-- I don't know, man. I honestly don't know.
When you give advice for a living, as I do, that's what we call "a less than ideal answer."
You're always supposed to know. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong, but you're not supposed to say "I don't know."
This is the start of my 17th year of writing a weekly "Love/Hate" column, giving advice for the upcoming week in fantasy football. And usually the first column of the year is a fun one, full of hope and excitement for the upcoming season. But if you've looked at the news at any point in the past year ... it has been a tough one for a lot of people and there are a lot of problems that don't seem to have a lot of answers anytime soon. And while some problems are very public and affect a great deal of people, there are also very personal tragedies that our friends, family and neighbors have to deal with every day.
I'd like you to meet Scott.
Scott is awesome. He's a military man, currently in his 14th year of service for our country, a master sergeant in the Air Force. Thirty-seven years old, Scott is also a family man. Married to Erica, they have a big family. Anton is 16, Xander is 12 and the twins, Layla and Andrew, are 2.
He's also one of us.
"I started playing fantasy football my fourth year in the military," Scott wrote to me. "As a way to get to know the guys in my new unit. I immediately became obsessed and it wasn't long until I was routinely called the 'fantasy guy.'" When I tell you Scott is one of us, I mean it. Obsessed doesn't begin to describe him. "I was in eight leagues and every free non-family moment (in addition to the kids, my wife was pregnant with our fifth) was spent managing those teams. I loved it."
Everything was going great for Scott until about Week 12 last year, when he learned that he and Erica's unborn child had a serious birth defect and was given only a 50 percent chance to live.
Scott continued: "Fantasy football became my escape. ... My days were spent shuttling my wife and 2-year-old twins between doctors and hospitals, running tests and taking scans. My nights, after I comforted my wife to sleep, were spent scouring the waiver wires and proposing trades on my dimly lit phone. It was all I could do to keep myself sane."
It was weeks of dread and searching before there was some hope. Scott and Erica heard of an experimental procedure that could potentially save their child's life. Initial tests all went well; they were prime candidates to be accepted in a clinical trial. But as their hope was rekindled, they were dealt another devastating blow. A final test revealed another genetic disorder in the unborn child, a rare condition of which there had been only 274 known infant cases. That, combined with the first diagnosis, meant certain death.
"As you can imagine, we were crushed. We returned our crib ... and started looking at caskets."
Upon hearing the diagnosis, Scott and Erica were told they could terminate the pregnancy if they wanted to. They did not.
And so, as Scott tended to his still pregnant wife and his four other kids trying to grasp this tragedy, he expressed how important fantasy became to him. "It was my only normalcy," he wrote. "I never let fantasy football come before guiding my family through this tragedy, of course, but, honestly, it was the only non-dying-baby-related thoughts I had."
Scott went eight-for-eight in his leagues in terms of making the playoffs and won three championships. And soon after that, his son was born. Most unborn children with this disorder don't make it full term but young Kevin was a fighter. He made it full term and was born in March. "After giving birth, Erica had to be rushed to immediate surgery and my son was handed over to me. Kevin lived for 43 minutes and died in my arms.
"Erica came out of surgery successfully and my wife, my kids and I buried my son. We have shed countless tears. It has been and continues to be a painful time for myself and my family. As the months dragged on, I was looking forward to the simplicity of fantasy football to return. However, now that it is here ... I couldn't seem to care less. I am emailing you because in my opinion you are the best source when it comes to the living the 'fantasy life.'
"I quit six of my leagues, including three I was the commissioner of. At this time I am usually making my own rankings but this year I just grabbed the first cheat sheet I could find. I went down to just the two sentimental leagues that I have been in for years and even then I just don't get the happiness I always got before. So that, sir, is my question. ... How do I get it back?"
I don't know, man.
I've had this email for more than two weeks and I've thought of little else since I got it. And I don't know.
I spoke with Scott on the phone for more than an hour.
And I don't know.
I can't imagine living the hell they did. I feel bad and I send condolences and well wishes and heartfelt thoughts and blah blah blah. None of it matters. Words are inadequate. I can't pretend to fathom what Scott and his family are going through. What any family that has to go through that is dealing with.
No parent should ever outlive their child.
One of the things I love about fantasy football is that it is a distraction. A hobby. Its own self-contained little universe that exists (mostly) away from the real world, and the issues and problems that brings. Fantasy football is something that, if we are doing it right, we do for fun. A helluva lot of fun, actually.
And I am so happy to hear that, if even for a brief moment last season, it was able to provide a little relief for Scott, allowing him to be there for his family when they needed him the most.
But to answer your question, Scott, about how you get that feeling back ... here's the best answer I got.
I don't think you do. At least not initially.
Look, the reason you don't care about fantasy football right now is because you shouldn't. You are grieving, and rightfully so. Like I said, I can't begin to imagine what you are going through but I have no doubt if I ever had to go through anything close to that I would desperately look for something, anything to get my mind off it. I am by no means an expert in this (or many things, to be frank) so I strongly recommend talking with a professional therapist if you aren't already. For you and your entire family.
But you asked for my opinion, so here it is: You need to grieve. You need to come to emotional grips with what you've been through and then, and only then, do things return to at least somewhat normal. When that will be, I don't know, but when you are ready, fantasy football will still be there for you, my friend. And that's when you'll get that feeling back. When you're ready. And not before.
Rest in peace, Kevin.
I'm looking forward to a great season and I can't wait to have fun, but as we embark on our 17-week journey, I want you to take a moment and think about Scott, Erica and Kevin. Because as much as I love our little game, it is a game of passion. People do and will get very passionate about players, games, trades and other league mates. And while I love that passion, realize that what's important to you about fantasy football may not be what is important about fantasy football to someone else, you know?
Which brings us, meandering slowly, into the first Love/Hate of the year. Hopefully by now you know the drill. This is not a "start/sit" column but rather a column about players who I feel will exceed or fall short of their normal expectations. For specific answers on player-vs.-player start/sit questions, please consult my rankings. This year, I will also be doing PPR ranks, with Week 1 being published shortly. And as a company man, a reminder that I will be on Fantasy Football Now every Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on ESPN2 up until kickoff. Tune in!
Finally, keep in mind that while I try to avoid obvious players for either "Love" or "Hate" the fact is that those can be helpful, especially for those who play DFS. I hope everyone gets what they need out of this column either way.?
Quarterbacks I love in Week 1
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Rodgers is coming off a bad season (for him), the Jags are really improved and the game is in Jacksonville. Yeah, yeah, I get it. And this is a tougher game than you'd think for Green Bay. But whatevs, dude. Rodgers has multiple passing touchdowns or 300 yards passing in 12 of his past 13 regular-season games with Jordy Nelson on the field. Jordy's back, and so am I.
Drew Brees, Saints: The Raiders are another very improved defense from the offseason, and I don't care. Brees is at home. In the past decade, there have been only five times a QB has scored at least 200 fantasy points at home in one season: MVP Aaron Rodgers in 2014, MVP Cam Newton in 2015, Drew Brees in 2011, Drew Brees in 2013, Drew Brees in 2015. Death, taxes and you start Drew Brees at home. Shootout city.
Matthew Stafford, Lions: Sunday's game against the Colts has a high projected point total, according to the folks in Vegas, and I think they're right. You can't corral a Cooter, you can only hope to contain it. The Colts get Cootered in this one, as the Lions won't run, but will throw, throw, throw against an Indy team that will struggle to generate pressure on Stafford.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Big Ben's going to have his way here, using a spread passing game, bunch formations, crossing routes and pick plays while attacking the middle of a mediocre Washington defense. Expect a lot of screens and yards after the catch on short routes by Pittsburgh's wide receivers. I hope I'm wrong, but as a Washington fan, I'm nervous Josh Norman gets a bit exposed here, and given the Redskins' struggles in generating a pass rush, Roethlisberger should have all night to throw.
Kirk Cousins, Redskins: Washington will struggle to run the ball and is unlikely to stop the Steelers as well, which means what, class? Come on now, you throw. They will throw a ton, especially in the middle of the field, where Jordan Reed should have a field day. See? Class, field day ... I got a whole theme going here. Cousins picks up where he left off last season in a Monday Night shootout.
Others receiving votes: No byes this week and only minimal injuries, but if you are in need or in a deeper league, yes, Robert Griffin III has learned how to slide. He has a cannon arm, talent around him to go get it, rushing yards and a nice matchup with a Philly team that gave up the second-most passing touchdowns last season. You could do worse, and let's face it, you probably have. ... The only fear Texans owners should have is that Houston gets up big and stops throwing, because otherwise, Brock Osweiler should have a strong debut against a Bears team that is devoid of talent on defense. Osweiler had 250 yards and two touchdowns against Chicago last year.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 1
Cam Newton, Panthers: It's hard to bench the No. 1 quarterback taken in most drafts, but this certainly is the lowest he'll be ranked all season, and he's only a contrarian play in daily. The Broncos gave up fewer than 12 points a game to opposing QBs last season and no rushing touchdowns to a quarterback, either. Newton will stay for the whole news conference this time, but expecting huge numbers on the road in Denver is unwise.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: One hundred twenty-two. That's how many consecutive pass attempts Rivers has against the Chiefs without a touchdown pass. The Chargers will try to establish the run here against a defense that is missing a few stars but is still formidable and allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs last season. On the road in Arrowhead against a K.C. team that he failed to throw a TD against in two games last season, averaging less than 225 passing yards, puts Rivers well below where he was drafted in Week 1.
Andy Dalton, Bengals: On the road and without a lot of the weapons he has been used to in the passing game, the Red Rifle can be expected to play conservatively against a Jets defense that was top 10 in fewest passing yards allowed in 2015. No Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu on the field, and no Hue Jackson calling plays this year, so expect a bit of a learning curve here. Which is fine, but that doesn't mean he has to learn while starting for you now, does it?
Running backs I love in Week 1
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys: As Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." The Giants spent the offseason upgrading a defense that last season was bottom-10 in limiting yards before contact per rush. And it may very well pay dividends. But not this week, as the Cowboys will ease Dak Prescott into service with an insane dose of Zeke - the personification of the aforementioned punch in the mouth -- behind the league's best offensive line. You know who just caught the Zeke-a virus? The New York Football Giants, that's who.
DeAngelo Williams, Steelers: The fantasy football equivalent of "smoke 'em while you got em," this is gonna be a fun three weeks while Le'Veon Bell is suspended.
Spencer Ware, Chiefs: With Jamaal Charles unlikely to play, Ware will not only be the man, he will be THE MAN. Every time this guy has gotten a shot he's produced. The four career games (including playoffs) in which Ware has gotten at least 10 touches, he has averaged 5.69 yards per carry, has scored in all four games and averaged more than 16 fantasy points a game. I like the matchup with San Diego, and the Chiefs' conservative game plan plays to Ware's strengths. Charcandrick West will work in some, but Ware is the guy you want.
Christine Michael, Seahawks: A bit of a gut call here since we don't know how much Thomas Rawls will play, but all signs seem to indicate that he will be eased back in and Michael will continue the momentum from the preseason with the majority of the work. And work is exactly what he will do against a Dolphins team that gave up the most points to opposing RBs last season. Seattle is the only team to run the ball 500 times in each of the past two seasons, and at home, with a big expected lead in the second half, watch Pete Carroll lean on Michael, who knows he has a small window to carve out a big role for himself.
Others receiving votes: I have a sneaky feeling that the Browns-Eagles game will be a shootout, more about no confidence in the defenses than awesome offense, but whatever. So I like the Browns' running backs here in a flex sort of way and, gut call here, I bet Isaiah Crowell punches one in. ... It's not easy to run on Arizona and last season, running backs caught 78.6 percent of their targets against the Cardinals, averaging 9.6 yards per catch, making James White pretty interesting to me. ... With limited pass-catchers available for Andy Dalton (and facing a tough secondary), I expect dump-off passes to be one way that Cincy moves the ball Sunday, making Giovani Bernard -- only 11 running backs had more touches AND more yards from scrimmage last year than Gio -- a nice play this week. ... Did you see this notebook from Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen? I thought the note about Darren Sproles being used in a similar role as Danny Woodhead was under Frank Reich in San Diego (Reich is now in Philly) was really interesting. Those in deeper PPR leagues or looking for a cheap DFS play should consider Sproles here in Carson Wentz's first start.
Running backs I hate in Week 1
Jeremy Hill, Bengals: One of the reasons I like Bernard is that the Jets' interior line is no joke. New York ranked as a top-five defense in terms of fewest rush attempts against, fewest yards per carry and fewest rushing touchdowns allowed. In close, they were even tougher last season, as the Jets allowed just four rushing touchdowns on 53 attempts inside the red zone, far and away the best rate of 2015. There's always the chance Hill gets into the end zone, of course, but this one sets up as a "Gio" game.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: Twelve carries for 29 yards against the Broncos in the Super Bowl (he did score, so there's that to hang your hat on if you need to start him). Game flow will determine how much run he gets, but he's not really a part of the passing game (just 16 receptions last season) so his hope of doing damage is through Denver's defensive front. Better days ahead.
Arian Foster, Dolphins: Insert "30-year-old running back on the road against Seattle" analysis here.
Matt Jones, Redskins: Coming off an injury, Jones is expected to share the workload with preseason standout Robert Kelley (very much worth a stash, if available in your league) and third-down back Chris Thompson. The Steelers allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to RBs last season and as I noted in the QB section above, I expect a lot of scoring this week. Jones needs to score here to be worth a start in standard leagues this week. How lucky do you feel?
Wide receivers I love in Week 1
Sammy Watkins, Bills: He's back, baby, and Tyrod Taylor is very aware of that. Rex Ryan is going to come into Baltimore and run LeSean McCoy right at them, setting up play-action, which plays to both Taylor's and Watkins' strengths. Despite missing three games last season, Watkins finished second among all receivers in fantasy points scored on passes thrown 15-plus yards. Because of Taylor's mobility and the Buffalo offensive line, expect a clean pocket for Taylor, and if you give him time, Watkins will get open. I'm not worried about "rust" or the injury.
Jordy Nelson, Packers: Speaking of being back, yes, the Jags are improved on defense, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Jacksonville allowed receivers to score multiple touchdowns or total 200-plus yards in the majority (nine) of games last season.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: Yes, a regression from last year is coming, but it's not starting this week. A new coaching staff should help some of the Dolphins' problems from last season, but not all of them. They gave up the fifth-most 40-yard pass plays (13) and had the fifth-highest completion percentage against on passes thrown 15-plus yards (47.8 percent). At home against a new defense, Baldwin picks up where he left off.
Others receiving votes: Willie Snead has been one my favorite mid-to-late-round targets this year and he'll pay dividends early in a high-scoring game, seeing much of his time against D.J. Hayden, a matchup he'll win more often than not. ... Podcast listeners know that Terrelle Pryor has been one of my (and Anita Marks') late-round targets. Snag him off the waiver wire now, because there's going to be a line come next Tuesday. ... You know what they say: You can take New Orleans out of the Rob Ryan business but you can't take the Rob Ryan out of New Orleans. Gimme some Michael Crabtree this week. ... And speaking of "No. 2 wideouts," I like Donte Moncrief to have the better Sunday than T.Y. Hilton. While they're already close for me in terms of ability, the talented Darius Slay should spend more of his time tangling with Hilton than Moncrief, making Moncrief the better play for me.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 1
Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers: On a snap count, still a little rusty, on the road, facing the team that gave up the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers? Yeah, that's not a top-20 play this week.
Kevin White, Bears: I get it, everyone is all hyped for him, but slow your roll. Or whoever has White in your league and is all proud of himself/herself should slow it down. White is still raw and I don't see him getting the best of Johnathan Joseph, whom he will see a lot of.
Michael Floyd, Cardinals: This feels like a David Johnson/ Larry Fitzgerald game to me, as the Patriots were sixth best in completion percentage against on passes of 15 yards or more. One of the reasons they defend the deep ball so well is they get pressure on the QB, ranking second in sacks last season. Floyd is going to have some big weeks this year, but this doesn't shape up to be one of them.
DeVante Parker, Dolphins: Well, there's certainly plenty of room on the bandwagon these days. Parker is a bit banged up and has seemingly been passed on the depth chart by Kenny Stills, but he'll still get run, as Adam Gase will be above average in usage of three-wide sets. But on the road against the Seahawks is not the spot to experiment.
Tight ends I love in Week 1
Jordan Reed, Redskins: Yeah, yeah, a crazy-obvious name. Everyone is starting him, but I just wanted to put him here to say that there there's no one on the Steelers who can guard him and he's worth every penny this week in daily.
Coby Fleener, Saints: I know, I know. I heard the reports, too, about Fleener and Drew Brees not being in sync. And I heard all about the improved Oakland defense. But I want as much of the Raiders-Saints game as I can this week, so I am putting Fleener in here just to tell you to ignore all that, as the Raiders gave up a score to tight ends on one of every 6.5 receptions in 2015. Last season, Fleener had three double-digit scoring efforts despite splitting TE duties with Dwayne Allen in an underachieving Colts offense. Now he has Brees, who got Benjamin Watson career highs of 73 catches, 800 yards and 6 TDs last season, and no competition for snaps.
Others receiving votes: When I say I want as much of the Oakland-New Orleans game as I can get, I mean Clive Walford as well. ... Jason Witten always kills the Giants and has a rookie QB who will be looking for short passes in the middle of the field. ... In seven games last season with Blaine Gabbert at QB, Vance McDonald was on a pace to be a top-10 tight end. They have a connection and while the Rams have a good defense, they're not the '85 Bears. Gabbert has to throw to someone and that someone is Vance McDonald (and Torrey Smith). ... You can't teach 6-foot-7 and that's exactly how tall Jesse James of the Steelers is. He'll score on Monday night against Washington, because everyone is going to score on Monday night.
Tight ends I hate in Week 1
Antonio Gates, Chargers: The best defense against tight ends last year was the Chiefs (opponents completed only 54.5 percent of passes thrown to TEs against them), and you know I feel the Chargers will go conservative here in the passing game. Gates is going to need to score to be worth anything this week.
Jimmy Graham, Seahawks: Don't get cute. You need to see him first, if he even plays. For all their faults last season, the Dolphins were actually a top-10 defense in defending the tight end.
Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers, Packers: One of them will probably have a solid game, but I have no idea which it will be. We need to see how this duo splits up snaps before we can trust one as a starting option.
And that's all we have space for this week. Thanks, as always, to Thirsty Kyle Soppe of ESPN Fantasy for his help, and good luck in Week 1!
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, can't believe the season is finally here! He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.