During the football season, I work seven days a week. That’s not a complaint or a brag, it’s just a fact.
Look, I’m incredibly thankful that fantasy football has grown so popular that there is actually seven days a week of work to do around it, and that I’m one of the people who gets to do it. All that said, it keeps me very busy and away from my family during football season. I am writing this sentence after midnight, Wednesday morning. There’s a daily podcast show meeting in about 8 hours, and clearly this column isn’t done yet.
The reason I tell you all this is that, because of my schedule, in previous years I have tried to prewrite some of the opening stories for the column. I love writing them, especially the personal ones, but to do them right, they take a lot of time that is often hard to come by in-season. So in previous years I have taken some time in the summer and prewritten a bunch that are more evergreen and can run whenever. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t do that this summer.
As you might be aware, I have five kids, including twin daughters, Brooke and Samantha, who recently turned 10. One day this summer, Samantha asked me why she hasn’t seen me writing anything yet. Not wanting to get into it, I just brushed it off, saying I just hadn’t started yet.
Samantha: But you need to write them for your job, right?
Me: Yes, of course. And I will. I’ve just been really busy.
Samantha (suddenly concerned): But what if you don’t have time?
Me: I’ll figure it out, sweetie. It’s Daddy’s job to deal with it. Don’t worry.
But telling Samantha not to worry about something never works. She scrunches up her little then-9-year-old face, thinking. Finally, an idea hits her.
Samantha: What if I write it for you?
And my heart just melts into a million pieces.
Me: That’s very sweet of you to offer, but I promise you I’ll be fine, OK? Go play with your sister.
And she nods and runs off. That night, she walks up and hands me a piece of paper.
Me: What’s this?
Samantha: Your column. Now you don’t have to write.
I look down. And I’ll be damned. She has, in fact, written a column. About, of all things, Ryan Fitzpatrick. She doesn’t totally understand my job, but she knows I write and talk about fantasy football and she knows that I’m a huge Washington fan and that a few weeks earlier I had been really excited when my team signed Fitz-Magic to a deal.
And as I am glancing at this piece of paper, which she wrote as carefully as she could, I see there are facts in it. Like, she did research. And then sat down to write it. Probably took her all day. On a beautiful summer day when she could have been outside with her sister and neighborhood friends.
And my heart melts all over again.
Did you know today (Nov. 24) is Ryan Fitzpatrick’s birthday? Well, you’re about to. Because, without further ado, I present, almost exactly as written, today’s Love/Hate column open.
Written by Samantha Berry.
Hello everyone reading this column that’s published by my amazing dad, Matthew Berry. My dad works very hard so that my family can have everything we have now. Sometimes he works all day on something. I am very lucky to have him.
Today I am writing a column about Ryan Joseph Fitzpatrick from Washington. He’s the quarterback on his team and it’s his first year. He played college football at Harvard, where he was the school’s first quarterback to have over 1,000 rushing yards and was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Some fun facts about him are that he was born on November 24th, 1982 and he is currently 38 years old, his height is 6 ft 2 in and he is a part of my Dad’s favorite team. His career history is very interesting so I am going to be sharing it with you. St. Louis Rams 2005-2006, Cincinnati Bengals 2007-2008, Buffalo Bills 2009-2012, Tennessee Titans 2013, Houston Texans 2014, New York Jets 2015-2016, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017-2018, Miami Dolphins 2019-2020, Washington Football Team 2021-current.
Thanks, Samantha. Great job. And happy birthday, Fitzy! There’s less magic in the NFL without you. Hurry back.
You know, Thanksgiving is a time to count your blessings. I am so incredibly thankful for all of you who have read Love/Hate, now or anytime in the past 21 years. If you’ve ever listened to the Fantasy Focus podcast, streamed The Fantasy Show with Matthew Berry, watched Fantasy Football Now, checked out my rankings, followed me on social media, gone to a live event or engaged with me in any way, shape or form, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
I am not here without you, and I am incredibly blessed to be so. I know this, I feel this and I don’t get a chance to say it nearly often enough.
I am also so thankful for my friends and colleagues here at ESPN, way too many to mention all by name, who help make all my content much better than it has any right to be. Between all the shows I do and the content I am a part of, it is literally hundreds of names. But just for Love/Hate I want to thank my editors, Pierre Becquey and Keith Lipscomb, plus the entire ESPN copy desk and, of course, The Fantasy Show’s producer, Damian Dabrowski. I am not an easy edit, but they do it with grace and aplomb. In addition, “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe and the current Stat-a-pillar from The Fantasy Show, Kevin Pulsifer, have both chipped in when needed at various points this year. So a thank you to them as well.
But most of all I am thankful for my family, who love and support me and yes, even write me a column open I can use on a short holiday week.
Let’s get to it.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 12
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams (at Packers)
You know, I can’t imagine anyone alive is more grateful this Thanksgiving than Matthew Stafford. It took 13 seasons, but Stafford no longer has to suffer through a Thanksgiving as a member of the Detroit Lions, swallowing defeats while America laughs and stuffs its face with turkey. As if that’s not enough, I have even more reasons for Stafford to be grateful this year. Like the fact he’s due for positive touchdown regression. Yes, he has struggled fantasywise the past two games, but he still averaged 44.5 pass attempts in those games. And yet, his touchdown rate was just 2.2%. In his first eight games, it was 8.1%. Out of the bye with two weeks to integrate Odell Beckham Jr. into the offense, I like Stafford’s chances at a return to fantasy stardom against a Packers defense that is third worst in the NFL in the red zone. The very same Packers defense that allowed Kirk Cousins to throw for 341 yards on 9.7 yards per attempt last week. With one of the highest over/unders on the Week 12 slate, I expect a lot of points both ways in this one. And so, in his first Lions-free Thanksgiving, Stafford is a top-five play for me.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (at Dolphins)
“I’m baaackk,” Newton screamed to the crowd two weeks ago after a rushing touchdown in his first game back with Carolina. Now, he didn’t elaborate beyond that, so let me help. He is back in the NFL. He is back as the starting QB of the Panthers. But he is not back to being the NFL’s MVP. He is not back to being the No. 1 QB in fantasy. He is not back to his peak dabbing days. That said, the 2021 version of Cam Newton is still a viable fantasy weapon, especially this week. It was great (unless you roster Christian McCaffrey) to see Newton tie for the team lead in carries last week with 10. But what was even more exciting was it wasn’t just his legs that did damage: Newton also completed 77.8% of his passes in his first start of the season, a higher percentage than in all but one game with the Patriots last season. He was also the first quarterback to post a game with 20 completions, two passing touchdowns, 10 carries and a rushing score this season. Considering the Dolphins allowed 17.9 fantasy points to the decidedly immobile Joe Flacco last week, this Thanksgiving, don’t have ham, have some Cam. That’s right, Cam. You might be back, but the bad dad jokes never left. Newton is a top-10 QB for me this week.
Tyrod Taylor, Houston Texans (at Jets)
No one ever is going to be excited about starting Taylor in fantasy, but he gets the job done. Think of him as the Thanksgiving mashed potatoes of fantasy quarterbacks. Not the star of the show like turkey, but you can put a lot worse on your fake football plate. With at least 20 rushing yards in three of his past four starts and three rushing scores over that span, Taylor’s rushing keeps his fantasy floor high in carbs, er, points. Still on the potatoes thing. I just really like mashed potatoes. And stuffing. But as long as we are down the rabbit hole of Thanksgiving food, the green bean casserole of defenses is that of the New York Jets, which Taylor gets to face this week. Over the past four weeks, the Jets are allowing touchdown passes at the highest rate in the league, and five of the past six quarterbacks to face them have 20-plus fantasy points. Feed the cranberry sauce to the dog and get extra servings of Taylor this week. He’s a top-10 quarterback for me and is still available in a lot of ESPN leagues.
Others receiving votes: Maybe Ron Rivera didn’t bring Cam Newton to Washington because he feels he already has a dual-threat quarterback. Taylor Heinicke is averaging 27.6 rushing yards per game this season and has at least 10 rushing yards in four straight games. He also is throwing the ball well of late, with a 77.8% completion rate and four touchdown passes in his past two games. He has gotten a lot better in the red zone lately, and as of this writing he’s expected to get Logan Thomas back. And this week he gets a Seahawks team that averages a league-high 40.4 pass attempts against per game and is 28th against the pass over the past four weeks. … Bucs-Colts should be a high-scoring game — the over/under is currently the highest on the Week 12 slate — and even if the red-hot Colts can’t stay with the defending champs (Tampa is favored in this one), that bodes well for Carson Wentz. Indianapolis has five losses this season, and Wentz has scored at least 17.5 fantasy points in four of them. Let’s just hope Jonathan Taylor doesn’t hog all the touchdowns again. … Jimmy Garoppolo has multiple touchdown passes in three straight games, and, over the past four weeks, Minnesota ranks bottom five in yards allowed per pass attempt and touchdown rate. Also I am playing against him in an important league, so YOU KNOW HE’S GOING OFF.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 12
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (at Washington)
In his two games since returning from injury, Wilson is averaging 7.1 fantasy PPG and has zero touchdowns and two interceptions on 66 pass attempts. Apparently the surgery on his finger involved injecting Russell Wilson with Geno Smith’s DNA. You have to think Wilson will bounce back at some point, but how long can we wait? It’s Week 12. The playoffs are soon. We need to win. As bad as Washington has been this season, it has been a lot better recently, allowing fewer than 225 passing yards per game over the past four games, a run that has included facing Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Cam Newton. And Teddy Bridgewater, but whatever. Washington is playing well, and Russ isn’t. With the Seahawks ranking dead last in plays per game and in time of possession this season, do not less Russ cook this Thanksgiving. Get takeout if you have to.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (at Patriots)
Coming off a season-low 9.2 fantasy points against the Texans last week, Tannehill now has to go on the road to face the red-hot Patriots. Not the ideal conditions for a bounce-back game. New England is sixth or better this season in touchdown rate, passing yards per game and red zone defense. With both teams ranking bottom 10 in pace of play, this feels like a low-scoring, slug-it-out type of game where Tannehill will have to face Bill Belichick without Julio Jones and with a banged-up A.J. Brown, who is likely to be double-teamed. Tannehill averages 14.5 PPG this season in games in which Brown doesn’t score.
Running backs I love in Week 12
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (vs. Lions)
Jared Goff. Tim Boyle. Before you start wondering who will get rolled out at quarterback by the Lions on Thanksgiving, see if you can figure out who’ll play run defense for them. Because so far it doesn’t appear as if anyone is. Against running backs this season, the Lions allow:
The third-most fantasy points per game
The third-most rushing touchdowns
The fourth-most rushing yards per game
Over the past four weeks, no team in the NFL is giving up more rushing yards per game than Daniel Dopp’s Detroit Lions. So, it would stand to reason, whoever gets to run against them Thursday is likely to have success. That person is very likely going to be David Montgomery.
Since returning from injury, Monty, as likely only I call him, has 86% of Chicago’s running back touches. Unless the Lions’ Thanksgiving meal is actually Montgomery’s kneecaps, his fantasy managers will feast on a lot of fantasy points. Top-10 play for me this week.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Falcons)
The list of things Robinson does not have is a long one. He doesn’t have a high-scoring offense around him. He doesn’t have a head coach who is without controversy. He doesn’t have a cool name like many other top running backs like “Najee” or “Ezekiel” or “Cordarrelle.” But here’s what he does have:
All the touches. Literally all of them. Last week, Robinson handled a full 100% of Jacksonville’s running back touches. So while Jacksonville is a small market team that struggles offensively and the name “James Robinson” sounds more like an author of supermarket mystery books than an NFL running back, what we care about is that when J-Rob (Yes? Maybe? No? OK, back to the drawing board) gets work, he produces. In every game in which he has had at least 12 touches, he has scored a touchdown, and in the five games in which he has received 15-plus touches, he’s averaging 21.0 PPG. The Falcons are a bottom-three run defense the past four weeks, and with this game basically a pick ’em, Robinson is a top-seven play for me.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Steelers)
Over the past four weeks, Pittsburgh has allowed five rushing touchdowns — tied for third most in the league – and 112 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry to running backs. So with Ben Roethlisberger looking better of late, maybe the Steelers can instead use their first-round pick on … an entire run defense? What I know for sure is that the Bengals definitely won’t draft a running back, because Mixon is in the midst of his best season, a season that includes an 18-for-90 yards game against these Steelers in Week 3. He has multiple touchdowns in three straight games and at least one score in seven consecutive games, so Mixon is my RB8 in Week 12.
Others receiving votes: There’s definitely no Amari Cooper; there might be no CeeDee Lamb; and Ezekiel Elliott is banged up. All of that likely means more work for Tony Pollard than the already-solid 11.5 touches per game he averages. Increased usage, especially in the passing game, bodes well against a Raiders defense that has given up at least 19 points to every backfield it has faced this season and has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to running backs. … Even worse than the Raiders’ run defense? The Chargers. They allow a league-high 119.9 rushing yards per game to running backs. That means Denver running backs Melvin Gordon III (#revengegame!) and Javonte Williams are both very much worth flex consideration this week. … In a year when Cordarrelle Patterson broke out at age 30, Adrian Peterson found work and A.J. Green became fantasy-relevant, there still might not be a bigger surprise in 2021 than Devonta Freeman leading the way for the offense of a first-place team, but here we are. Quietly, Freeman has scored in four of his past five games — good enough to make him RB19 over that stretch — and has earned at least 13 touches in three straight. … Monitor the Elijah Mitchell/Jeff Wilson Jr. situation this week. Why? Because San Francisco ranks second in rush rate this season and Minnesota is in the bottom third of the league in rushing yards per game and yards per carry allowed to running backs, and that was before the Vikings had to place defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson on the COVID-19 list, meaning he is likely to miss the game. He’s an important part of their run defense. Whoever is the starting RB for the Niners this week is in line for a very nice game.
Running backs I hate in Week 12
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (at Giants)
Sanders is healthy again. That’s the good news. The bad news is, well, almost everything else. His brutal fantasy season shows no signs of ending (I tried to warn you). First, the Eagles’ backfield remains a clear committee situation. A different back led Philadelphia in carries in each of the first three quarters last week. And even in a game in which the Eagles ran the ball 50 times, Sanders still finished outside the top 25 at the running back position. He also received just a single target in the passing game, fumbled twice (losing one) and is always a threat to be vultured in close by Jalen Hurts. Put it all together and he has scored fewer than 10 fantasy points in six of eight games this season. I have him outside my top 25 in Week 12.
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins (vs. Panthers)
Gaskin averages 17.8 PPG in odd-numbered weeks and 5.3 PPG in even-numbered weeks. Does that mean he’s going to stink in Week 12, an even-numbered week? Not necessarily. I’m stat- and film-based in my analysis, so I’m not relying on numerology to make my picks. I won’t be predicting Gaskin’s performance based on the position of the stars, either. My point is simply that he is wildly inconsistent this season. (Wait … Gaskin is an Aquarius, and they are known to be unpredictable. Hmmm.) But if there is any consistency to his production, it’s that he has scored fewer than 10.5 fantasy points in five of Miami’s past seven losses, and the Dolphins are a home underdog this week against a Panthers team that allows running back rushing touchdowns at the fifth-lowest rate and has given up the third-fewest trips to the red zone. Add in Cam Newton on the other side, so you’re looking at a run-based game (fewer possessions on both sides), and I have Gaskin outside my top 20 this week.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots (vs. Titans)
Harris returned to the lineup last week but still got out-touched by Rhamondre Stevenson, 13-11. Yes, Bill Belichick is again refusing to give us a clear RB1 on the Patriots. Why? Because he hates us. Anyway, Harris’ pass-game usage has dropped recently, with fewer than 10 receiving yards in six straight games. And this week he faces a Titans defense that is limiting the run, too. Over the past four weeks, Tennessee is allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry to running backs. Harris is really talented, but the lack of passing-game usage means he’ll need a touchdown to pay off, and splitting carries with Stevenson lessens the chances of that (last week Stevenson got the only red zone touch and out-snapped Harris in the red zone as well).
Pass-catchers I love in Week 12
Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys (vs. Raiders)
There’s definitely no Amari Cooper; there might be no CeeDee Lamb; and Ezekiel Elliott is banged up. All of that likely means more work for Tony Pollard … er, sorry. Already wrote that. But yeah, it should also mean increased usage for Schultz. He ran a season-high 43 routes last week against the Chiefs (when Cooper was out, Lamb left early and Zeke got banged up), and tight ends who have seen six-plus targets versus the Raiders this season average a whopping 20.6 PPG. That’s why I have a TE6 rank this week on Dalton Schultz. Or, as your drunk uncle will refer to him on Thursday: “Jason Witten.”
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Colts)
Only true gearheads know that “Indianapolis 500” is a reference to how many receiving touchdowns the Colts defense is on pace to give up this season. Indianapolis has allowed a league-high 17 touchdowns to wide receivers — three more than any other team — thanks to a league-worst 72% completion rate allowed in the end zone. The Colts have also seen 10 wide receivers put up at least 16 fantasy points on them this season. On Sunday, Evans will make 11 as a locked-in top-five play.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (at Washington)
Russell Wilson’s throwing hand might not be right yet, but he’s still capable of chucking it deep to Lockett. In the two games since Wilson returned, Lockett has an aDOT (average depth of target) of 21.9 yards and a total of nine deep targets in those two games. Just because Wilson is on my “hate” list doesn’t mean he can’t chuck a deep one to Lockett. Especially since the highest rate in the league this season for deep touchdown passes allowed belongs to my WFT.
Elijah Moore, New York Jets (at Texans)
A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf and Elijah Moore all went to Ole Miss. Since Week 8, which of them has the most fantasy points, you think? It’s Moore, but don’t feel bad for Brown and Metcalf managers. Moore has more fantasy points than almost every other WR in fantasy in that span. His 20.9 fantasy points per game is second best among WRs the past four weeks, and he has four straight games with at least 13 fantasy points. No matter who is at QB, the Jets are looking for Moore, as he has at least six targets in four straight games. This week he gets a Houston defense allowing the sixth-most yards per game to wide receivers, and he’ll once again make Ole Miss proud.
Others receiving votes: Detroit allows a league-high 4.3 deep completions per game, and Darnell Mooney saw seven deep targets last week. … Speaking of the Thanksgiving games, with Marshon Lattimore expected to spend at least some time on Stefon Diggs, it’s worth noting that the Saints allow the third-most yards and fifth-most catches per game to the slot. After looking a lot healthier last week, this feels like a sneaky “Cole Beasley is flex-worthy” game. … Speaking of guys who run a lot of routes out of the slot, no, I’m not listing Jakobi Meyers here because he’s a touchdown machine. We’re not there just yet. I’m including him because Tennessee allows the most receptions and yards per game to the slot this season. … Brandon Aiyuk has had an even bigger 2021 comeback than mom jeans. All but left out of San Francisco’s offense at the start of the season, he has a target share of at least 20% in four straight games and an end zone target in three of those. This week Aiyuk faces a Vikings defense that allows the third-most YAC per reception. … The Chargers have allowed multiple touchdowns to tight ends in each of their past two games, while Noah Fant has a red zone target in eight of his 10 games this season. … The Eagles just gave a big contract extension to tight end Dallas Goedert. But maybe they should consider offering a big contract to literally anyone on their team who can cover a tight end. Philly has allowed at least 75 yards or a touchdown to a tight end in nine straight games. This week, Evan Engram gets a turn.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 12
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans (at Patriots)
Eli Manning, Deuce McAllister and novelist John Grisham all went to Ole Miss. A.J. Brown has more fantasy points than all of them this year. It’s when we start talking about active NFL players and this specific week that things become a bit dicey. Brown is dealing with multiple injuries and has become oddly touchdown-dependent this season. He has played six full games this season in which he didn’t score a touchdown. In those games, he’s averaging just 8.8 PPG. If he plays this week, it will likely be at considerably less than 100% and, all due respect to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Brown should command a significant portion of defensive attention from the Patriots and a defense that is top five against wide receivers in receptions per game, yards per game and fantasy points per game. While he’s still inside my top 20 at WR, barely, I have Brown lower this week than I had had him all season.
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (vs. Chargers)
Sutton was probably feeling good this week after signing a four-year, nearly $61 million contract extension. But now he’s on the Hate list and I’m sure that even all that cash can’t wipe away his tears. Oh well. Fake football journalists such as myself are beholden to the truth, no matter who gets hurt. And the truth is that Sutton has yet to finish as a top-60 fantasy receiver this season in a game in which Jerry Jeudy has been active. In the three games since Jeudy has returned, Sutton has five catches on 10 targets for 78 yards, averaging just 4.9 PPG. That is, to use some fake football journalist jargon, not good. Especially since Jeudy will be active this week. Sutton faces a Chargers defense that has allowed just five touchdowns to wide receivers this season, second fewest in the league, and it allows deep touchdown passes at the third-lowest rate. I have Sutton outside my top 30.
DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles (at Giants)
Since Week 8, the Eagles are averaging a league-low 20 pass attempts per game. Their run-heavy approach has been great for Jalen Hurts and the running backs, but it has made their pass-catchers more touchdown-dependent. Now, Smith has scored three touchdowns in that time frame, helping him average a very respectable 14.5 PPG, so maybe you haven’t noticed. But if touchdown regression comes — and it’s going to — his fantasy points will plummet. And with coverage from James Bradberry coming this week, my expectation is that regression will start this week. He’s outside my top 30 for Week 12.
Kenny Golladay, New York Giants (vs. Eagles)
I don’t believe all the issues with the Giants’ offense this season are Jason Garrett’s fault. There’s a lot of blame to go around. But whether it was the missed preseason time, his health, the poor quarterback play or, yes, the playcalling, the fact that New York has yet to figure out how to incorporate Golladay into the offense is startling. Golladay doesn’t have a single red zone or end zone target since Week 1, and he has only one game on the season with more than four catches or 65 receiving yards. I’m not the biggest Freddie Kitchens fan, but there’s nowhere to go but up for Golladay. That said, it likely won’t be a lot better this week. Against wide receivers, the Eagles defense is top three in receptions per game, yards per game and fantasy points per game allowed.