It’s Week 7 of the NFL season, and fantasy football managers are scrambling to fill holes created by more injuries and bye weeks. They’re assessing whom they can count on and whom they should cast aside. Who are the RBs to trust in Baltimore? San Francisco? New England? Los Angeles (both teams)? Which QBs will be around down the stretch of the fantasy football season? Matthew Berry’s Week 7 Love/Hate column should help shed at least some light on players to watch.
I was fired from writing for an MTV game show because the questions I wrote were “too hard.” I got fired from a movie-writing job because I told the producer his ideas were dumb. I got fired from a retail summer job because the owner’s young wife told him I was cute. And I was fired from my first fantasy-writing job because after they cut my $100 a week “salary” to $25 a week, I put a link in my column to a fan page on another site to try to suck email addresses out of the site.
In every single case, getting fired bummed me out in the moment, but I soon realized it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The MTV show never got on the air. The producer’s notes were dumb, and after another writer did his notes, it never got made — and then the producer was fired. My friend at the sporting goods store told me the couple that owned it got into huge fights all the time, eventually divorcing and closing the business. Very stressful place to earn minimum wage. And of course, after getting fired by Rotoworld, I decided to start my own blog — and three years after that, it was bought by ESPN, and here I am.
I’ve lost a job plenty in my life.
I bring this up because, as I am sure you are aware, things are awful out there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), the unemployment rate in September 2020 was 7.9% and the number of unemployed persons in America is 12.6 million. In fact, in September, 19.4 million people reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic.
And that’s not even the full number. According to Ernie Tedeschi, a policy economist at Evercore ISI, in an interview with Marketplace.org, the unemployment rate takes into account only people who are out of work, available for work and have actually looked for work in the past four weeks, as well as those on a temporary layoff.
“So that doesn’t include everybody who doesn’t have a job,” Tedeschi said. “If you left your job because your kids’ school is closed and you’re spending your time helping your kids with remote learning and you’re not looking for a job because of that, you would not be counted as unemployed.”
Like thousands upon thousands of others, my oldest graduated from college in May. It was in a video ceremony where his name and picture flashed across our TV screen at our house in Connecticut, but he graduated — and got to enter one of the worst job markets in the history of the country.
He never asks me for anything, but recently, he came to me and wanted some advice on starting his career. (And anyone out there in e-sports/sports gambling/music fields that needs marketing/sales/social media help, holler at me on LinkedIn. The kid is awesome and has a great résumé.)
My son is not the only one asking for career advice. It’s a question I get a lot and not just from recent graduates. I’ve recently gotten some emails and tweets asking for a link to a column I wrote a few years ago about how to find not just a job but the career you want.
Because when you’ve been fired a decent amount, it also means you’ve been hired a lot. I’m proud to say that at the end of my current contract with ESPN I will have been with the company for 17 years — and hopefully many more after that. So I’ve been lucky to work for a great company and supportive bosses. But I also kind of invented my own job here.
There’s not a lot in this world I know, but I’m pretty good at this. So whether you are just starting out or starting over, listen up.
My first piece of advice is to be honest. Audiences — be it a column reader or a hiring manager — will often forgive almost anything as long as you are honest and up front about it. So yeah, I’ve written versions of this column before, and when I speak at colleges, these are some of the themes I touch on.
My 10 best pieces of advice for getting the career you want
1. Learn to communicate
This was the biggest piece of advice my father ever gave me, and it’s the most crucial advice I can give you. My dad’s point was simple. Nothing happens if you can’t communicate. Let’s say you found the cure for cancer. Awesome. It does no one any good if you can’t communicate how to do it. I had been doing fantasy analysis since I was 14, so I had that part down. But the communication part? I had done radio in high school and college, and when I got to Los Angeles right out of college, I took a few years of improv classes. The idea wasn’t about acting. I just wanted to get comfortable speaking in front of strangers and being able to handle things I wasn’t prepared for. It took work, but I got to a point where I felt, even if you disagreed with my take, I could express to you how I felt about a player or team and be reasonably entertaining while doing so.
Also understand that communication takes many forms. I’m definitely better at some than others, but I believe one of the things ESPN values about me is that I can write a 5,000-word column or do an hourlong podcast, a three-hour TV show, an eight-minute radio segment, a 45-second TV hit, a meeting with advertisers on Zoom, a 280-character tweet or a fun picture for Instagram. I have varying levels of ability, but I’m at least competent in all of them, my famous beignet photo notwithstanding.
With so many meetings, interviews and presentations happening virtually and remotely, not to mention a changing media landscape with many platforms that are added to every day (be honest, you’d never heard of TikTok 12 months ago), the most important piece of advice here is that you must be able to communicate. Take classes if you can’t. Practice. Whatever you gotta do.
2. Get good
I get so many questions like, “How do I get an agent? How do I get to ESPN? How do I get my dream job?” And the answer is … get good. Just get good at whatever you’re passionate about. I swear, even in an era of budget cuts, smaller staffs and fewer resources, companies will always seek out talented people. Probably more so now. With smaller head counts and fewer resources, every person on your staff needs to be a rock star. Every spot in a company is valuable. So I promise, there’s no conspiracy to keep talented folks out. Get good and we’ll find you. Promise.
So that means doing your craft, however you can. Write for a small website for free. Or start a blog. Or a podcast. Or a YouTube channel. Whatever translates best to what you want to do, just start doing it, and don’t worry about whether anyone is reading/watching/listening. Just get good at whatever you want to do.
Before you say you are really good but you were laid off or downsized, listen. I’m sure you’re great. But if the Lakers suddenly had to downsize, they ain’t getting rid of LeBron and AD, you know? This is look-in-the-mirror time. Whatever your skill level at whatever you do or want to, you can always get better.
I’m a better writer today than I was two years ago. I was better then than I was three years before that. Stuff I wrote 10 years ago makes me cringe. It’s just reps, man. Reps after reps after reps. I’m a big believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule (look it up). Whatever you want to do, start doing it, somehow, some way. And then do it again. And again. And again.
3. Do what you can control
When I started out, I had no idea whether my analysis/approach/writing/persona/etc. were any good. I’m sure there were people who could do a deeper stats dive than I could, who had played the game and could break down film better than I could, who had more insider contacts than I did. I knew the only thing I could control was my work ethic. I just had to outwork them.
When I graduated and was first trying to break into show business, I knew absolutely no one. So I decided my job was getting a job. Every day, I scoured for jobs I could apply for. I applied for five a day, no matter what. I tailored my résumé and cover letter for each job. That was my morning each day. Then in the afternoon, I’d call to see if they’d gotten it. Could they look for it if not? Could I get a meeting? I cold-emailed people I admired, alumni from my school, every family member I could think of. “Do you know anyone you’d feel comfortable introducing me to?” No stone unturned; I had to outwork everyone.
When I speak to college students, I talk about two traits: brand aware and brand trust. Every person has a “brand.” You’ve just been arrested. You get one call. Which of your friends do you call?
OK, you’ve just won an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas; flight leaves in two hours. Which of your friends do you call? I bet you had immediate answers for both, and I bet they weren’t the same person. We all have “brands” — how others perceive us.
When starting out, you are working on “brand aware.” To pay the bills after I graduated, I worked at a toy store. So whenever I got a show biz interview, I brought a toy gun that shot bubbles and offered it as a gift at the end as a thank-you for the interview. I’d show them how to work it. It was a fun but weird-shaped toy.
As they looked at me weird, I’d say, “Hey, I’m sure you’re interviewing a ton of people for this job. I’m trying to stand out. I bet you’ll remember the guy who brought you a bubble gun.” And sure enough, when I’d call to check back in, they all took the call and remembered the bubble gun guy. “Brand aware.”
Ultimately, my first real job came from bubble gun No. 5.
4. You get one chance
Most people are nice and remember what it was like when they were starting out. Most people are willing to help out, once. There are so many people who want to get into … well, many different fields. But that’s especially true for sports. So if you aren’t rock-solid and buttoned up when you meet someone who could help, you’re done. There are too many other options and too little time to waste. Also, make it easy for someone to help you. When I was trying to break into sports, I always had clips of my writing, a DVD of the little TV I had done and a résumé to hand out in case they asked. A friend of the family recently asked me to speak with a young woman and give her advice. I said sure. We scheduled a time for her to call me. The time came and went and no call. She emailed the next day, saying she had forgotten and was sorry, but also, why hadn’t I emailed her to ask where she was and remind her? I said, as gently as I could, it’s not my job to try to chase you down to give advice. And I never bothered with her again. People’s time is valuable and you get only one shot. Make it easy for someone to help you.
5. Play the hand you’re dealt
I’m friends with the actor/director Kevin Connolly, who is best known for playing “E” on the show “Entourage.” I remember him telling me a story once about being bummed that he didn’t get a part, and his agent told him not to sweat it because it wasn’t the right part for him. “Hey Kevin,” the agent said, “you’re never gonna star in ‘The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story,’ you know? It is what it is.” I always think about that. It doesn’t mean Kevin isn’t a great actor, but his agent is right. So play the hand you’re dealt.
When I started out, I knew no one, but my one card was that I went to Syracuse. So I reached out to every single alumnus I could find: “Hey, I also went to Syracuse. Can you spare some advice for a fellow Orange?” When I tried to break into fantasy sports, my one card was my Hollywood career. So my TV sitcom agent was able to finagle a meeting for me with the NBA to pitch them a fantasy basketball show, and the NBA ended up hiring me for two years off that meeting.
6. Get in the door/get good at one thing
The most important thing is just to get in the door. When I was reaching out to folks after I graduated, I would be very clear: “I’m not asking for a job. I just want advice. Only advice. Can you spare 20 minutes?” Because everyone gets hit up for jobs. But when you say that — “I swear I’m not looking for a job” — they relax. So you get on the video call. You prep for the meeting; do research on the person you are meeting with and ask specific questions that show you’ve done your homework.
Don’t ask me, “How did you get started?” Do ask me, “How did you transition from sitcom writing to writing for RotoWorld?” If you’re polite, well-prepared and end the meeting when you say you will, some people will just say, “Good luck to you.” But some will say, “You know, I have a friend you should talk to. His company is looking for someone like you.” Or, “Hit me up in two months; I might have something.” Because now you’re someone he or she knows and has talked to and has seen you’re smart and earnest and prepared, not some random asking for a job like everyone else. It’s all about making connections.
I’ve told this story before, but the first time I got a chance to be on national radio, instead of calling in like everyone else, I offered to drive to the studio to do my five minutes in person. They thought it was weird, but OK. I did it just so I could meet them face-to-face. Because once you are in front of someone, you’re a living, breathing thing. Not some email or text that needs to be returned, like a million others. Sweep the floors, get lunch, intern, whatever it takes to be where the action is and get face time. If you can afford it (and I appreciate that everyone has different economic means and comes from different backgrounds with different responsibilities, so this just isn’t possible for some), work for free. I worked for Rotoworld for free for three years, building my audience and getting better at writing fantasy advice. I would do it again. Whatever it takes to just get in the door, especially in this environment. Is there something you can do part time from home for a company, for free, just to prove yourself? Get creative.
And once there, make yourself invaluable. Figure out what would make your boss’ life easier and do that. Really well. When starting out, get good at just one thing. Focus on that initially. I got good at writing scripts. Just that. But that got me a chance to write fantasy sports columns. And being good at that got me a chance to do TV, which got me a chance to do a podcast, to be on a weekly TV show, to eventually get my own show. All because I got good at one thing.
7. Brand trust
I talked earlier about brand aware. The other piece of it is “brand trust.” You get one call to a friend to bail you out of jail. Whom do you call? I bet not all of your friends make the cut. That’s “brand trust.” We all have people in our life we know we can count on and others we like, but … come on. You need to be the person at work who gets the jail call. Er … you know what I mean. With shrinking budgets and more scrutiny than ever on workplace behavior, you need strong “brand trust.” And that starts with how you carry yourself at all times and not posting anything dumb on social media. When someone asks me for advice, I look up their social media account. Because before I put my name out there, I need to know whether I can trust this person. Social media is definitely a tricky place. But if you can’t be trusted on social media, how can a company trust you with its brand, behind their microphone or even in a meeting?
8. No journey is made alone
You’ll need help to get where you’re going, and once you’re there, give back. You never know how things will go. Someone I hired for a job 12 years ago and gave a shot to is now one of my bosses at ESPN. You never know. One thing that gives me great joy is, over the years, there have been a number of people in the fantasy sports industry, at places other than ESPN, who have reached out for help/advice/connections with their career, and I always say yes, and it stays between us. It’s my pleasure. People such as Matthew Pouliot and Rick Wolf were so good to me when I started, so it’s my duty to give back. And who knows? One day, one of these people might hire me for something. Just always be nice. That’s good advice for life as well.
9. Be original
It’s OK to fail. You don’t know how big a ditch you can jump over until you fall in. That’s a phrase from my late, great Uncle Lester, and it’s very true. To get anywhere good, you’re gonna need to be original and have your own way of thinking. I always felt, if you took the bylines off a bunch of fantasy columns, you couldn’t tell who wrote what. But whether you love or hate me, you don’t need my byline to know it’s a Matthew Berry article. Same with the TV show. A lot of shows have three or four people at a desk. We have puppets and lime-colored graphics. It might not be your cup of tea, but it’s nothing you see anywhere else. Ultimately, whether you are starting out or starting over, it will take you time to find your way in this new world we live in. The only way that happens is by trying different stuff and being OK if it fails. I’ve failed more times than I can count.
10. It’s a long and winding road
When I was in college, the job I have didn’t exist yet. No one thought you could make a living talking about fake football on the internet while wearing makeup. Don’t expect success overnight, and be open to where your journey takes you. And realize it’s not a race. We all get to where we are supposed to go at our own pace. And while it might not seem like it now, I am a big believer in everything happens for a reason. Every time I was fired, it ended up being great for me.
So buckle in. And trust me, if you want it badly enough and work hard enough, it will happen for you. Not immediately and possibly not in the way you imagine on Day 1, but it will happen. Go get ’em.
Let’s get to it. As always, “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed expectations and “Hates” are players I think fall short. Thanks as always to The Stat-a-Pillar from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski and “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of “Fantasy Focus 06010” for their help at various points in this column. Here we go:
Quarterbacks I love in Week 6
Rodgers’ return trip to fantasy royalty took a bit of a detour last week with a brutal 3.8-point flop against the Bucs — and that was with Davante Adams back in the lineup. Legit the worst fantasy performance of his career in a game he didn’t leave early due to injury. I mean, Rodgers missed his receivers with the ball worse than he does that dog at the end of his latest insurance commercial. But when you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go, and I expect him to get back on track in Week 7 against the Texans, who have given up 19-plus fantasy points and multiple touchdowns to three of the past four quarterbacks they’ve faced. That includes 28.5 fantasy points and four passing touchdowns to Ryan Tanne-Thrill just last week. When Rodgers gets mad, he gets better quickly. The Texans rank 28th in pressure rate, so even with a banged-up offensive line, he’ll have a clean pocket. Don’t expect to see Errin’ Rodgers again this Sunday, as Houston allows touchdowns at the sixth-highest rate this year. I have Rodgers as a top-five play this week.
Ryan is a different quarterback with Jones comma Julio in the lineup. For the record, I am a different person with a couple of shots of Don Julio in me. Luckily, I no longer have to drink when I am forced to start Matt Ryan without Jones comma Julio. He’s back and that’s good. In Ryan’s three games without Julio this season, he averages 10.3 fantasy points per game, good for QB34 on the season, just ahead of Jeff Driskel. But in three games with Jones? Ryan is averaging 28.0, good enough to be QB2 on the season, behind only Russell Wilson. With a healthy Julio in town, Ryan faces a Lions defense that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in all but one game this season and is second to last in the NFL in pressure rate. He’ll have plenty of time to find his guy downfield. And then you can use the Don Julio to celebrate, not drown your sorrows.
Beginner’s luck doesn’t last this long. In his four career starts, Herbert has at least 22 fantasy points in three of them, and he has seven touchdown passes in his past two games. Herbert is legit. And he’ll prove it again this week against a Jaguars pass defense that allows the highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks in the entire NFL and the second-highest yards per attempt. Assuming the team doc doesn’t puncture his lung or something before the game, Herbert will come off the bye with Keenan Allen back and ready to roll.
Matthew Berry expects Justin Herbert to continue to put up great fantasy numbers, and therefore recommends picking him up and trading away a starting QB in order to get a better player.
Others receiving votes
(Looks up the quarterback facing the Falcons this week) … Ah, it’s Matthew Stafford! Welcome to the Love section, Mr. Stafford. Your selection provides a substantial fantasy-point package thanks to a Falcons team that has allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL and the second-most passing yards per game. … That Eagles offensive line has Carson Wentz running for his life every week, but he has often managed to pick up positive yardage while fleeing to safety: He has 35-plus rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in three of his past four games. That has allowed him to notch 21-plus fantasy points in each of those games. And now on Thursday, he gets the 1-5 Giants at home. … Joe Burrow put up 24.5 fantasy points against Cleveland on the road in Week 2. He should be in that range again this week facing a Browns defense that struggled mightily versus Pittsburgh last Sunday.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6
Newton’s running gives him a consistent floor, but the fact that New England’s passing offense isn’t running at all really limits his ceiling. Newton has just two touchdown passes on 116 attempts this season and is under 160 passing yards in three of his past four games. Until he starts getting some production from his wideouts, it’s hard to get super excited. None of that is likely to improve against the 49ers. Only once this season has an opposing quarterback thrown for 200 yards and multiple touchdowns against the 49ers. I have Cam outside my top 12 for the week.
Coming off his bye, Brees this week faces a Carolina team that causes opposing quarterbacks to say “bye” to fantasy points. Apparently my joke writer is on a bye this week too. Whatevs, kids, sometimes they miss the mark, just like I expect Brees to do this week from a fantasy POV. Getting Michael Thomas back obviously helps, but the Panthers allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks thanks to a league-low 6.1 yards per attempt against this season and only one game in which they’ve surrendered multiple touchdown passes. The Saints also are over a touchdown favorite as of this writing, so there won’t be the need for crazy passing from Brees like we saw against the Chargers.
Matthew Berry isn’t wild about Drew Brees’ upcoming schedule, but he is reserving fantasy judgment on Brees until he gets Michael Thomas back.
The Bears are allowing a league-low 11.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season. If quarterbacks facing the Bears were a single player, that quarterback would be QB33 on the season on a per-game basis. Do you want to start QB33 on your fantasy team? No, you do not. Hashtag: analysis. You’re welcome, America.
Running backs I love in Week 6
No need to Hunt for a RB this week, Kareem is the Dream! Yes, my joke writer took the week off, but he sent a pun and rhyming guy from the temp agency. Hang tight, kids, we’re gonna get through this together. And it starts with a huge bounce-back game from Hunt. In Week 2, Hunt had 20 fantasy points against the Bengals on just 12 touches. Considering that Hunt is averaging 16.5 touches per game since Nick Chubb got hurt and is sixth in the NFL in red zone touches, he should have another big game facing a Cincinnati defense that has allowed the third-most rushing yards to running backs so far this season.
Mike Evans is WR18 on the year. Rob Gronkowski is TE18. And you don’t want to know where Chris Godwin is on the list. But six weeks into the season, Ronald Jones is ranked RB13. Who knew in the preseason that Jones would be the big star in this star-studded offense? Not me, not fantasy managers and not the Buccaneers. (Why bring in Leonard Fournette if you knew Jones would produce like this?) But I do know that Jones now has at least 20 touches and 100 scrimmage yards in three straight games. I also know that even if Fournette is healthy, Jones is still likely to make it four straight against the Raiders, who allow the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs this season and the third-highest yards per carry allowed to RBs. The five backs with at least 13 touches against the Raiders this year have averaged 26.3 fantasy points. Jones is getting at least 13 carries and is a top-12 play for me this week.
Josh Kelley was the RB2 for the Chargers when Austin Ekeler was healthy … and, well, Josh Kelley has remained the RB2 for the Chargers while Ekeler is hurt. Jackson out-snapped Kelley in the Bolts’ previous contest 41-24 and saw six of seven running back targets on the way to 94 scrimmage yards on 20 touches. I expect a similar number of touches this week, which bodes well for this fantasy prospect against a Jaguars defense that has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards to running backs this year and the fifth-most fantasy points and also is tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns to RBs. Still available in about 35% of ESPN leagues as well.
Field Yates and Matthew Berry think Chargers running back Justin Jackson will have a big day against a struggling Jaguars defense.
Others receiving votes
There’s always concern that Matt Patricia and Darrell Bevell will continue forcing the ball to Adrian Peterson; all rebuilding teams should feed 35-year-old running backs, right? But it will be even harder to avoid making D’Andre Swift Detroit’s RB1 after the rookie’s breakout game last week: 27.3 fantasy points thanks to a career high in both touches (17) and carries (14). I like Swift to have another nice game on Sunday in a high-scoring affair facing a Falcons team that allows the second-most receptions and receiving yards to running backs. … With Raheem Mostert out with an ankle injury, it’s another must-start week for Jerick McKinnon. In the two games Mostert missed earlier this season, McKinnon saw 38 touches and averaged 19.7 fantasy points with a touchdown in each game. He also saw 12 targets in those games, and his Week 7 opponent, the New England Patriots, allow a 91% catch rate to running backs. … J.D. McKissic has at least six receptions and 9.5 fantasy points in each of his past three games. … Speaking of deeper league plays, Latavius Murray has averaged 12.6 touches over his past three games, while Carolina has allowed a league-high eight rushing touchdowns to running backs. Don’t be surprised if Murray falls into the end zone for you on one of his touches this Sunday.
Matthew Berry projects D’Andre Swift to be a top-20 play in Week 7 because he expects Swift to split the first-down work and to get all of the third-down work for the Lions.
Running backs I hate in Week 7
Opposing defenses are keying on Jacobs, who has been held under 3.8 yards per carry in four of his past five games. He also has had a touchdown-dependent ceiling this season, averaging just 11 fantasy points in his three games without a score. Considering Tampa Bay allows league lows in both rushing yards per game to running backs (48.5) and yards per carry (2.8), there’s little reason to think Jacobs’ numbers will begin to trend back in a positive direction in Week 7. You have to start him, and he is always a threat to fall into the end zone, but he is only a contrarian play in DFS, and he’s just outside my top 10 for the week.
I’m not ready to declare the James Robinson Cinderella story over, but he has looked like he’s running in slippers that don’t fit in his past two games: just 25 carries for 77 yards. Meanwhile, the Chargers are top 10 in fewest rushing yards allowed over the past four weeks and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown to a running back this season despite facing, in order, Joe Mixon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Mike Davis, the red-hot Ronald Jones and Alvin Kamara. I have Robinson as a low-end RB2, as he is likely to be closer to wicked stepsister than fantasy royalty again this week.
Yes, Freeman has emerged as the lead back for the Giants. But that likely won’t matter much against an Eagles defense that allows just 3.2 yards per carry to running backs this season — second best in the league to only the Bucs. Philadelphia also allows the sixth-fewest receptions per game to running backs this season and the eight-fewest fantasy points per game to backs. Plus, if you don’t start him, you don’t have to watch Thursday night’s epic battle for NFC East supremacy/hilarity.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots, vs. 49ers
Harris is averaging just 16.5 snaps per game. Yes, snaps, not touches. He also has just one target on three total routes run for the entire season. Of course, it’s the Patriots, so watch him get 25 touches on Sunday. But all we have to go on is what we have seen, and so far, we’ve seen a lot of running backs not named Harris out there. It’s hard to produce from a fantasy perspective with that kind of workload. It’s even harder facing a defense that allows just 3.4 yards per carry to running backs. Harris is a touchdown-dependent RB4 this week.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 7
The Golladay season seems to arrive earlier every year, doesn’t it? That’s right. Pun guy stuck around for pass-catchers. Kenny has at least 14 fantasy points in all three of his games this year. And 14 seems a worst-case scenario this week against the Falcons. Atlanta is dead last among all defenses in receptions and yards allowed on deep passes. Also, receivers who have at least four catches in a game versus Atlanta this season are averaging 19.7 fantasy points per game — and Golladay has at least four receptions in every game this season. A top-six play for me this week, get your Golladay shopping done early and have him in every possible lineup in Week 7!
Fantasy doesn’t have to be that hard, kids. Cleveland has allowed the most receptions and yards to the slot this season and is tied for the second-most touchdowns. Good? We done here? OK, fine … here’s more: Wide receivers who have seen seven-plus targets versus Cleveland this season are averaging 18.1 fantasy points, and Boyd averages eight targets per game. Really? You still want more? In Week 2 against the Browns, Boyd had 20.2 fantasy points. How ’bout now? We good now? OK, great.
We’ve talked a lot about how Terry McScorin (so help me I will make that a thing if it kills me) is matchup-proof. It doesn’t matter who defends him. So imagine how I feel about him facing a team that doesn’t bother to defend anyone at all. Dallas has allowed 11 touchdowns to wide receivers through six games. And of the eight different receivers to see six or more targets versus Dallas this season, they’ve averaged 22.7 fantasy points per game. Don’t be borin’, start Terry McScorin! (Rhyme guy is back, baby!)
Henry has been a life raft thrown into the fetid ocean water that is the tight end position this season, putting up double-digit fantasy points in four of his five games. At the same time, he has yet to hit 15 fantasy points. So he’s like a raft, but one that’s a little underinflated and could use a good scrubbing. But if Henry is going to have a breakout game, this could be the week. I know … after Herbert and Jackson, you’d think I’d have run out of bad Jaguars stats, but I didn’t! I have more! Jacksonville allows 14.9 yards per reception to tight ends, second most in the league, and it also has surrendered five touchdowns to tight ends so far this season (tied for fifth most).
David Njoku‘s return to the lineup hasn’t been a pooper for Hooper. In fact, Hooper’s usage has gone up in recent weeks, with at least five catches and 10 fantasy points in each of his past three games, along with a team-high 25.6% target share. I say Mr. Hooper’s run of success continues this week against a Cincinnati defense that allows the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends.
Others receiving votes
We saw on Monday night what a healthy Christian Kirk can do as a deep receiver. Kirk — not DeAndre Hopkins — leads Arizona in deep targets this season, while Arizona’s Week 7 opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, allows the most catches and yards per game on deep receptions this season. … It’s not DJ Chark Jr. or even Laviska Shenault Jr. who is Jacksonville’s highest-ranked fantasy receiver this year. It’s Keelan Cole Sr. Cole has at least six targets in four of his past five games. And this week, he faces a Chargers defense that allows a league-high 10.7 yards per pass attempt to the slot. … If we just change Tee Higgins‘ name to “A.J. Green,” will fantasy managers finally start believing he is legit? Higgins has at least seven targets and 10 fantasy points in four straight games. (Green has only one double-digit fantasy game in his past five.) This week, Higgins gets a Cleveland defense that allows the third-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers. … T.J. Hockenson has at least four targets in every game this season and a touchdown in three of his five games. That sets up well against the Falcons, who allow the second-most fantasy points per game to tight ends and have allowed a league-high seven TE touchdowns. … Houston let Anthony Firkser go for 8-113-1 last week on nine targets, so imagine what will happen to the Texans against fantasy superstar Big Robert Tonyan. Am I being sarcastic calling him a “fantasy superstar”? I’m honestly not sure. But I am sure Tonyan needs to be in Week 7 lineups. #BabyKittle.
Field Yates and Matthew Berry both like Tee Higgins’ matchup against the Browns and would start him over other, more established WRs.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7
This is nothing about Smith-Schuster’s matchup this week. Tennessee doesn’t have a great track record of shutting down wide receivers. This is about what the role the Steelers have given their former top receiver. Look at this blind résumé reveal we did on The Fantasy Show on ESPN+ this week.
As unbelievable as it seems, the Steelers have turned JuJu Smith-Schuster into 2018 Ryan Switzer. Guess where Switzer is today? Not on an active NFL roster, that’s where. I’m not suggesting that’s where Smith-Schuster is headed, just that he shouldn’t be in your fantasy roster’s starting lineup until we see improved and sustained production.
You still have to start him — I currently have him at WR15 — but this might be his toughest matchup all year. Led by Jalen Ramsey, the Rams’ secondary is allowing the second-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. “Sure, but Allen Robinson is matchup-proof.” Maybe not this matchup, though, and here’s my proof: In Week 11 of last season against the Rams, Robinson had just four catches for 15 yards on six targets. Again, you’re likely starting him, but definitely lower your expectations.
This pains me to do. But while the Rams allow the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, Chicago is right behind them in third. The Bears also have given up just one touchdown to a wideout so far this year and allow a league-low 56% catch rate to the position. The Kupp will not runneth over with fantasy points in Week 7. What’s more painful, you think? Kupp’s matchup or that last line? Toss-up for me.
I haven’t had Jared Cook on the Hate list enough for my liking this season, so let’s remedy that. Cook hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game since Week 1, and his target share has declined every week this season. Just four targets on 51 routes in the past two games. And all this declining usage was without Michael Thomas for much of the year! Thomas is back, and now Cook faces a Carolina defense allowing the third-fewest yards per target to tight ends this season. So Cook is firmly back on the Hate list for Week 7. Ahhh, that feels better. All is right with the world.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, may or may not bring back the pun guy next week. Hey, we all need a job.
Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home
On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.
Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.
Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.
The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.
“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”
Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.
“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.
Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.
“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”
The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.
“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”
That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.
The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.
On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”
There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.
“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”
For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.
“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”
Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.
“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”
There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.
“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”
Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.
Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.
“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”
With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.
“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”
Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.
Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment
The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.
“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.
The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.
Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.
“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.
Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”
The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.
Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.
“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”
Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.
The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls
With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.
At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.
What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
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