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Berry’s Love/Hate: How to make a lifetime fan the George Carlin way

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Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season sees another Tennessee Titans game in jeopardy, this time with the Buffalo Bills. The pandemic also has touched the New England Patriots. Fantasy football managers are diligently checking the Reserve/COVID-19 list and scrambling to the waiver wire and to change their lineups. It’s a season unlike any other, but Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate will remain a constant with his best advice.

Saturday will be the 60th anniversary of George Carlin’s first appearance on TV. He and his then-comedy partner, Jack Burns, appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jack Paar” that night, jump-starting a legendary career in comedy that would span many decades.

It saddens me to think there are some younger readers who might not be aware of Carlin or the genius of his subversive and influential comedy. Hundreds of TV appearances, including with many different hosts of “The Tonight Show” through the years; 18 comedy albums, including four that went “gold,” which means sales of at least 500,000, an unreal number to think about for a comedy album; and 10 Grammy nominations with four wins.

Carlin did 14 HBO specials, including the legendary “Carlin at Carnegie” (my personal favorite), garnering five Emmy nominations. He appeared in movies (shoutout to Rufus in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”), wrote books (four in all, over two million sold, multiple years on The New York Times Best Sellers list) and performed close to 100 shows each year to sold-out crowds everywhere.

More than the numbers, he was an iconic and thought-provoking comedic voice who influenced many of the comedians people enjoy today.

He was also my first boss.

I’ve written about George before, but a Twitter thread this summer sparked the idea. A Twitter user named Dave Schilling asked in a thread: “Who is the person everyone has a GREAT story about? Who’s, like, the nicest?” The thread got a ton of responses, including from someone named Mark McConville, who tweeted, “There is a really lovely story that @MatthewBerryTMR has told about George Carlin. I think about it a lot.” And then he linked to a fantasy baseball (!) column I wrote in June 2008 (!!) about George.

George is special to me, so I can’t tell you how pleased I was that Mark remembered reading that story and that it had stayed with him. So thank you for the kind words and tagging me there, Mark. Given that I told the story 12 years ago in a column about a different sport, I thought this anniversary was a good excuse to bring a version of it back and add more to it.

I went to college at Syracuse University (Go Cuse!) to study writing for electronic media (TV, radio and film in those days), and as soon as I got a degree I moved out to Los Angeles to try to make it in show business. And the first showbiz job I got was being 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 George and the rest of the cast. But George was the star and, you know, his name was in the title, so it was made clear to me by my bosses that my primary and even my secondary duty was taking care of George and anything he needed, any time he needed it.

I answered the stage phone for him (George didn’t have a cell phone back then). I got meals for him. I would drive scripts to his house, and then I would drive George’s handwritten notes on scripts (George preferred to write things out longhand, and if he used email back then I never saw it) and bring them back to the writers room, among many other various tasks, all of them with the sole purpose of making George’s life easier.

I absolutely loved working for him.

As kind and gentle a guy as you’d ever want to meet, someone if you didn’t know who he was you’d never guess was a living legend. The exact opposite of his on-stage persona, he was always positive, not angry. Soft-spoken and unassuming, he was the first guy on the set every morning and the last guy to leave.

And maybe because I spent a lot of time with him every day, or more likely just because he was an awesome human and that’s just how he was, he seemed to take a unique interest in me. He would ask about me, my life, my ambitions and even ask my opinion of jokes or notes he had on scripts when I would pick them up. (Not surprisingly they were always great, and I would say so, which took pressure off. What the hell would I ever tell Carlin about comedy?)

That first year, one of my best friends from while up and his then-girlfriend (now his wife) came out to visit me in Los Angeles. Now, I’m a grunt, right? Seriously, I am the lowest rung of the ladder on this show. As low as you can get. But, of course, I wanted to show off my “big Hollywood career” to my friend. So I wanted to bring them to a taping of the show. Usually George had a few errands he needed me to handle after filming, so I go to George that afternoon. I ask if he could tell me whatever he needed me to do after the show now so I could take care of it before the show because I had some guests coming to the show that night and wanted to show them around the set afterward. He says sure, gave me a few small things to handle and that’s that.

OK, so now it’s after the show, and we are walking around the stage, looking at the sets and cameras. I’m trying to act like I know what I am talking about when suddenly George comes up to me.

“Matthew, are these your friends from back home?”

I’m stunned.

“Uh, yeah … uh, Sean and Cindy, George Carlin. George, Sean and Cindy.”

George has a big smile, extends his hands and gives them the big sell. “You know, we couldn’t do the show without Matthew. I consult with him every day. He’s a rising star here and only going to get bigger. We all love him.”

Again, I’m a grunt. Last guy listed on the call sheet. But you wouldn’t know it from George. “Seriously (he waves to the set), none of this happens without Matthew,” George says to my friends. He then hands them each a signed copy of the script from that night’s episode and motions them to come close. “Come on, let’s take a picture.”

George then asks what else they’ve done since they’ve been in L.A. and how they met and does what George does, which is makes them feel special and unique.

And as George leaves my friends are floating on air, smiling wide and looking at me much more impressed than they were 10 minutes ago.

The next day I thank George and tell him how incredibly cool and kind that was. “Look, first, you’re a good kid and you work your ass off. But more importantly, Matthew, it’s my pleasure. You ever need me to take pictures or do anything like that again, just let me know. Always bring me that stuff.”

I was like, “Really?” One of my jobs every week was to distribute all the scripts, albums and memorabilia he had to sign every week for charities, etc. I saw firsthand how many people wanted a picture with him. He would be on his way to a meeting, to his car to leave for the day, hell, to the bathroom, and it was a constant stream of folks wanting autographs and pictures. But he always stopped, chatted and took the picture. I mentioned this. To which he replied with something I have never forgotten.

“I always do it. No matter what. Look, it’s 30 seconds out of my life. And now those people had a good experience. And the next time my name comes up, for the rest of their lives, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I met Carlin once. He was nice.’ I’d much rather that than a lifetime of ‘Yeah, I bought all that guy’s albums and then he wouldn’t even sign my hat. That guy was a jerk.’ Thirty seconds of my time for a lifetime fan? I’ll make the deal every time.”

Not that I am anywhere near the same universe as George, but thanks to the popularity of both fantasy football and ESPN, there are definitely people who recognize me when I am out and about. And whenever someone comes up to me and wants a picture, a trash-talk video for their league or just to talk about their team, I always do it, no matter what.

Now, you’ll get further with me if you’re polite. Or at least wait until we are away from the urinal at the public bathroom. Or at the very least, don’t shove a phone in my face without asking or push my kid aside, both of which have happened multiple times. But yeah, if you ever see me out and about, please come up and say hey.

At the end of the year, George did two things for me. One, he wrote me a great recommendation letter for the Warner Brothers Writers’ Workshop; I ended up getting accepted a year later and got my first sitcom writing job out of that.

But what meant even more to me was he asked me to come to his office. He thanked me for all my hard work, and he gave me a poster. The poster headline reads: “An Incomplete List of Impolite Words.”

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. A constant theme in Carlin’s comedy was language, how phrases often don’t make sense (“What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?”) and most prominently, 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 key. The motivation and intent behind what someone says. The idea that one word was bad while another was safe was absurd 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.

Now listen, at the end of the day I talk about fake football while wearing makeup for a living, so let’s properly frame this, but I’ve tried to, in my own dumb little way, live up to George’s ideals. To try and push the envelope of what it means to be a fantasy analyst. I’ve been told not to write long stories at the top of every column, to just do football and no nonsense on the podcast, and that no one wants a show with a wild, bearded tattoo guy and a bunch of puppets. That I write too long, that I rank all wrong, that I must be smoking a bong. But I’ve kept on, doing my thing, doing it my way, while trying to be nice to people along the way.

Things I learned from George.

Things I learned not from George’s words, but from George’s actions.

I think of George often and miss him. Sixty years ago this Saturday, the nation got to see him for the first time. The world was a better place with him in it. And I’m certainly a better person for being lucky enough to have gotten to work for him.

Let’s get to it.

Quarterbacks I Love in Week 5

You know how you’ll be at a party and there’s one obnoxious person there making everyone uncomfortable? But you don’t say anything because you assume that person is friends with someone there. And then the person leaves and you’re like, “Ugh, thank goodness.” And everyone else is like, “Wait, you too? I thought he was your friend!” “No, I thought he was yours!” And then all the tension leaves the room and everyone left just has a big awesome party? You ever experience something like that? I have. Just asking for no particular reason. Watson, who always has a high floor (one of only four QBs with at least 250 passing yards in every game this season), should reach his ceiling this week at home against the Jags. Jacksonville allows the third-most passing yards per attempt and coughs up a touchdown on passing attempts at the eighth-highest rate in NFL.

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry don’t project any major fantasy fallout for Texans players, now that Bill O’Brien is no longer the coach.

Carlin had his seven words you can never say on television, but if he had seven rules for fantasy football one of them would be start Big Ben after a bye. Averaging more than 20 fantasy points per game off a bye over his past five, Ben has multiple TD passes in all three games this season and is expected to get Diontae Johnson back this week. Philly’s defensive numbers are skewed by two games against Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the Nick Mullens/C.J. Beathard experience, but in the games against Jared Goff and Joe Burrow, the Birds allowed both QBs to score more than 20 points. Overall, the Eagles are allowing 25 completions per game this season (ninth most) and since 2018, when completing 25-plus passes (13 occurrences), Roethlisberger averages 331.6 passing yards. I have Ben inside my top eight for the week.

They are playing the Falcons. There. That’s my analysis. Fine, you really need more? They are allowing a league-high 32.5 FPPG to quarterbacks this year. You don’t really need more do you? Fine. Even if the Falcons somehow manage to not get lit up through the air this week — and that’s unlikely (they’ve given up the most passing touchdowns this season and the second-most passing yards) — Bridgewater can still produce. He has 25-plus rushing yards in two games this year. That running ability gives him a nice floor Sunday, while Atlanta’s pass defense should construct a beautiful fantasy ceiling to match. In a game with one of the highest over/unders on the slate, this is a game to target.

Others receiving votes

Very quietly Gardner Minshew II is a top-12 fantasy QB through the first four weeks of the season and that includes the awful Thursday night game in which everything that could go wrong, did. In what should be a high-scoring game with the Texans, Minshew has streamer appeal and is available in about half of ESPN leagues. … Three games into a young career and Justin Herbert has been outstanding, averaging 310 passing yards per game. He could easily improve that average Monday night on ESPN against a Saints team that has allowed every quarterback it has faced this season to exceed 20 fantasy points. … OK, so Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t go off against the Seattle defense last week quite as expected, and yet he still threw for 315 yards and put up 21.3 fantasy points. Yes, what was once the Legion of Doom is now the Legion of Boy, There Sure Is A Lot Of ROOM To Throw To Receivers! (Hey, the quality of nickname is equal to the quality of the defense.) Quarterbacks facing Seattle this season are averaging 50 attempts and 401 passing yards per game. So Kirk Cousins is a viable bye week fill-in.


Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 5

Do I think it’s risky to put Brady on the Hate list after he threw five touchdowns? I do. Do I think it’s risky to put Brady on the “hate” list for a Thursday night game knowing lots of people read this column on Friday and if Brady goes off I’ll look even dumber than normal? I do. But do I think it’s risky to play Tom Brady in fantasy on a short week with a decimated receiving corps facing a Bears defense that has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season? I do, as well. It’s that Chicago D that tips the scales for me. The Bears have allowed a touchdown on an NFL-low 2.0% of pass attempts this year, and three of the four quarterbacks they’ve faced this year have scored fewer than 12 fantasy points. In a game with the second-lowest over/under on the Week 5 slate, I have Brady outside my top 10 for the week.

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Dan Orlovsky doesn’t give the Bears a chance on Thursday Night Football, expecting Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to control all 60 minutes of the game.

Yes, Wentz helped the Eagles to the first win of their season last week, but he still didn’t look all that good doing it. In fact, he has just two total passing touchdowns in his past three games and is 32nd among all qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt. His fantasy value has been bailed out by a couple of long rushing touchdowns, but that’s not anything I’d want to count on. I expect Wentz to struggle with a once-again depleted pass-catching corps against a rested Pittsburgh defense that leads the league in blitz rate and pressure rate.

Carr said last week after Vegas dropped its second game in a row that he is “sick of losing.” Unfortunately, the Raiders now play the undefeated, defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road. And while Carr put up a solid 20.4 fantasy points last week, it will be much harder to do it versus a Chiefs defense that is top five this season in completion percentage against, passing touchdowns allowed and passing yards allowed. Also, in 12 career games against Andy Reid’s Chiefs, Carr has posted fewer than 15 fantasy points in 10 of them. If you’re sick of losing in fantasy, keep Carr away from your lineups in Week 5.

Running Backs I Love in Week 5

One of the things Carlin delighted in was pointing out the flawed logic of idiots. Like all the people, who, year after year, pass on Carson. I bang the drum for him every year, every year he goes way too late, every year he winds up a draft-day bargain. Drafted in the fourth and fifth round on ESPN for much of the summer as a RB outside the top 15, Carson is RB5 on the year so far (IN PPR HE SAID WITH AUTHORITY) and, you know, no big deal, has at least 19 fantasy points in three of his four games this season. Continuing to develop as a pass-catcher with three or more receptions in every game so far, Carson now gets a struggling and beat-up Vikings defense that has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards to running backs this season. Giddy up.

Hunt doesn’t have a great matchup this week against one of the NFL’s top defenses. What he does have is the RB1 job in a run-heavy Browns offense due to Nick Chubb’s injury. Considering Hunt is RB7 already on the year, and that he averages 21.0 FPPG in his career when he gets 15-plus touches, he’s on the Love list for me regardless of the defense he’s facing. Even with Chubb there, Hunt was top five among running backs in red zone carries this year. Now, with no Chubb (and Indy’s defense potentially missing linebackers Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke for this one), Hunt is an easy top-10 play this week and a top-5ish fantasy back as long Chubb is out.

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Matthew Berry loves the fantasy upside of Kareem Hunt in Week 5 because of his talent and the Browns’ commitment to the running game.

It was expected Gibson would eventually take over the Washington RB1 job and, well … it’s officially happening. A season-high 17 touches last week, Gibson has scored in three in a row thanks to multiple red zone touches in each game. Switching to Kyle Allen helps Gibson. Remember, Christian McCaffrey accounted for a whopping 29% of Kyle Allen’s completions last year, and Allen had an 82.1% completion rate when targeting RBs last year, the third-best rate in the NFL. By the way, even with the superhuman named Aaron Donald out there, the Rams have allowed 4.8 yards per carry to running backs and the fifth-most yards per reception to RBs this year.

Remember when Chris Thompson, Ryquell Armstead and/or Devine Ozigbo were going to be a thing? Me either. Robinson has been one of the best stories in the NFL this year and deservedly so. Averaging more than 18 touches a game, a three-down back who is not reliant on game script, Robinson will keep the good times rolling Sunday. Houston’s defense is third worst in rushing scores allowed to opposing running backs and in yards per carry allowed. And no team in the NFL gives up more rushing yards per game than the 162.8 yards per game the Texans allow.

Tennessee has allowed 15-plus points and a touchdown to a running back in every game so far this season. Even worse, the Titans have allowed a league-high 5.9 yards per carry to running backs. This is more great news for those of you who avoided the preseason Zack Moss hype and drafted Singletary, who has played 87% of snaps the past two weeks. He’s the clear RB1 in Buffalo … and a high-end RB2 for me in Week 5.

Others receiving votes

Kenyan Drake is RB35 on the season; Chase Edmonds is RB36, just 0.2 fantasy points behind. Edmonds outscored his teammate in Week 4 and has actually seen 77% of Arizona’s backfield targets on the season. This week Arizona gets the Jets, who have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to RBs this season. I like Edmonds as Flex play in Week 5 and, if you have bench space, as a speculative add off the waiver wire should he pull a Kenyan Drake 2019 and eventually push past the guy I had as No. 2 on my preseason “Chicken” players (guys I was nervous about).

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Matthew Berry argues that, of all of the available RBs on the waiver wire, no one has as much fantasy upside as Chase Edmonds.


Running Backs I Hate in Week 5

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles, at Steelers

The last time Sanders played at Heinz Field, he had 124 total yards on just 17 touches in a 51-6 win. Of course, that was against Pitt in college. The going should be a bit tougher on Sunday against a Steelers defense that is allowing a league-low 2.3 years per carry to running backs this season. “Ah, but Sanders can still get some cheap fantasy points catching the ball.” Probably not, my friend. The Steelers allow the second-lowest completion percentage to running backs. You still have to start him, but I would lower expectations here. Love Sanders against Pitt, Hate him against Pittsburgh.

Kelley’s recent dip in production isn’t the biggest concern about him. Not that his 9.5 total fantasy points over the past two weeks is by any means good. It’s that he lost a fumble in both games. Rookies + fumbles + angry coaches usually = the bench. Need proof? Kelley played just five more snaps than Justin Jackson did from the second quarter on last week. Not great! Add into the equation that the Saints are allowing just 3.6 yards per carry to running backs this season and Kelley — yes, even with Austin Ekeler out — is a risky Week 5 play.

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Field Yates and Mike Clay break down their fantasy expectations for Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson against a tough Saints defense.

You’ve heard of the Unstoppable Force vs. The Immovable Object? An epic battle. This is the decidedly less-epic Stoppable Force vs. The Immovable Object. Who wins that battle? Probably the fantasy manager without Montgomery in his lineup. Look, Montgomery is easily stoppable regardless of opponent, posting fewer than 11 fantasy points in three of four games this season, while that Bucs front seven has allowed opposing RBs to move just 2.4 yards per carry. Now, he did run 35 pass routes and get six targets last week, so there’s a chance an increased passing-game role in Tarik Cohen’s absence will get his fantasy value to where you feel comfortable starting him, but I want to see it before I commit.

Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets, vs. Cardinals

Hey, welcome back, Le’Veon Bell! And welcome back to the Hate List, too. Jets running backs rank 31st in yards per rush before first contact this season. Jets RBs also have just eight red zone carries on the entire season. With Joe Flacco under center and a beat-up pass-catching corps, it’s hard to get excited about Bell getting a lot of scoring opportunities. Volume might save him here, and there’s always a chance he falls into the end zone, but he’s gonna need the help of Adam Gase to get there, and he just isn’t the player who can single-handedly improve any of that anymore.

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Field Yates and Mike Clay break down the options for fantasy managers who are dealing with the uncertainty surrounding Le’Veon Bell’s availability for the Jets in Week 5.

Pass-catchers I Love in Week 5

Seattle has allowed the most receptions, yards and fantasy points to wide receivers this season and the second-highest catch rate to perimeter wide receivers.

Pop quiz time!

1) What position does Adam Thielen play?

A: Wide receiver

B: Punter

2) Is Adam Thielen a perimeter wide receiver?

A: Yes, 80% of his routes are run on the perimeter.

B: No, I think he punts.

3) Is Adam Thielen on the Week 5 Love list?

A: Yes

B: I’m gonna need more clues.

Answer key: 1) A; 2) A; 3) A.

DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks, vs. Vikings

An obvious name? Yeah, but I’m the highest on him among all ESPN rankers and I’m the only one who has him above Tyler Lockett, so I think it’s allowed. I also am kind of surprised I’m alone on DK over Tyler island. Despite being Seattle’s big-play threat, Metcalf has been the team’s most consistent receiver with 12 or more fantasy points in every game and 17-plus in three of four. He also has multiple deep receptions in three out of his four games. Meanwhile, Lockett has just one game with more than 17 points, and he followed that with a 4.9-point stinker last week. You have to like Metcalf’s consistency, and you have to love his chance to go off Sunday against a Vikings defense that is bottom three in the NFL in receptions, yards and catch rate allowed on deep passes.

Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers, at Falcons

Speaking of consistency from a deep threat, Anderson also has 17-plus points in three of four games this year with at least one red-zone target in every game. Probably the free-agent move that got the least amount of attention in the offseason, we all should have paid more attention to Anderson reuniting with his college coach. His 25.6% target share not only leads the Panthers but is also ninth highest in the NFL. And you’re not gonna believe it, but I have some stats that show Atlanta is bad against the deep ball. Super weird because they are also (checks notes) bad at everything else. Anyways, the Falcons are bottom three in both deep receptions and deep touchdowns allowed so no need to get too deep on this one: Gimme some Robby Anderson this week.

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry praise Panthers WR Robby Anderson and discuss how him reuniting with his college head coach Matt Rhule has helped him this season.

Will Fuller V, Houston Texans, vs Jaguars

Part of what got Bill O’Brien fired in Houston was the DeAndre Hopkins trade. And for good reason. But Fuller has actually done admirably in Hopkins’ absence. In Fuller’s three healthy games so far, he has two in which he has scored a touchdown. He also has two 100-yard games. And now he has a favorable matchup against a Jags secondary that allows the seventh-highest catch rate to opposing WRs. Much has been made of Houston’s protection issues, but here’s a positive: Jacksonville creates pressure at the seventh-lowest rate in the NFL. Well, when Watson is NOT under pressure this year, Will Fuller has 46.3% of the Texans’ WR points.

The concern about Brown entering the season was that he might not get enough volume. In 2019, he had only four games with six or more targets. Through the first four games of this season, he has at least six targets in all of them. The volume is there, but the production has been down. I think that changes this week. The Bengals allow the third-highest catch rate to wide receivers and 14.1 yards per reception on perimeter throws. The previous two legit WR1s the Bengals faced — DJ Chark Jr. and Odell Beckham Jr. — both put up nice fantasy numbers against them, too. Your chance to buy low on Brown ends Sunday.

The Breakout Fantasy Season of Jonnu Smith was halted a bit last week with an unscheduled bye (and as of this writing their game this week is still not 100% guaranteed). So let this be a reminder: So far this season, Smith is fifth among tight ends in target share, third in red zone target share and tied with Travis Kelce as TE2 in FPPG. With Corey Davis and Adam Humphries both currently on the COVID-19 list, I expect Smith to pick up where he left off this week as a huge part of the Titans’ attack against Buffalo. The Bills have allowed the most receiving yards to tight ends this season and the third-most catches to tight ends.

Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers, at Saints

I write this while knocking on wood and with all of my fingers crossed, but Henry has stayed healthy so far this season and has done exactly what we all thought he’d do if he stayed healthy: produce. In fact, he’s third among tight ends in receiving yards. The only thing that has held him back from a fantasy perspective is that he has yet to crack the end zone. This week he gets a Saints defense that has shown a lot of cracks, including the second-most catches, third-most yards and a touchdown to a tight end in every game so far this season.

Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers, vs. Eagles

Roethlisberger and Ebron are getting more comfortable with each other every week, as the new Steelers tight end’s targets and catches have increased each game. Big Ben should look for his biggest target early and often against an Eagles defense that has allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends this season and has yielded a league-worst 86% catch rate to the position.

Others receiving votes

This week’s biggest beneficiary of that horrid Cowboys defense? Other than everyone who hates the Cowboys and likes to laugh? It might just be Darius Slayton. Dallas is worst in the league in — well, among many other things — touchdown passes allowed to wide receivers and deep touchdown passes allowed. … Jamison Crowder has played in only two games this season, but he has been a top-20 wide receiver in both. He has a chance to do it again against an Arizona defense that struggles against the slot. … Deebo Samuel caught all three of his targets in his return game last week. If he’s a bigger part of the game plan this week, he could be the latest receiver to go off against the Dolphins. … Laviska Shenault Jr. has double-digit fantasy points in three of his four games this season, and he also has at least one carry in every game of the season. Don’t be surprised if he gets more run against that dreadful Texans run D. … Dallas’ defense is so bad it might even let Evan Engram go off. Engram is third among all tight ends in targets this year, but he’s not reeling many of them in. That could easily end against the Cowboys. I have Engram as a top-10 play this week. … My Football Team has allowed touchdowns to tight ends in three of four games this year and five TE touchdowns overall. An end zone catch this week would go a long way to ease the frustrations of Tyler Higbee managers.


Pass-catchers I hate in Week 5

DJ Chark Jr, Jacksonville Jaguars, at Texans

Houston is allowing the fifth-fewest passing yards per game this season, and teams facing Houston average a league-low 28.5 pass attempts per game. “Isn’t that because it’s so easy to run the ball down their throat?” Yes, partly. It’s also because they have Bradley Roby, who is likely to give Chark shadow coverage in this one. I have Chark outside my top 20 this week.

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The Fantasy Podcast breaks down D.J. Chark Jr.’s fantasy output and how him playing helps Gardner Minshew’s numbers.

Signing Philip Rivers was supposed to take Indianapolis’ passing game to a new level. Hilton has found a new level, it just happens to be a few levels below where he used to perform. Hilton is averaging just 3.3 catches and 40.5 yards per game. He also hasn’t cracked more than five targets in a game since Week 1 and has only two red zone targets all season. None of that is likely to change versus Cleveland, which allows the fourth-lowest catch rate to wide receivers on the season. No issue if you want or need to drop him, either.

Chark, Hilton, Green … OK, yeah. If you are a wide receiver with initials for your first name NOT named DK Metcalf, I think you’re going to have a bad week. Or in Green’s case: a continuation of a bad year. On 34 targets this season, Green has almost an impossibly low 119 yards. On the balls he has reeled in, he’s averaging just 8.5 yards per reception and, over the past two weeks, Tee Higgins is averaging more routes run and more targets than Green. The Bengals are moving into the future with their young guys, which means it’s time to move Green onto your bench.

Was Edelman just a product of Tom Brady? I don’t know. What I do know is that he has just five catches for 58 yards over his past two games and no touchdowns on the season. If this game is even played (as of this writing that’s in doubt), there’s also a chance Cam Newton misses this game as well. Take away Edelman’s Week 2 performance against the lowly Seahawks pass D and he has been under 11 fantasy points in every other game. His TD drought isn’t likely to end this week either, as Denver has allowed just one touchdown to the slot so far this season.

Gesicki has disappointed so far this season (just one catch in each of the past two games), and there’s little reason to believe it will come to an end in Week 5. San Francisco allows just 7.5 yards per reception to tight ends on the season, and they’ve yet to let a TE find the end zone.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, can only imagine what George Carlin would think of 2020. I miss him very much.

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We can only hope 2021 will be a more normal season, with 162 games and fans in the stands and hot dogs to eat and overpriced beer to drink. We don’t know what the state of things will be come April 1, when the 2021 season is scheduled to begin, but we can speculate on the state of the 30 franchises.

Yes, we’re back with our annual Way-Too-Early Power Rankings. There are a few obvious teams at the top, a handful at the bottom and a whole bunch in the middle. Throw in the difficulty of analyzing a 60-game season and the uncertainty of how the offseason will play out due to the financial losses of this season, and these are the most difficult rankings we have had to do. But we fearlessly move forward.

(Title odds for 2021 from Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill)

2020 record: 43-17
Won World Series
2021 title odds: 4-1

They’re reigning champs. They’ve won eight straight division titles. They have Mookie Betts signed for the long term. They have young starters such as Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin to keep the rotation strong for years to come. They have players capable of better seasons (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux). They have a good farm system. They have financial flexibility, with only Betts signed past 2022 and all those young players to help them keep the payroll in check. Justin Turner is a free agent, but he would be a nice DH option if the NL makes that permanent. We know they will be good. But we know it’s really all about October.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost NLCS to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 12-1

The offense gives them a high floor:Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, even Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall raked in 2020. Marcell Ozuna is a free agent and it would be nice to bring him back, but rookie center fielder Cristian Pache is ready and he looks like he’ll be valuable on both sides of the ball. The rotation will see the return of Mike Soroka from his Achilles injury and a full season of Ian Anderson to back up Max Fried. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have potential, and Atlanta will probably bring in a veteran starter on a one-year deal the way they did with Dallas Keuchel in 2019 and tried to do with Cole Hamels in 2020. The Braves will be favored to win a fourth straight division title even if they don’t do anything this offseason.


2020 record: 37-23
Lost Division Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 17-2

Sure, an argument can be made to put the Padres ahead of the Braves, but I think we have to first make sure Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger are completely healthy in spring training. San Diego brings back essentially every significant player after running out the youngest lineup in the NL, with Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham looking like foundation additions alongside Fernando Tatis Jr. (All were acquired in trades; good job, A.J. Preller!) We’ll see if Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers can match their 2020 rate of production, but if Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore become impact starters, the Padres are poised to make a multiyear run in challenging the Dodgers for NL West supremacy.


2020 record: 40-20
Lost World Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 10-1

The Rays won their first division title since 2010 and did it in quite remarkable fashion, with 12 different relievers recording a save and the pitching staff overcoming a slew of injuries along the way. They were able to pull that off because of the depth of their staff, but having expanded rosters over the 60-game season made it possible to rely so heavily on the bullpen. Of course, you can argue that pitching depth will be even more valuable over 162 games. The offense isn’t elite, although we can’t wait to see what Randy Arozarena will do over a full season or if super rookie Wander Franco is ready to make an impact at some point in 2021.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to A’s
2021 title odds: 12-1

Much like the Braves, the offensive firepower of the White Sox should give them a high floor. Even if you see some regression coming from Jose Abreu or Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada should improve and a full season of Nick Madrigal will help. Michael Kopech, who opted out of 2020, will hopefully be back, but he hasn’t pitched in two years, so finding another veteran arm to go with ace Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will be key. Closer Alex Colome is a free agent, but the White Sox have several power arms in their organization, including 2020 first-round pick Garrett Crochet, who could be a dominant reliever right away. Manager Rick Renteria and longtime pitching coach Don Cooper got the boot, with A.J. Hinch a possible replacement for Renteria. That would be an upgrade.


2020 record: 33-27
Lost Division Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 6-1

You can make an argument to put them a couple of spots higher, but not winning the AL East in 2020 points to some flaws. They simply can’t count on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton being healthy for an entire season, plus DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka are free agents, two important players to re-sign or replace. Of course, we know the Yankees will do something big, perhaps signing J.T. Realmuto and moving on from Gary Sanchez or trading for Francisco Lindor and shifting Gleyber Torres to second. Getting Luis Severino back from Tommy John surgery will be a big boost as well.


2020 record: 36-24
Lost Wild Card Series to Astros
2021 title odds: 14-1

The Twins didn’t do it quite like they did in 2019, when they bashed a record 307 home runs (although their 162-game pace for 2020 was still 259), as their team batting average dropped nearly 30 points, and they fell from second in the AL in runs to 10th. Still, they’ve established a foundation of success with three playoff appearances in four seasons. The big issue is they have a lot of free agents to replace or re-sign, starting with 40-year-old Nelson Cruz, but also Jake Odorizzi, Marwin Gonzalez, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Trevor May and Homer Bailey. Those players were minor contributors, but with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Taylor Rogers getting more expensive in arbitration, the Twins may not be able to fill out the roster with minor free agents the way they’ve done of late. They need a healthy Josh Donaldson, especially if Cruz leaves, and they will have to discard the emotional baggage of 18 consecutive playoff losses to get revved up for 162 games just to get back to October again.


2020 record: 36-24
Lost Division Series to Houston
2021 title odds: 14-1

The A’s weren’t as impressive as they were in 2019 — Matt Olson morphed into an extreme “three true outcomes” slugger, Matt Chapman‘s OBP dipped to .276 and Marcus Semien declined from his third-place MVP performance. They still coasted to the AL West title though, and the division projects as being pretty soft, at least right now. Semien and closer Liam Hendriks are free agents as are several other key role players, so this ranking is not presented with a high degree of confidence. The A’s always seem to maximize their talent, and I do think the rotation will be much better, making up for some of the likely bullpen regression.


2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

I feel like we need another National League team here, but let’s be honest: There is a wide gap between the NL’s top three teams and the block of mediocre teams in the middle. Let’s roll the dice on the Mets with new owner Steve Cohen to the rescue (once he gets formally approved). Let’s just say Mets fans are pumped about Cohen’s WAW (wins above Wilpon). There have already been reports about all the money he’ll sink into the franchise, not just on players but things like building out a more robust analytics staff. Aside from any splashy moves Cohen may make — trading for Nolan Arenado or Francisco Lindor? Signing J.T. Realmuto or Trevor Bauer? — there is a strong base of talent here. They ranked third in the majors in wOBA (behind the Braves and Dodgers) and fifth in the majors in pitcher strikeout rate. They should be better — a familiar refrain for Mets fans, unfortunately.


2020 record: 34-26
Lost Wild Card Series to Marlins
2021 title odds: 25-1

Everyone was down on the Cubs, especially after that sad two-and-out to the Marlins, but we do need to point out Chicago still won the NL Central despite Javier Baez (59 OPS+), Kris Bryant (73) and Kyle Schwarber (88) all producing well below an average major league hitter and Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras performing below their career norms. That continues a downward trend for this once-great offensive core, from second in the NL in runs in 2016 and 2017 to fourth in 2018, fifth in 2019 and 10th in 2020. Baez, Bryant, Schwarber and Rizzo are all free agents after 2021, but frankly, the trade value for Bryant and Schwarber — and even Baez, to a lesser extent — has cratered. Theo Epstein also hinted that 2021 will be his last season with the Cubs. Does this group get one last chance? In a weak division, with some bounce-back potential, the Cubs could be better than everyone believes. Or maybe the front office will just tear it all down.


2020 record: 29-31
Lost ALCS to Rays
2021 title odds: 20-1

It promises to be a busy winter for the Astros. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, while Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke are set to be free agents after 2021, as are Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna, both of whom will likely miss the season following Tommy John surgery. They’ll need more from Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman (and don’t forget about Yordan Alvarez) but they could have a strong rotation if they keep McCullers and Greinke to go with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. The outfield free-agent market is thin, so if Springer and Brantley sign elsewhere, the Astros may have to scramble to find help for Kyle Tucker.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to Yankees
2021 title odds: 20-1

We start with one of the biggest questions of the entire offseason: Will Cleveland trade Francisco Lindor? It seems weird to say this, but there isn’t an obvious fit, as most of the top teams are set at shortstop. It will be interesting to see if a team tries to pull the Mookie Betts maneuver: trade for Lindor, then sign him to a big extension before he hits free agency after the 2021 season. Aside from the Lindor issue, it’s going to be a similar Cleveland team as we’ve seen the past two years: enough starting pitching to be a playoff team, but an offense that may prevent them from getting there. Please, find some competent outfielders. Cleveland’s outfielders hit .196/.270/.304.


2020 record: 30-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Padres
2021 title odds: 30-1

In one sense, it’s harder to evaluate what the Cardinals did in 2020 than any other team, with them having to play 11 doubleheaders after the team’s COVID-19 outbreak early in the season. On the other hand, they were exactly what we thought they would be: below-average offense with no power, good defense, good bullpen, decent starting pitching. I just don’t how they’re going to get better, especially given that some of their pitching peripheral numbers don’t quite match the ERA figures. Look, as always, you can never discount the Cardinals. They haven’t had a losing season since 2007. The division is wide open. Jack Flaherty will be better. Dylan Carlson could give them an impact outfielder. The bullpen projects as a big strength.


2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

No team had less incentive in 2020 than the Nationals, and once Stephen Strasburg went down, it kind of felt like the entire team went down with him. Juan Soto played at an MVP level for 47 games, leading the NL in batting average and the majors in OBP and slugging. It wasn’t a full season so I’m not saying it compares, but his 212 OPS+ was the best since Barry Bonds in 2004.

There are concerns in the starting rotation, however, beyond Strasburg’s nerve issue. Anibal Sanchez fell apart, Patrick Corbin got knocked around (85 hits in 65⅔ innings) and even Max Scherzer had his highest ERA since 2012.The real problem may have been the defense: The Nationals ranked last in the majors with minus-43 defensive runs saved. As always, depth is an issue and they need youngsters Carter Kieboom (no home runs in 99 at-bats) and Victor Robles (.608 OPS) to contribute at the plate. If Strasburg is healthy, don’t ignore the 2019 champs.


2020 record: 32-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 50-1

The Blue Jays face a very interesting offseason after making the playoffs as a wild card and ranking third in the AL in runs. The offense potentially looks even better if you’re buying the breakouts of Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez. Worth noting: The Jays hit much better at their temporary home in Buffalo, so we have to be careful about overrating the offense. Hyun-Jin Ryu was terrific (at least until his playoff start), but the rest of the rotation was so problematic that the Jays acquired Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling for the stretch run. Walker and Ray are free agents, but Nate Pearson will help, and the Jays should have some money to spend in free agency.


2020 record: 28-32
Third in NL East
2021 title odds: 40-1

It’s hard to see the Phillies much better than the .500 team they’ve been the past three seasons, which led to general manager Matt Klentak being reassigned within the organization. They had two great starters in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and finished fourth in the NL in runs, but the bullpen (6.92 ERA, worst of all time) undermined all the positives. The Phillies allowed a .345 average on balls in play, and maybe that would drop over a full season, but it stands as the highest ever. This has been a multiyear problem. They were middle of the pack in BABIP allowed in 2019, but fifth-worst in 2018 and sixth-worst in 2017. They’ve been unable to fix the defense. Anyway, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are free agents. The payroll would have been more than $200 million given a full season in 2020, so you wonder if there is room to re-sign Realmuto and fix the bullpen and replace/re-sign Gregorius and maybe add another starter.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL West
2021 title odds: 40-1

Billy Eppler is out as general manager after a five-year run that included no winning seasons. Yes, he inherited the bad Albert Pujols contract, but he also inherited Mike Trout and was never able to build a successful team around him, despite additions like Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon. Simmons is a free agent, Pujols is finally down to his final season and Jared Walsh (.971 OPS, nine home runs in 99 at-bats, a low 13.9% strikeout rate) has to play. The immediate concerns are trying to turn Jo Adell into a major league hitter (.161, 55 strikeouts, seven walks in 132 PAs), figure out what happened to Ohtani (.190) and Justin Upton (.204) and — as always — address the pitching. Sounds like the same story as the past five years.


2020 record: 29-31
Lost Wild Card Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 50-1

This is a difficult team to read. The Brewers didn’t hit at all in 2020 (I think the NL must have stored its balls in Lake Michigan, because nobody could hit). Two-time batting champ and 2018 MVP Christian Yelich hit just .205, and I know it was just 58 games, but his strikeout rate went from 20.3% to 30.8%. Something doesn’t add up there.

They do have two great one-two combos in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the rotation and Devin Williams and Josh Hader in the bullpen. Does Williams’ stunning breakout (53 K’s in 27 innings) make Hader trade bait? Burnes certainly looked like the real deal with his new cutter, but he’ll have to prove he can do it over 30 starts instead of 10. David Stearns is one of the more creative GMs around, although he’d probably like a do-over on the Trent Grisham/Zach Davies for Luis Urias/Eric Lauer deal.


2020 record: 24-36
Fifth in AL East
2021 title odds: 60-1

This was the hardest team to project. The pitching was so awful — 5.85 runs per game, the most for the franchise since 1932 — that it’s easy to assume it will be bad again in 2021. It was also bad in 2019 (5.11 runs per game), so we have a two-year track record. Maybe they get Chris Sale back at midseason and Eduardo Rodriguez returns from his COVID-related heart issue. There is a nice offensive core with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and Christian Vazquez (and J.D. Martinez if he bounces back). I’m not sure what Bobby Dalbec will be. I guess his upside is Joey Gallo, if that’s a good thing. More importantly, is Chaim Bloom playing the long game or will there be pressure to get the Red Sox immediately back into contender status?


2020 record: 31-29
Lost Wild Card Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 25-1

The Reds sneaked into the playoffs as a wild card with a late surge, but the team embarrassingly exited with two shutouts to the Braves, including a 13-inning defeat. The Reds have morphed into the most extreme example of a “three true outcomes” offense we’ve seen in this launch-angle era. They ranked fourth in the NL in home runs and first in walks, but hit a pathetic .212. The entire package added up to ranking just 13th in the NL in runs, then you dig deeper and realize they hit 55 home runs at home and 35 on the road, so much of their power was simply a result of their home park. It’s a bad offense, and I’m not sure it improves much in 2021. Trevor Bauer is a sure bet to sign elsewhere as a free agent, and we still don’t know if Nick Senzel is the solution in center field or an injury-prone role player.


2020 record: 31-29
Lost Division Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 60-1

It was a fun ride to their first postseason trip since 2003, but once you get past the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez, holes remain. The pitching staff was next to last in the majors in strikeout rate, and the team’s top five relievers were all 30-something guys you can’t necessarily count on for 2021. There are no offensive stars as the lineup relied on stopgap veterans, while the young hitters still have trouble controlling the strike zone (and the young hitters aren’t really all that young). The minus-41 run differential is a little misleading as the Marlins had to use more players than any other team due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but I’m not sure I see another .500 season unless some of the young hitters suddenly develop into solid regulars.


2020 record: 29-31
Third in NL West
2021 title odds: 80-1

Call me skeptical. They went from the second-worst offense in the NL to a top-five offense — without making any significant additions. Brandon Belt with a 1.000 OPS? Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson over .900? Donovan Solano chasing a batting title? I smell a lot of regression coming on, and the Giants don’t have the rotation to back that up. They also had the oldest lineup in the league: Mauricio Dubon is the only returning regular who won’t be 30 or older in 2021. Maybe catcher Joey Bart makes an impact, but a 41 to 3 strikeout-to-walk rate suggests he’s not ready for prime time. Several of their big contracts come off the books after 2021 if you factor in buyouts, so look for the Giants to wait until that big 2021-22 free-agent class to start flipping over the roster.


2020 record: 27-33
Third in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

There were some nice positives in 2020: Kyle Lewis may win Rookie of the Year, Justus Sheffield was much improved, Marco Gonzales solidified himself as one of the most underrated starters in the majors, Dylan Moore turned into one of the best utility players as a power/speed combo. But there is still zero star power here, at least until Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez arrive as potential All-Star outfielders, Kelenic in 2021 and Rodriguez probably in 2022. Jerry Dipoto will have to reconstruct a bullpen that was one of the worst in the league (5.92 ERA). The Mariners are on the rise and have other potential impact prospects, including pitchers Logan Gilbert and Emerson Hancock, but look for them to hold the course in 2021 and push forward in 2022.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 150-1

The Royals have some interesting young pitchers in Brad Keller, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, with Josh Staumont as a potential closer, but there are still huge gaps across the roster, especially on the offensive side of things. They need to figure out center field, second base and left field, and even Adalberto Mondesi Jr. now looks like just a placeholder at short until Bobby Witt Jr. arrives in a couple of years. This ranking could be selling the Royals a bit short, as young pitching can carry a team if it comes fast (and 2020 top pick Asa Lacy may not need much time in the minors), but they need to find some hitters.


2020 record: 25-35
Fifth in NL West
2021 title odds: 60-1

That was ugly, and the fans are turning on the team after a couple of years of trades (Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke and the deadline deals this season) that don’t appear to have returned any front-line talent. Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar, so good in 2019, fell off, with Marte inexplicably deciding he no longer wanted to walk. Robbie Ray couldn’t throw strikes and was finally traded. Merrill Kelly hurt his shoulder. Madison Bumgarner didn’t win a game. The problem for 2021? The Diamondbacks had the second-oldest lineup in the NL (six of their top eight regulars were 29 or older). Bumgarner now looks like a bad $80 million gamble. They’re only a season removed from going 85-77, so there is rebound potential, but the Snakes are a mess at the moment.


2020 record: 25-35
Fourth in AL East
2021 title odds: 150-1

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of positives in 2020, especially after losing 108 games in 2019 and 115 in 2018. Anthony Santander had a small-sample breakout with the metrics to back it up. Ryan Mountcastle looks ready to join the lineup in 2021 and Trey Mancini will hopefully be back at full strength after finishing his chemo treatment in September. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer could be arms to watch for the rotation.

They do have financial flexibility, especially as they get closer to the end of Chris Davis‘ deal, and with Adley Rutschman close to the majors and starters D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez perhaps ready in 2022, the farm is better than it’s been in at least 10 years. But the base level of talent here remains pretty low.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in NL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

Right now, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are still on the roster. Will they be there come spring training? The relationship between Arenado and the Rockies is strained, making him a trade candidate this winter. He won’t be easy to trade, though: He didn’t have a good 2020 at the plate, ended the season on the IL, has a full no-trade clause and can opt out of his deal after 2021. If Arenado is traded, you could see the Rockies dealing Story as well since he’s a free agent after 2021. Mostly, this team just needs a makeover. They ranked eighth in the NL in runs, and for a Rockies team, that’s horrible. (They had finished below fifth just one other time in franchise history.)


2020 record: 23-35
Fifth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 200-1

Sometimes you just have to point out the obvious: Jeimer Candelario was the team’s best player in 2020 — a 26-year-old first baseman who hit .203 the year before. Look, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal project as good starters at some point, but their struggles in limited action in 2020 suggest that may not be in 2021. Along with Spencer Turnbull and prospect Matt Manning, there is a rotation to dream on, but there is no offense, and Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, their top position player prospects, are more on a 2022 timetable.


2020 record: 22-38
Fifth in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

The Rangers continue to go backward. They were bad in 2020 in a year they thought they could contend, they weren’t particularly young and the farm system has struggled to develop pitchers and turn toolsy position players into quality hitters. The offense had a brutal year — and not just because of the new park. They didn’t hit on the road either. It’s time to admit that Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor are never going to be the core of a championship lineup, and if Lance Lynn is traded — he’ll be a free agent after 2021 — the rotation will have a huge hole to fill.


2020 record: 19-41
Fifth in NL Central
2021 title odds: 300-1

Let’s see, a small-market team coming off the worst record in the sport, won’t spend any money in free agency, and whose three best players in 2019 were all terrible in 2020. The first step is to hope Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman rebound, but with most of the organization’s top prospects still a ways off, the short-term outlook looks bleak. Heck, the long-term outlook isn’t exactly full of roses and puppies.

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Bryant, out 2 years, joins Ravens practice squad

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant is back in the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens signed the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to their practice squad, the team announced Tuesday. Bryant has been out of the league for two years.

Bryant appeared to acknowledge the deal in a tweet Tuesday: “My emotions running high right now… I’m thankful…I can’t stop crying”

The biggest question is when Bryant will suit up for the Ravens. Baltimore’s wide receivers rank last in the NFL in receptions (58) and receiving yards (737).

Bryant, 31, could become a physical possession-type receiver for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and can complement the speed of Marquise Brown.

The addition of Bryant might lead to a high-profile reunion on Dec. 3, when the Ravens play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Bryant starred for the Cowboys for eight seasons, totaling 531 receptions for 7,459 yards and a franchise-record 73 touchdown catches.

“Obviously, that’s kind of like an ‘OG’-type guy,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said when asked about Bryant on Monday. “He’s been around the league for a long, long time. He actually followed me on Twitter a year or two ago, so I’m excited to meet him, and I’m excited to [be] around him hopefully, and just learn.”

This marked Bryant’s second workout with Baltimore in two months. When Bryant left in August without a contract, he was told to improve his conditioning, a source said.

The Ravens are off to a fast start at 5-1, but their passing game ranks 31st in the NFL. It looks as if Jackson would benefit from another target on the outside because Brown is the only Baltimore wide receiver with more than 11 catches this season.

Bryant is attempting to become the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Josh Gordon was the first.

Bryant hasn’t played in a game since December 2017.

In November 2018, Bryant signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. But he tore an Achilles tendon during his first practice with the Saints and has been out of the NFL since.

Bryant’s 531 career receptions would be the most by any wide receiver before missing two full seasons and then returning to the NFL, according to Elias’ data.

To make room for Bryant, the Ravens waived safety Marcus Gilchrist from the practice squad.

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Augusta National to host College GameDay during Masters

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ESPN’s College GameDay Built By the Home Depot show has originated from dozens of college campuses across the country since 1993.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, the show will combine two of sport’s greatest traditions — college football and the Masters.

ESPN announced on Tuesday that College GameDay will originate from Augusta National Golf Club, which is hosting the postponed Masters Tournament next month, Nov. 12-15.

Top matchups that day are No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 13 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama at LSU.

“Any time College GameDay travels to a new destination, it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content. “As this iconic event coincides with the college football season for the first time, we look forward to getting fans ready for a football Saturday while also showcasing the Masters and the greatest golfers in the world.”

Longtime ESPN hosts Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and others will broadcast from the par-3 course from 9 a.m. to noon ET.

In its 13th year at the Masters, ESPN will once again televise the first and second rounds, Nov. 12-13, from 1 to 5:30 p.m. There will also be expanded coverage on ESPN+, including exclusive practice-round coverage Nov. 10-11.

Golf fans will also be able to watch featured holes coverage on ESPN+ on Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in each of the four rounds of the Masters.

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