know Fitz will get targets in this one, and given the matchup at home against Washington's 25th-ranked pass defense the past four weeks (as well as CB Josh Norman not defending the slot), expect a lot of love to come Fitz's way.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: Much like the rest of the Seahawks, he was on the "love" list last week and flopped mightily. Yeesh. I really misread that game last week. And yet, here I am back on Seattle and especially Baldwin. Only two players have more fantasy points from the slot than Baldwin this season, and this is a good matchup for him. The Panthers have allowed multiple slot touchdowns in three of their past five games, including each of the past two weeks. In fact, if you go back further to their past six games, Carolina has coughed up 64 catches for 717 yards and 8 touchdowns to the slot, or almost 20 fantasy points per game. Because of the high target share from QB Russell Wilson, Baldwin is a strong WR2 for me this week.
Others receiving votes: I don't care what the matchup is; Jamison Crowder now has a touchdown or at least 88 yards in six straight games. ... In every game (four) that Donte Moncrief has played with Andrew Luck this season, he's scored. On Monday night against the Jets with Luck back, I say he goes 5-for-5. I see you Tyreek Hill, what with your 8.7 touches per game the past three weeks. Hill has been under scrutiny during his recent on-field success because he pleaded guilty to domestic violence in 2015, but my job here is to judge based solely on fantasy performance. Hill is starting for me against a Falcons team that is 26th against the pass the past four weeks and without its top corner (Desmond Trufant is now out for the season). ... After Eli Manning apologized to Sterling Shepard for not getting him the ball, expect him to correct that on Sunday against a Steelers squad that gives up eight catches for 91 yards to the slot per game this season and has allowed six touchdowns from there as well. Shepard leads the NFL in routes run from the slot this season. ... Anquan Boldin now has a touchdown in six of the past 10 games, has nine targets in each of the past two games, trails only Jordy Nelson in terms of red zone catches and, you know, New Orleans.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 13
Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers: See Newton, Cam. Benjamin needed a terrific catch to score last week but still caught only two passes and, prior to last week, had gone eight straight games with single-digit points. Again, with the Seahawks defense back at home and at full strength finally, I think this is a long day for the Panthers and their players. Benjamin is merely a low-end WR3 until we see some more consistency from him and the entire Panthers offense.
Allen Robinson, Jaguars: With just 11 targets total to Robinson in the past two games, it's clear Blake Bortles is really bortling his relationship with A-Rob. Robinson has just five receptions in those two weeks (though one of them was a touchdown) and this is, shall we say, not a great matchup for a passing offense that is struggling. I don't see Denver coming into Jacksonville and blowing the Jags out to the point of having a huge lead (taking away junk-time scoring), but certainly this will be tough. The Broncos have held opposing wide receivers to fewer than nine points in five of their past nine games and while, yes, Hill had himself a day last week and yes, Robinson is capable of going off at any moment, given what we've seen of both the Denver secondary and the Bortles/Robinson connection this season, A-Rob is merely a WR3 for me this week, not the WR1 he was drafted as.
Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos: See, here's some love, Jags fans. The best defense in the NFL the past four games in terms of passing yards allowed per game belongs to the Jaguars, and they have allowed the second-fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards this season. It's hard to get a big pass play on them, their corners are playing pretty well this season and while Sanders had the huge game last week against Kansas City, that was his first score since Week 4. Since Week 5, the Jags have allowed just five wide receiver touchdowns and, as of this writing (early Thursday morning), Trevor Siemian missed practice and is banged-up. Maybe he plays, but there's a chance he does so at less than 100 percent, which doesn't help either. On the road at Jacksonville, I expect a run-heavy game script for the Broncos, making Sanders just a WR3 for me this week.
Tight ends I love in Week 13
Antonio Gates, Chargers: I'm not worried about last week, which was a function of game flow and specific matchups. After at least eight targets in four straight games before last week, Gates gets back on track this week as the Bolts face a Bucs squad allowing more than 81 yards a game to opposing tight ends, including double-digit fantasy points in three of the past five.
Travis Kelce, Chiefs: With Rob Gronkowski out, Jordan Reed banged up and with a bad matchup and the recent struggles of Greg Olsen, I have only Jimmy Graham higher in my tight end rankings this week than Kelce. He is a huge part of the offense and coming off a big game, so I like Kelce's chances at a top-three day against a Falcons team that gives up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends -- including a nine-point effort last week to Jermaine Gresham. I repeat, Jermaine Gresham.
Others receiving votes: Just like I am with Cooks and Gates, I am back on board with Eric Ebron after a brutal game. Before last week, he had been on a tear and, you know, New Orleans. Expect Stafford to get his tight end back involved in a shootout. ... C.J. Fiedorowicz has at least five targets in eight straight games and has a nice matchup with Green Bay as the Packers are coughing up seven catches for 80 yards per game to opposing tight ends over the past five weeks. ... If you're truly desperate, Vance McDonald led the 49ers with eight targets last week, has at least six targets in five straight games and gets a Bears team that has given up a touchdown to a tight end in three straight. ... The Cowboys give up the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, while the Vikings have given up at least 90 yards to tight ends in four of the past five. So I think both Kyle Rudolph and Jason Witten, in that order, are usable on Thursday night as low end TE1s.
Tight ends I hate in Week 13
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers: The Chargers have allowed just three touchdowns to opposing tight ends all season, and I like San Diego's defense to rise up in this one. I'm expecting a heavy run approach from the Bucs here, making Brate a touchdown-dependent TE2.
Jared Cook, Packers: I tried to warn you. There are so few absolutes in fantasy football, but one is that after a big game, Jared Cook will always burn you. Now facing a Texans team that gives up the fifth-fewest points to opposing tight ends, Cook is nowhere near my lineup this week.
NOTE: I know, not a great week for "tight end hate" but hey, due to injuries and matchups it's hard to hate any tight end with a pulse these days. They're pretty much all touchdown-dependent after a certain point. It is what it is.
Defenses I love in Week 13
New England Patriots: A rookie QB making his third ever start at Foxboro? That'll work. Opposing D/STs have scored at least eight points against L.A. in nine of 11 games this season and in each of the past five.
Green Bay Packers: In Brock we trust. For opposing defenses. Osweiler has, well, struggled this season, especially against pressure, as he's completing just 38.7 percent of passes when facing pressure (27th out of 32 quarterbacks). The Packers are seventh in the NFL in sacks. They are playing with confidence, and the game is in Lambeau, where I like the Packers' chances at a top-10 finish. They are available in 44 percent of leagues.
Others receiving votes: The San Diego Chargers have scored at least 11 points in three of their past four games, forcing 11 turnovers and scoring three touchdowns in that time frame and are available in 57 percent of leagues. ... The defense opposing the Vikings has scored at least five points in six straight weeks and teams are averaging more than 9 points a game against them in that time frame. With the Cowboys expected to get Barry Church back and with Stefon Diggs at less than 100 percent, I could see the Cowboys D/ST being useful on Thursday night.
Defenses I hate in Week 13
Minnesota Vikings: Only one fantasy defense has scored more than two points against the Cowboys, and since their Week 7 bye, no defense has scored positive points against them. The best any defense did was the Redskins, and they scored minus-1. The Cowboys play such good ball control offense and rarely turn the ball over, it's hard to see the Vikings doing anything here unless Cordarrelle Patterson runs one back. They are outside my top 10.
Carolina Panthers: In Seattle's past four home games, opposing D/STs have averaged just 2.5 fantasy points per game against the Seahawks. The Panthers have allowed at least 20 points in nine of 11 games this season, and you know I don't love the offense's chances at moving the ball that much, so Seattle should be in good field position much of the day.
As always, thanks to Thirsty Kyle Soppe of ESPN Fantasy for his help with the column.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, has laughed, thought and cried today. It's been a heck of a day. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.