I hear you.
I’ve heard from all of you.
And I get it.
For the first time ever, you finally got the No. 1 pick in your league and for once, you didn’t have to sweat over it. You took David Johnson without a second thought and slept well that night.
And now, before we have even started Week 2, you don’t know what the hell happened. It’s all crumbling before your eyes. Sifting through the waivers like a vagrant in the desert, hoping for crumbs, trying to talk yourself into it. “Allen Hurns was good once, right? He could do it again, maybe?”
You’re in bad shape. I feel for you, my brothers and sisters. But I assure you. There’s someone out there in fantasy football land who has it worse than you.
And his name is Patrick.
Jeff Lewis lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. His 12-team league is entering its 15th season. They have known each other for 30 years and the league is very close. Among them is Patrick, an active owner who works the wire, actively makes trades and is a two-time league champion.
But that success is long gone. I’ve played this game for more than 30 years and written about it professionally for 18, and I thought I had heard and seen it all. But I’ve never seen this.
In 2015, Patrick went 3-10. And then, in 2016, Patrick went 0-13. He is off to an 0-1 start this year.
Over the course of three seasons, Patrick is riding a 24-game losing streak. Twenty-four games. In a row.
Jeff tells me there have been close calls, amazing bad beats and that Patrick is absolutely trying, setting his lineup every week and making reasonable moves. But week in, week out … “L.” Poor Jeff writes a recap every week for the league, writing clever footnotes and trash-talking with each team. He has run out of things to say about Patrick.
But I don’t want you to give up, Patrick. I want you to hang in there. You and everyone else who lost David Johnson this week. I want you to listen closely.
(With apologies to Al Pacino, Oliver Stone, screenwriter John Logan and, frankly, the entire cast and crew of “Any Given Sunday.”)
I don’t know what to say, really. Three days to the biggest battle of our fake football lives all comes down to Sunday. Either we heal as a collection of statistics or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch.
Decimal point by decimal point, ’til we’re finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen and women.
Believe me, we can stay here and get the crap kicked out of us, whine about our fantasy studs going down … Or we can fight our way back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch at a time.
Now I can’t do it for you. I’m too old, I’m behind a computer screen. I look around and I see these avatars and team names and I think …
I mean …
I made every wrong choice a middle-age man could make.
I had Woodhead and Robinson in a 16-team league. I had Matthew Stafford on the hate list Week 1, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who has ever wanted to be on TV with me … I had to talk to a robot. And lately, I can’t even stand the tweets I read.
You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
But you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is fantasy football.
Because in either game — life or fantasy — the margin for error is so small.
I mean, one half-step too late to the waiver wire, one week too early to drop someone, and you don’t quite make it.
One half-second too slow or too fast, and you don’t quite get it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves — and everyone around us — to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our fingernails for that inch.
‘Cause we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the freaking difference between WINNING and LOSING. Between LIVING and DYING.
I’ll tell you this; in any fight, it is the man or woman who is willing to die who is going to win that inch. The one who checks their phone at dinner. Who wakes up at 4 a.m. to make a free-agent claim so they don’t lose their waiver priority. Who works the trade talks until the wee hours, not caring about their mobile messaging limits. Who puts the ESPN Fantasy App on their list of dependents.
And I know if I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch because that is what living is. The six inches in front of your face, the screen that is omnipresent in your life.
Now, I can’t make you do it. You gotta look at the guys on your team. The future studs waiting to be picked up, or traded for. Look into their eyes. Now I think you are going to see guys who will go that inch with you. Look in the mirror. You are going to see someone who will sacrifice themselves for this team because they know, when it comes down to it, there is no other choice. What are you gonna do? Play fantasy hockey?
That’s a team, gentlemen, and either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s fantasy football, guys. That’s all it is. Now, whattaya gonna do?
Quarterbacks I love in Week 2
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Big Ben was bad in Week 1 and is playing Minnesota, who just shut down Drew Brees. I understand the pessimism on Ben this week. I don’t care. He’s at home, where since 2014, he has been the best quarterback in fantasy, averaging 24 points per game. Minnesota blitzed at a top-10 rate last season and created pressure at the third-highest frequency. However, since 2014, Ben is the third-most accurate passer against pressure. I’m #TeamBen this week.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: In what I am sure will be an emotional home opener for Tampa Bay, Winston makes his 2017 debut after finishing first in the NFL in air yards per attempt last season … and now adds DeSean Jackson to his offense. Last year, the Bears had the second-worst touchdown-to-interception rate on deep passes (and with Austin Hooper scoring a wide-open touchdown way downfield in Week 1, it doesn’t look like they’ve solved this) and I expect the Bears’ defense to be more vulnerable on the road. Winston is a top-10 play for me this week.
Others receiving votes: Philip Rivers has now thrown multiple touchdown passes in 10 straight games, the longest streak by someone not named Peyton Manning since 2011. Back with a healthy Keenan Allen, I believe he makes it 11 in the Chargers’ home opener against a Dolphins team that last year gave up the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and was tied for sixth in most passing touchdowns allowed. … I know, I know, he was brutal last week, but maybe the only thing worse than Carson Palmer was the Colts’ defense. With no David Johnson, expect Palmer to air it out and have success against a team that coughed up 306 yards to Jared Goff last week. … Since Pat Shurmur took over in Week 9 of last year, Sam Bradford has been a top-10 fantasy quarterback. It is always tough to play at Pittsburgh, but I believe he is more legit than not and have him as a top-15 play this week.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 2
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: I’m not picking on him, I swear. But on the road against a Denver defense that allowed the fewest passing yards last year makes him an easy choice to hate. Since the start of last season, only two quarterbacks have had multiple passing touchdowns against the Broncos: Rivers and Brees. I don’t believe Prescott changes that this week in a game that should feature a ton of Ezekiel Elliott. Dak is outside my top 10.
Matthew Stafford, Lions: Easily my worst call last week, where he was on the hate list in Week 1 and then, you know, threw four touchdowns. So, you’ve been warned. I was looking good for about two and a half quarters last week before Arizona collapsed and Stafford (along with Kenny Golladay) went nuts. Apologies for the terrible call last week.
And yet, here I am, back again. Stafford is a different QB away from a dome, as he has seen his fantasy production dip by 24.5 percent when comparing his past 16 outdoor games to his past 16 indoors games. Against an embarrassed Giants team in a national TV game? I don’t see him having another big game. There’s a reason the Giants allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last year, and with an offense that should be improved (I’m expecting Odell Beckham Jr. back), the Lions won’t be able to control the clock the way Dallas did in Week 1.
Carson Wentz, Eagles: It’s one thing to do it to my Redskins, it’s another to do it to the Chiefs in Kansas City, where the home team gave up the fewest fantasy points to opposing passers last season. Andy Reid and staff have had extra time to prepare for his former team and while I am generally a Wentz believer (and losing Eric Berry doesn’t help Kansas City), I don’t see Wentz being able to do what Tom Brady wasn’t able to do last week and throw for over 270 yards. Wentz is outside my top 15 this week.
Running backs I love in Week 2
Ty Montgomery, Packers: Since the start of last season, the Falcons have allowed the most receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs … and also made Tarik Cohen a thing. Hopefully the “Can he be a feature back?” doubters are a little more quiet after he played 74 of 82 snaps last week and got 19 of 21 Green Bay running back carries. Expect good numbers for Montgomery in a high-scoring game against a poor-tacking Falcons team (allowed the second-most yards per carry after first contact last year).
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders: So weird. Who would have thought missing Sheldon Richardson would hurt his team’s run defense? Sigh. As bad as I feel for Jets fans, I feel equally as happy for those who drafted Lynch. Beast Mode should eat against a New York squad that got gashed for a league-high 190 rushing yards in Week 1, including eight rushes of 10-plus yards, three more than any other team. In that game, the Bills averaged 8.36 yards per carry on 11 rushes to the left side (defense’s right) against the Jets. Last season, with Richardson, the Jets allowed the second-fewest yards per carry in the league.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Buccaneers: He was a volume monster when he was the focal point last season (23.4 touches per game in his past five games without Doug Martin) and considering that the Bucs ranked seventh in time of possession while the Bears ranked 31st last season, Quizz should be among the touch leaders this weekend. That’ll work when you consider that the Bears didn’t contact runners until they were 2.71 yards down field (10th-highest rate) and you’ll win some bar bets with this stat: In 2016, Rodgers averaged more yards per carry after first contact than Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarco Murray and Melvin Gordon. It may not last, but while Martin is out, I’m in on the Quizz show.
Others receiving votes: James White played more snaps than any other running back for New England last week, and while it’s true they were trailing, this is a team that throws a lot and he is their pass-catching back. I also like the fact he got a career-high 10 carries, a sign that he is expanding his game. Expect White to have a good game in a high-scoring affair with a Saints team that was tied for the third-most receiving touchdowns allowed to opposing running backs. … It will be a running back by committee, but my expectation is Kerwynn Williams is the head of that committee this week and against the Colts, that’s enough to earn him flex consideration. … Count me among the Tarik Cohen believers. While we very well may have seen the best game of his season, Buccaneers opponents completed passes to running backs at the sixth-highest rate in the league. In a game where I expect the Bucs to do well, there should be plenty of throwing (and throwing to Cohen), making him a solid PPR flex this week.
Running backs I hate in Week 2
Isaiah Crowell, Browns: Buy low on him after this week, as I still believe in him long term, but this should be a second straight week of frustration for Crowell. The Ravens shut down the Bengals’ running game last week, a trend that continued from last year when they were top eight in the NFL in fewest yards per rush to opposing running backs and fantasy points to opposing running backs. In three career road games against Baltimore, Crowell has just 26 carries for 78 yards (3.0 YPC) and no TDs.
Frank Gore, Colts: A week after getting vultured by Marlon Mack, things get tougher for Gore in a home game against an Arizona squad that has allowed the fewest rushing yards per carry to opposing RBs since the beginning of last season (3.2). He hasn’t run for a touchdown in eight straight games and while it’s certainly possible he catches a lot of dump-offs (including potentially a score) from whomever the Colts roll out there at quarterback, it’s also very likely this game is a mess and Indy struggles to move the ball and/or keep Arizona from piling it up. No thanks.
Ameer Abdullah, Lions: Finally healthy. Finally getting a full workload (18 touches last week). Finally getting red zone work! Abdullah burst out of the gate with 41 total yards and zero yards on his four red zone carries! Wait, what? Oh yeah. In a game the Lions won and scored a lot, Abdullah was … not great. Again. Better days are ahead for Abdullah (at least he’s still healthy!) but I don’t love his chances on Monday night against a Giants front seven that allowed the fifth-fewest RB points in 2016. Abdullah is not a consideration for me this week.
Wide receivers I love in Week 2
Brandin Cooks, Patriots: OK, so the revenge game narrative didn’t work last week for Adrian Peterson, but you don’t need the narrative to see that Cooks will go off this week. After an embarrassing home loss, Bill Belichick has had extra time to figure out how to exploit a team that is on a short week and allowed opponents to complete 50 percent of their deep passes last season, the second-highest rate in the league. Oh, and remember what Minnesota did to them last week? Gimme all the Brandin Cooks.
Golden Tate, Lions: Returning to the slot worked out well for Tate last week and after leading the Lions with 10 receptions for 107 yards (on 12 targets), Tate should once again be in for a big workload. Since the start of last season, the Giants are bottom five in receptions and receiving yards allowed to players lined up in the slot. (Lining up in the slot will almost certainly keep Tate away from Janoris Jenkins, who helped hold Dez Bryant to two catches on nine targets in Week 1. Jenkins lined up in the slot five percent of the time last season.)
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs: The Eagles have allowed the most receptions of 25-plus yards and have allowed the sixth-most yards after the catch to opposing WRs since the start of last season. Oh yeah, and they’ll be playing the next 4-6 weeks without starting corner Ronald Darby. Enter Tyreek Hill, who led the Chiefs in Week 1 targets and set an NFL record by scoring a 60+ yard TD for his fifth consecutive game. You can exploit the Eagles deep, and the Redskins would have last week if not for dropped passes and missed plays … but don’t get me started. I have Hill as a top-15 play this week.
Adam Thielen, Vikings: Last season, Pittsburgh allowed the fourth-most slot receptions in the NFL at nearly eight per game (7.8). Thielen had seven of the nine Viking slot receptions on Monday night (and 47 more yards from the slot than any other player in the NFL last week). Sam Bradford ranks behind only Matt Ryan in slot completion percentage (73.2 percent) since the beginning of last year, so yeah, Thielen made the love list last week and he’s back on again this week.
Others receiving votes: I know last week was tough but I am back in on both Chris Hogan and Ted Ginn Jr. in what should be a shootout between two teams that have struggled in defending the deep ball. … Corey Coleman burned the Ravens last year for 104 yards and a pair of scores and is clearly the apple of DeShone Kizer‘s eye (team leader in targets, receptions and yards last week, plus their preseason time together was productive). In a game where Cleveland will have to throw to move the chains, I like Coleman as a WR3/4 with upside. … John Brown was targeted nine times last week (nearly double his 2016 average) and if that usage is here to stay, Brown is poised for a big game against a Colts defense that allowed seven deep completions from Jared Goff last week. … My guy Cooper Kupp had a strong debut (4-76-1) and should find room to operate against a Redskins secondary that has allowed opponents to complete 70.5 percent of passes to the slot since the beginning of last season (third-highest rate).
Wide receivers I hate in Week 2
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: As long as Andrew Luck is out …. now and forever on the hate list. Especially when he’s gonna have to deal with Patrick Peterson. He’s at home on the turf so there’s always a chance for a broken tackle or bad angle by a defender that leads to a score, but it’s unlikely. I want no part of the Colts offense until Luck shows back up.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys: Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true. The Broncos allowed a league-low 13 touchdown passes last season and if Bryant doesn’t score, he’s not going to help you. Since the beginning of last season, Bryant is averaging just 7.1 PPR points in games in which he does not score — that would have been WR54 last week. Look, he’s Dez and he’s a big, physical receiver, so he’s always a got a chance to score. But against a defense that allowed the fewest receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season, his odds of scoring are down. He’s just a flex play for me.
DeVante Parker, Dolphins: I’m in on Parker this season, but traveling to the west coast for a battle with underrated corners Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett makes me believe he starts slow. It’s one thing to be okay in preseason, it’s another to do in the regular season. In the battle of the Chargers’ defense vs. Jay Cutler in his first game of the season, on the road, gimme the Bolts. My expectation is Miami tries to go run heavy here, putting Parker outside my top 30.
Tight ends I love in Week 2
Charles Clay, Bills: Over the past five regular-season weeks, dating back (ding!) to last season, Clay is the third-best tight end in fantasy. Available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, the 255-pound tight end is the only returning pass-catcher who had at least 150 receiving yards for the Bills last season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Tyrod Taylor looked to him often — his nine targets in Week 1 led the team. The Panthers allowed the second-most tight end touchdowns last season, so expect another top-10 performance from Clay.
Delanie Walker, Titans: In case you weren’t paying attention last week, the Jaguars have some pretty good corners. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are no joke, so with the perimeter shut down and Eric Decker looking like he still needs to get up to game speed, I expect Walker to once again have a heavy target share and be Marcus Mariota’s first option when the Jags bring pressure.
Others receiving votes: The Dolphins gave up 10 touchdowns to tight ends last year (third most) and I’m of the belief that last week was a fluke for Hunter Henry, not the new norm. I’m back in as a TE2 with upside. … Speaking of that game, given how strong the corner play is for San Diego, er, Los Angeles and knowing Jay Cutler’s penchant for tight ends, I like Julius Thomas on Sunday. … Green Bay-Atlanta should be a shootout, meaning Martellus Bennett and Austin Hooper are in play. … After allowing two touchdowns to Pittsburgh’s Jesse James in Week 1, the Browns have now allowed 15 TDs to opposing TEs in their past 17 games, three more than any other team in that span. The Browns also have allowed the most red zone receptions to opposing TEs since the start of last season. So remember the name Nick Boyle. They like him a lot in Baltimore and he makes for a very nice (and cheap) TE option this week in DFS.
Tight ends I hate in Week 2
Jack Doyle, Colts: Sensing a theme, are we? The Cardinals allowed 101 TE points last season, the fewest in a single season over the past decade. Whoever the quarterback is for Indy should struggle mightily and in a tough matchup, Doyle is merely a touchdown-dependent, low-end TE2 this week.
Jared Cook, Raiders: Cook has found the end zone only once in his past 30 regular-season games. With an increase in targets to Amari Cooper in the red zone, you can’t even hang your hat on that. Anytime you are on an NFL field you have a chance to score, but Cook’s chances are much lower than most others’.
Defenses to stream in Week 2
For updated order of preference, check out my rankings.
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Dolphins, 78 percent available); Oakland Raiders (vs. Jets, 80 percent available); Baltimore Ravens (vs. Browns, 60 percent available); Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Bears, 95 percent available)
Defenses to avoid in Week 2
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, wasn’t making up the part about talking to a robot on TV. (Always wanted to write that.) He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.