I have had, by all accounts, a very weird career path. People who know me from the sports world are surprised to find out that I worked in Hollywood. Long-ago acquaintances from show business are surprised to see me on TV. And very few of them know that my first Hollywood job was working as George Carlin's assistant.
To be specific, I was the stage PA (production assistant) for "The George Carlin Show," a 1994 sitcom that ran on Fox, so technically I was the assistant to all of the cast though my primary duty was taking care of George. He was terrific to work for. One of the last times I ever saw him was a week after the show's season had wrapped up and he had asked me to stop by his office. Once there he thanked me for all my hard work that year, said a bunch of kind things and gave me a signed poster.
The poster headline reads: "An Incomplete List of Impolite Words: 2,443 Filthy Words and Phrases Compiled By George Carlin."
It's a long list of nicknames, euphemisms and slang for activities of an adult nature and/or various body parts.
One of Carlin's most famous routines was "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." And this poster was one of the many offshoots of that routine, as a prevailing theme in the Carlin body of work was language and how it is often misused, and the absurdity that any words could be offensive or hurtful or obscene. Words are just words, he would argue, it's the context of those words that's the key. The motivation and intent behind what someone was saying was the key. The idea that one word was bad while another was safe was insane to him. He would give an example.
"Tonight, my wife and I are walking the dog."
Fine, right? Harmless sentence.
But, George would say, what if I said it like this? And with that, he would use a leering, "bragging-to-the-guys" kind of voice that is unmistakably Carlin: "Oh yeah," he'd say with a knowing wink, "Tonight my wife and I are ... walking the dog." If words could wiggle their eyebrows, it's exactly what they'd be doing. But they can't. Words are just words. It's all about context, tone, intonation. Language.
As George gave me the poster, he told me that while the routine on the poster was meant to evoke laughter, it was also about making people think about words and language and communication in a different way. He encouraged me to challenge conventional thought, of being unafraid to speak your opinion, of it being OK to sometimes piss people off. When people get angry, he told me, it means you're probably doing something right.
I framed that poster and still have it today. I loved working for George. What a wonderful, kind man. As much of a genius as he was on stage, he was an even better person off it.
I miss George and think of him often, but probably no more so than when I think of words and context. We are less than a week away from ESPN's trade deadline in standard leagues (Wednesday at noon ET). And while I have given trade advice many times before, as I speak with friends, fantasy players and try my own negotiations in various leagues, I realized it wouldn't hurt to remind folks that, when negotiating words and context matter a great deal. So, with a tip of the cap to my late, great friend, here are ...
Seven Words You Can Never Say in a Fantasy Trade Negotiation
Everyone is tradable, OK? It's like the old joke.
Me: Will you eat this bug for a dollar?
You: What? No, that's gross.
Me: Would you eat it for a million dollars?
You: For a million dollars? Of course I'd eat a bug for a million dollars.
Me: What about for two bucks?
You: What? No, I told you I wouldn't. It's gross.
Me: No, you already told me you'd eat a bug. Now we're just negotiating price.
No, you're not looking to trade away Le'Veon Bell, but if someone offers you the right deal for him, you'd certainly consider it. Besides, you don't have to trade Bell, but by saying he's off the table at the start puts a damper on your negotiations. You want to start wide open to all the possibilities. Even if you have no intention of dealing Bell, leave it on the table and get your trade partner to throw their best player out there. The more they get comfortable thinking about dealing their best player, the better chances you have of getting a deal done.
A trade is a two-way street, obviously, so the word you want to use is "you." As in ... "What do you need?" If everyone is playing straight up, there is no motivation for someone to help someone else out in a fantasy league. Don't tell a prospective trade partner what they can do for your team; find out what they need and work back from there. That should always be the first question. What do you need? And then once you find out, you can see if there's a match between what they need and what you want. One thing I like to do is explain my logic in a trade, so that even if it's a no, the other person knows where I'm coming from. "I think my RB is better than your RB, but your WR is better than mine. My WR just came back from the ankle injury, but your RB is on bye and just lost his best offensive lineman."
As in "No, I won't consider that deal." Obviously, it's perfectly fine to turn down a deal that doesn't make sense, but one of the best parts of fantasy football is the negotiation. Instead of saying no to an initial offer, make a counter, because there's always some deal you'd make. It may not be a deal the other person would, but there's always some offer that would get you to say yes. So before you say no, make a counter. And if you don't want to do that, at least respond. Nothing is more annoying than an inquiry that doesn't even get a response. Are you in this league or not? Then act like it and respond to a reasonable inquiry.
Not so much a word you can't say as it is a thought you shouldn't have. A good trade is one that helps both parties, and that should be the goal for a few reasons. First, offering a reasonable trade offer makes it more likely a deal gets done. A "rip-off" trade offer will get rejected and is unlikely to get a counter. A reasonable one should get a response. Also, most folks are in the same league with the same people, year after year. There are people in my leagues that I don't even bother dealing with because I know they are unreasonable or hard to trade with. Getting that reputation makes trading that much harder for you.
Most people know what they are doing and no, they don't want to trade Antonio Brown, off two bad weeks, for the Dontrelle Inman you just picked up. So don't insult them with that kind of offer. And finally, if you win your league, you want it to mean something. So even if there is a relatively new person to fantasy, don't take advantage of that person's inexperience. We want people to enjoy fantasy football and no one likes to feel dumb. LeBron doesn't get credit for dunking on a 12-year-old, you know? Ripping off a first-year player isn't impressive -- it's embarrassing.
5. '(Me) Again'
Don't be a pest. Make an offer. Hopefully your potential partner is reading this and will counter. But if they just say no, you're allowed one follow-up. "Well, is there anyone you might be interested in?" or "Is there something I could add to the deal to make you reconsider?" Something like that. If it's still a no, it's a no. Don't bug or be a pest or annoying. My late great Uncle Lester used to say "Don't chase a deal, a streetcar or a woman." I'd add a fantasy trade to that list. Desperate is never a good look, and it's also a pretty poor position from which to negotiate.
I'm all for researching a trade, mulling it over and considering it, but honestly, if a trade takes longer than a day or two, it's most likely not happening. Counter and go back and forth in good faith, but you should know fairly quickly if it's close or not. Like most things in life, you're into it or you're not. If you're into it, it shouldn't be tough to get it wrapped up. And if you're not, let it go and let them move on to another potential partner.
OK, not a word that comes up in negotiation, but the word you cannot say in any trade is "veto." I may sound like a broken record, but until it no longer happens, I can't say it enough. Unless you can prove actual collusion, no trade should ever be vetoed. It is not your job to manage someone's team for them. Everyone should be allowed to manage their own way, even if you don't agree with it. Even if it's badly. You don't think he got nearly enough for his star tight end? So what? Not your team, not your tight end. The person dealing him thought he got a good deal, that's all that matters. There's a special level of hell reserved for the people who veto just because it's a deal that didn't involve them or because "it's part of their strategy." That's not strategy -- it's being a jerk. Win on the virtual field, not in some technocratic loophole. The art of negotiation is a skill in fantasy and is part of the game. A big part.
Guys I'd trade for
It's hard to give trade advice about specific players in a vacuum because every team, league and need are different. A trade of two players might be a great trade in one league but in another makes no sense based on where the teams are in the standings, the other players on their roster and so on. But some players whose value I believe will increase shortly?
Ben Roethlisberger: Including tonight, four of the next five are at home. JuJu Smith-Schuster's emergence only adds to the passing game.
Philip Rivers: After this week versus Bills, every remaining matchup is against a team that gives up more-than-average points to the quarterback positions.
Jay Ajayi: So-so schedule for the next three, but on that offense I believe he's ready to explode. He's more for teams that already know they're making the playoffs, where the Eagles face the Rams, Giants and Raiders in Weeks 14-16.
Kareem Hunt: Been unlucky with touchdowns, but he gets the Giants, Bills, Jets, Raiders, Chargers, Dolphins and Broncos to close out the season. Only one that might scare you is Denver, and that's Week 17. Who knows what Denver looks like that week?
Rex Burkhead: The Patriots have the easiest remaining schedule for running backs, including two matchups against the Bills (Weeks 13, 16), who have allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Even Drew Brees rushed for a touchdown against them last week.
Kelvin Benjamin: Especially after this Sunday, where I believe he struggles facing Casey Hayward on Sunday, it should not take much to acquire his services. Chiefs, Patriots, Colts, Dolphins all at home, then on the road against the Patriots and Dolphins. That is a nice schedule. Of his 10 passes last week, Nathan Peterman targeted Benjamin three times, more than any other player.
Mohamed Sanu: Sanu has 11 more catches from the slot than any other Falcon has targets from the slot. Four of Atlanta's five games from Weeks 12-16 come against the Bucs or Saints ... two of the six most generous defenses to fantasy slot receivers this season.
Let's get to this week's picks. As always, this is not a start/sit column but rather a column about expectations. A player that is a "love" is not an automatic start, a player that is a "hate" is not an automatic sit. I have Matthew Stafford as a "hate" this week and Jay Cutler is in the "others receiving votes" of the "love" section, but a check of the ranks shows I have Stafford over Cutler. Start Stafford over him. I just have lowered expectations for Stafford and higher ones for Cutler than I usually do. Got it?
I try not to list obvious starts, but after a week where C.J. Beathard, Case Keenum and DeShone Kizer were three of the top six quarterbacks and Drew Brees has just 14 points (fewer than Brett Hundley) in a game he won 47-10, is anyone an obvious start anymore? Finally, please check my rankings on Sunday morning for my final opinion on whom to start, and thanks as always to researchers Kyle Soppe, Jacob Nitzberg and Mackenzie Kraemer for their help at various points in this column.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 11
Alex Smith, Chiefs: He has come back down to the earth recently, with two or fewer touchdown passes in three of the past four games, and two of the past four games have been below 15.2 fantasy points. As the only ranker to have Smith as a top-three play this week, I expect him to get back to his big, early-season success. Did you know there are only two teams the Giants have NOT given up three touchdown passes to in their past six games? Denver and San Francisco. But it's not just a matchup with a Giants team that has given up three straight games of 25-plus points to QBs, but also my expectation here, which is that I believe the Chiefs win this game. Gotta be brutally honest here: Even if the Giants were good, Andy Reid is 16-2 after a bye week. Also, Smith is averaging 22.1 points per game in his past eight wins. And since Week 4, the Giants have allowed the most deep passing yards (throws beyond 15 yards) and deep passing touchdowns, so they would have their hands full if they were fully trying, which it appears they are not.
Others receiving votes: While last week was tough for those with Drew Brees on their roster, I am still confidently firing him up this week. No doubt the Saints are more run-heavy, but in Weeks 1-9 Brees averaged more than 34 pass attempts per game, tied for eighth most by qualifying QBs in that span. Expect him to throw enough against a banged-up Washington squad that gives up more than 18 fantasy points a game to opposing QBs to earn an easy top-10 finish. ... Vegas thinks New England-Oakland will be one of the week's highest-scoring games and I tend to agree. Yes, the Patriots have looked better on defense lately, but they faced Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Brock Osweiler. Over the past four weeks, Derek Carr is seventh in air yards per attempt, second in passing yards per game and first in completions. I have him as a top-10 play this week against a Pats defense that, for the season, has allowed the fifth-most deep completions per game and fourth-most completions per game. New England will score a bunch on the Raiders, so Carr will have to chuck to keep up. ... I'm in on #HomeBen, the better version of Ben Roethlisberger, tonight against a Titans team that is 24th against the pass the past four weeks. ... My favorite streamer available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues at the time of this writing is Eli Manning, believe it or not. He has at least two touchdown passes in five of the past seven games (Denver and Seattle games being the only exceptions), and they'll be down and throwing against a K.C. team that is 29th against the pass. ... Again, for the truly desperate, you don't have to watch the games, and don't look now -- seriously, you don't want to watch this -- but Jay Cutler does have multiple touchdown passes in four straight games and is facing a Tampa Bay squad that has allowed 260-plus passing yards in eight of nine games this season. If you are desperate, you could do worse.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 11
Matthew Stafford, Lions: Stafford is averaging just 15.14 points a game on the road this season, so it's not a good matchup for him. He has struggled recently against Chicago (he was QB29 last time he faced them on the road, in Week 4 of 2016) and I expect that to continue, as the Bears have allowed just 12.94 points a game to opposing quarterbacks at home this season and have given up just four touchdown passes total at home this season. The Bears are a top-seven team in scoring defense the past four weeks and Vegas has a reasonably low over/under for this one, so it's hard to see a lot of points being scored in this one, period. Stafford is outside my top 10.
Others receiving votes: Despite last week's heroics, it's hard to get excited about Case Keenum against a Rams team that is tied for the No. 1 scoring defense the past four weeks and is fifth against the pass. If Keenum struggles at all, I would not be surprised to see Teddy Bridgewater out there. ... I realize the Denver defense isn't what it used to be, but Andy Dalton is not Tom Brady or Carson Wentz or Alex Smith and the Bengals aren't the Patriots, Eagles or Chiefs. I have to start Dalton in one of my 16-team leagues this week and I am not thrilled about it.
Running backs I love in Week 11
LeSean McCoy, Bills: I know, I know, it has been tough the past two weeks and now Buffalo is starting a rookie quarterback on the road. But because of that I expect them to lean on McCoy, both on the ground and in the passing game, where he leads the Bills in receptions and targets and has the second-most receiving yards on the team. The Chargers' pass rush is no joke, but with the expected pressure comes a bunch of quick dump-offs to McCoy. Los Angeles is allowing the second-most receptions per game and third-most receiving yards per game to opposing RBs this season. In fact, during the past four weeks (three games), the Chargers have allowed 33 receptions for 283 receiving yards to opposing RBs, both the most in the league despite playing one fewer game than half the league in that span. I have McCoy as a top-five play this week.
Others receiving votes: I believe Frank Reich when he says Jay Ajayi is going to get more work. As mentioned above, Ajayi is one of my favorite players for the rest of the year and more work means good things for him. Ajayi has nine career games with at least 20 rushes. He averages 5.0 yards per rush in those games. I expect the Eagles know this and will feed him against the Cowboys. He's a lock top-10 play for me. ... In the two games Rob Kelley missed this season, Chris Thompson averaged 24.3 fantasy points. I don't expect that kind of production because some of it was predicated on big plays, but I do expect the Redskins to lean on him more than usual in what should be a high-scoring game with New Orleans. Thompson is a solid RB2 in PPR this week. ... The Patriots-Raiders game should be a high-scoring one as well, and New England's offense is so efficient that all three running backs should have value this week, but if picking one, give me Rex Burkhead, who has back-to-back games of at least 15 points and has run 40 routes since Week 8, 17 more than any other Patriots running back. The fact that Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch last week should tell you something, as should the fact that Oakland's defense is tied for the fifth-most receptions per game, seventh-most receiving yards per game and tied for the fourth-most receiving touchdowns allowed to opposing RBs this season and fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Because the Raiders allow the 10th-most yards per carry, I do think Dion Lewis and James White are legit flex options this week, while Burkhead is a solid RB2. ... In an offense looking for explosive plays, expect more touches for Kenyan Drake, who already has two carries of 40-plus yards this season (only Kareem Hunt has more than two), against a Tampa Bay defense that is 21st against the run the past four weeks. ... I'm writing this Wednesday night, so check in throughout the week, but if Danny Woodhead is active, I'm starting him. ... Here's a fun trivia question: Name the four running backs with at least 70 yards in each of their past two games. I'll give you the first three: Ezekiel Elliott, Mark Ingram and Le'Veon Bell. The fourth? Orleans Darkwa, who somehow is still available in 30 percent of leagues. With back-to-back to weeks of at least 16 touches and matchup against a Chiefs team that allows the second-most yards per rush this season, I have Darkwa as a top-20 play. ... It would depend on the size of your league and your level of desperation in season-long play, but for a cheap DFS tournament play I like J.D. McKissic against a Falcons team that allows the most receptions to opposing running backs. And if you have room and want an upside stash in a deeper league (14- or 16-team), take a flier on Mike Davis, whom the Seahawks just promoted from the practice squad when C.J. Prosise went on IR. With Seattle's running game still struggling, I know they like Davis and I bet he gets a shot in the next few weeks here.
Running backs I hate in Week 11
DeMarco Murray, Titans: You may not have better options and, fair warning, I had Murray in the "others receiving votes" of "hate" last week and he scored three touchdowns, so you know, feel free to ignore this and yell about me on a message board somewhere, but he's really touchdown-dependent. So I guess it depends on if you think he gets into the end zone tonight against the Steelers, which is certainly possible. But I have lowered expectations (he's just outside my top 20), as Murray is averaging just 3.02 yards per carry in his past four, with just one of his 53 carries in that stretch going for more than 10 yards. Despite all the scoring last week, Murray still has just 17 of Tennessee's 33 RB touches in the red zone this season. He's competing with Derrick Henry and a newly healthy and mobile Marcus Mariota for potential end zone touches, so this is a tough matchup against a Steelers squad that is allowing the third-fewest yards per carry before first contact during the past four weeks. And oh yeah, Murray is 41st of 46 qualified running backs in yards per carry AFTER first contact this season. Pittsburgh is fifth against the run overall the past four weeks and my expectation is the Steelers' offense moves the ball here, meaning the Titans will have to take to the air to keep up.
Others receiving votes: The volume will certainly be there, but I'm not very optimistic about Adrian Peterson's chances at a huge day. The Texans have allowed just one RB rushing touchdown the entire season, fewest in the league, and they are a top-seven run defense. Arizona losing talented left tackle D.J. Humphries doesn't help, either. There's a decent chance Arizona keeps this close, so game script will work in his favor and as I said, the volume will be there, but the way you attack Houston is through the air, so I could see more Andre Ellington than someone who rosters Peterson would like. He's merely a low-end RB2 for me this week. ... Yes, the Denver run defense has shown some leaks recently, but I'll forgive it against elite offenses like Philly and New England. On the road against the Broncos, I'm not bullish on Joe Mixon who is 45th of 46 qualified RBs in yards per carry BEFORE first contact this season. He averages 3.0 yards per carry this season, second lowest among qualified RBs, and even after the past two weeks Denver is allowing opposing RBs to average just 3.44 yards per carry, third lowest in the league this season. ... We finally have clarity on Ezekiel Elliott's status, but that doesn't make me feel any better about Alfred Morris this week facing an Eagles run defense that has held opposing RBs to 2.88 yards per carry this season, fewest in the league. In fact, Kareem Hunt (81 yards in Week 2) is the only RB to gain more than 40 yards on the ground in a game versus the Eagles this season.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 11
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs: Well, if I love Alex Smith it stands to reason I love his deep threat -- I also love Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce, but you know, fairly obvious -- as the Giants are allowing the third-most yards after the catch this season, a league-high 20 passing touchdowns and more than 45 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers since Week 6. Marquise Goodwin (what an emotional story) is the most recent, but the G-Men also have coughed up a league-high 19 pass plays to gain at least 30 yards. And, wouldn't you know it, only Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton have more such catches this season than Hill. Smith is going to take some deep shots to Hill and I believe at least one of them connects. I am the highest on Hill among our rankers, as he's a top-seven play for me.
Others receiving votes: Tampa Bay is tied for the most touchdowns allowed to wide receivers lined up in the slot this season, which bodes well for Jarvis Landry, who leads the NFL in receptions and usually lines up in the slot. ... His teammate DeVante Parker has at least 12.5 points in all five of his healthy games this season and we know Cutler likes to chuck it deep, especially to Parker, who is top 10 in both air yards per target (eighth) and deep targets per game (eighth). Tampa Bay allows the third-highest completion rate on deep passes this season and has coughed up a deep touchdown pass in five straight. ... Speaking of good slot matchups, Dallas is tied for the second-most slot receptions allowed to WRs and Sean Lee missing this game doesn't help matters. Nelson Agholor is a WR3 with some upside this week. ... Chris Hogan is expected to be out again on Sunday, which means Brandin Cooks is a must-start, top-15 play this week against a Raiders team that is 28th against the pass the past four weeks. ... In the past three weeks, JuJu Smith-Schuster is averaging 26.5 fantasy points per game, second most among WRs. He has scored in three straight games and this is a nice spot against Tennessee's bottom-10 pass defense the past four weeks. ... Since Week 6, Marqise Lee is WR10. He has 10-plus targets in three of the past four, yet he's available in 43 percent of leagues. I'd expect another large target share this week with Allen Hurns out and a matchup with a Browns team that has allowed more than 32 WR points in each of their past four games. ... Yes, the Chiefs are pretty good against opposing tight ends, but the Giants use Evan Engram more like a wide receiver. Don't get cute. You're starting Evan Engram. ... The Broncos have allowed a tight end to reach double-digit fantasy points in all five games since their Week 5 bye. This is a nice spot for Tyler Kroft against a Broncos squad that has allowed the third-most catches and the most receiving yards to opposing tight ends this season. ... There are only four tight ends who have been targeted at least six times in each of their past three games: Rob Gronkowski, Kyle Rudolph, Evan Engram and ... Austin Hooper. Hooper is tied for the team lead in red zone catches and off a big game, you could do worse for a streamer. Seattle has allowed at least 70 yards or a touchdown to tight ends in four of its past five. ... Death, taxes and start your tight end against Cleveland. Only the Giants have allowed more scores to tight ends. He's not involved in the offense so it's really just touchdown or bust for Marcedes Lewis, but if you have a desperate bye week issue, Lewis is on the TE2 radar.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 11
Jordy Nelson, Packers: In Brett Hundley's three starts, Nelson has a total of 15 targets. Davante Adams has 14 receptions. Nelson hasn't topped 80 yards once this season, so his value was coming from his scoring which, without Aaron Rodgers, has stopped and is unlikely to get back on track against a Ravens team that has held opponents without a WR touchdown in three of its past four games. The Ravens have yet to allow a 100-yard receiver this season and they've had two weeks to prepare for Green Bay. Since Hundley took over as quarterback, Nelson is WR88 in points per game. That is not a misprint: WR88. That's what we are talking about. I hope he turns it around, but against a Baltimore team that allows the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts, that seems unlikely.
Others receiving votes: You have to start DeAndre Hopkins, but facing off against Patrick Peterson, he's merely a contrarian tournament play in DFS. ... The Saints haven't allowed more than 35 receiving yards to any group of TEs in a game since Week 2, so lower expectations for Jordan Reed if he's active and definitely for Vernon Davis, especially if Reed plays. ... I'm expecting Xavier Rhodes to be on Sammy Watkins this week and despite the score last week, Watkins is not getting nearly enough targets for me to risk him this week. ... For those streaming tight ends, even if desperate, I'd look for a better option than Benjamin Watson. The Packers are the only team not to allow a receiving TD to an opposing TE this season, and have allowed the second-fewest receiving yards and fewest fantasy points per game to opposing TEs this season. ... In line with what I wrote above, with Casey Hayward expected to shadow Kelvin Benjamin and a rookie QB on the road, I'd want to wait a week before using Benjamin. He's merely a hope-for-a-jump-ball-in-the-end-zone play on Sunday. ... Ted Ginn Jr. has seen more than five targets just once during the Saints' seven-game winning streak and the Redskins are actually better than league average in deep completion percentage against and deep TD/INT rate this season. There's always a chance Ginn takes a long one to the house, but it seems less likely this week than others.
Defenses to stream in Week 11
Cincinnati Bengals (44 percent available, at Broncos): Hello, Brock.
Arizona Cardinals (40 percent available, at Texans): Not like Tom Savage scares you, either. The Cardinals have been racking up sacks lately.
Chicago Bears (52 percent available, vs. Lions): Disappointing last week, but I like their chances at an eight-point game or so.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, has a much longer list of words he's not allowed to say. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.