We had been at the restaurant for maybe 30 seconds. The waiter hadn't even put down the menus yet when Beth looked at me. “Before we start, you should know I have three kids.” She smiles at me now. “This is the part of the date where you run away screaming.”
That was how my now wife started our very first date. I think I mumbled something like “Please. I love kids.” Which, in theory, I did. I say in theory because I had no kids of my own. We had both married young, we had both gotten divorced, but all I had from my first marriage was a small, yappy dog. So I had no actual idea how I felt about young kids. But hey, it's a first date - what am I going to do, argue?
The first date went well, so did the second and we kept going. We had been going out for maybe seven months when Beth decided it had become serious enough between us to introduce me to the kids and see how we all felt. We hadn't picked a specific time to meet the kids but we discussed that “it should happen at some point soon.”
A few days later she tells me to meet her at her friend April's house where they are having a BBQ. It's a nice spring day so I show up at the party, see April's husband Gary so I sit down on a bench near him to say hi. And as I am sitting there, Beth walks up in a hurry and says “I'll be right back I gotta handle something real quick.” And with that she throws a small four-year-old boy in my lap, binky in his mouth, sleeping peacefully.
And that's how I met Connor Moran.
Beth didn't return for over 30 minutes. Gary had left at this point and I didn't really know a lot of Beth's friends that well at this point. I hadn't expected to meet the kids at this party. Beth sprung it on me. So I really didn't have any idea what to do I just figured I didn't want to wake him up. So I just sat there, holding him for a half hour, watching him sleep without a care in world. Pretty sure that was the moment I fell in love with the kid.
Beth often jokes I loved Connor before her and she's probably right. I loved all her kids as soon as I met them and that was a big reason why it works between us. When I met them David was 10 and Matt was 8.
But Connor was 4.
Hold that thought.
It is now this past Tuesday night, November 29th. It's late at night and I'm holding a beer at a bar in Cheshire, CT. From the back I hear a familiar voice. “Come on! We are all doing shots of Fireball!”
I turn and see my wife handing out shots to the group. And soon after, myself, my wife, my wife's ex-husband Dave (Connor's father) and a bunch of other parents of Cheshire High School football players are now doing Fireball shots at midnight on a Tuesday night.
Because earlier that night, in the quarterfinals of the state's playoffs, by a score of 24-14, the Cheshire Rams, ranked eighth in the state in class “L” (Large), had defeated the No. 1 team in Connecticut, the 9-1 St. Joseph Hogs.
Now hold that thought.
When Beth and I got married I moved to Cheshire. Beth shares custody of the boys with their father, who is also very involved in their lives. (And, in fact, Beth and I have a great relationship with the boys' father and his wife. Dave and I are, in fact, co-coaching Connor's parks and rec basketball team this year. But that's another column.) So obviously, with the boys still young and in school I was moving there. She wasn't moving to me.
So I'm new to this town where many of the people have lived there for years. It's a close-knit community where many of the kids on the team have parents that played for Cheshire when they went to Cheshire High School. And here I am, a total outsider, knowing no one in town. I'm just Beth's husband.
Back to 4-year-old Connor.
As I mentioned, his older brothers were 8 and 10 when I met their mom (and 10 and 12 when we got married), so while they have never made me feel this way, there's a part of me that feels like I just sort of showed up midway through, if that makes any sense.
But Connor was four when I met him. He's never known life without me there. And I've never known life in Cheshire without him.
Or Cheshire football.
Connor started playing football in third grade and I was there for his first practice. His first game. I've been there as he has played throughout the years.
With the same group of kids. Same group of parents.
Was there when they get their equipment every August. Was there at every banquet at the end of the year. Was there in eighth grade when they beat Madison to win the title.
And over the years, I was no longer an outsider but a part of this group.
A special group of kids.
A special group of parents.
We tailgate before games together, we've hung out socially (shout out to C.J. Sparrows), the kids have all been over at my house too many times to count, we've been to and overseen proms and parties and after-parties and all the typical things that come up when you're dealing with a lot of kids, from grade school to teenagers. We've mourned the loss of one of our own together, when “Big Mike” Simeone unexpectedly and tragically passed away earlier this year.
They have become, in some way, an extended family.
For the adults.
For the kids.
And for me.
Now back to the big win against St. Joes.
I could talk specifically about Connor. He's a defensive back / outside linebacker who is a tackling machine, the toughest kid I've ever met. I could talk about the game and the upset of St. Joes. The great defense (Three interceptions! Two blocked punts!). The strong rushing. The long passing plays for touchdowns. Our incredible kicking game. I could talk about the upcoming semi-final game against a very tough 10-1 New Canaan team, the fourth seed.
I could talk about the other guys on the team, all great players and even better kids.
But, as always, I'd rather just talk about me
Because I've been around these kids since third grade.
Because of all their parents, my good friends.
Because of Connor.
I've never had a win that felt better than that.
Not a Washington Super Bowl. Not Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony winning the NCAA Tournament. Not any fantasy football title.
I've been on TV every Sunday morning during football season the last 15 ½ years, except twice. Once when my wife gave birth to our twin daughters and once when I had COVID.
But when it was announced the semi-final game was this Sunday at 12:30, I knew I would be missing at least part of a third show. It's my first year at NBC and we are working to build something here, the show is literally called “Fantasy Football Pregame with Matthew Berry” but none of that matters. I'm not missing this game.
And among the reasons I love working for NBC? As soon as I mentioned it, they said “Of course. Go to the game. Watch your kid. Don't give it a second thought. Family first.”
So yeah, nothing is keeping me from that game.
Connor is a senior and he does not want to play at the next level. So this will either be his second to last game or his last. And I don't expect my 11-year-old daughters to play football for Cheshire.
So this is it. I hope they win. I would love it if they win.
But really, since third grade, this team and that kid have already given me everything I could have ever asked for. So they're already champions in my book.
This is what it looks like after you beat the No. 1 team in the state. No. 24 at the bottom is Connor.
Let's get to it. Go Rams!
Quarterbacks I Love in Week 13:
Joe Burrow vs. Kansas City
Over his last four games, Joe Burrow has eight touchdown passes and has averaged more than 265 passing yards per game and 19.3 PPG. And by the way…those four games? They were all played without Ja'Marr Chase at his disposal. Joe Burrow is, as those of who grind tape till the wee hours of the morning we call it, “good at football.” Not only is Chase slated to return this week, but he'll return against a Kansas City defense allowing passing touchdowns at the second-highest rate on the season. In fact, Kansas City has allowed multiple touchdown passes in all but two games this season and those were against Malik Willis and Bryce Perkins. Burrow also has a nice track record against the Chiefs, averaging 27.2 PPG against KC last season (including the playoffs). In a game with a total of 52.5 as of this writing (highest on the Week 13 slate), I have Joe “Is Good at Football” Burrow as my QB3 this week. (My nicknames are almost good as my analysis.)
Justin Herbert at Las Vegas
Brandon Staley is one of the most analytics-driven coaches in the NFL, so it was no surprise last week when he went for two and the win against the Cardinals. And as a stats-loving coach, Staley will be pleased to know that there are many statistics in favor of his quarterback Justin Herbert here in Week 13. For example, in the two games since Keenan Allen returned, Herbert is averaging 23.7 PPG (compared to 16.2 prior). And this: Herbert has 77 rushing yards over his past three games. And also this: the Raiders allow the second-most fantasy PPG to quarterbacks on the season. And, finally, this: Over the past four weeks, Las Vegas is allowing a league-high 76% completion rate and more than eight yards per pass attempt. With all this data at his disposal, I would like to make the bold prediction that Brandon Staley will start Justin Herbert this week. (And you should also start him in fantasy, too. He's my QB5.)
Trevor Lawrence at Detroit
Trevor Lawrence's performance in the fourth quarter last week in a comeback win over the Ravens was a glimpse at why Jacksonville drafted him first overall a season ago. And I think Lawrence looks just as excellent again this week. Is it because I believe Lawrence has officially made “the leap”? Somewhat. Is it because I am secretly in a jealous rage of love and obsession with his long, flowing locks? Possibly. But it's most likely because I know Lawrence will be playing against the Detroit Lions. Detroit allows a league-high 23.8 PPG to quarterback, is giving up the third-most yards per completion on the season and they've also surrendered 40+ rushing yards to a quarterback in four consecutive weeks. Lawrence, by the way, has 18+ fantasy points in four of his past six games. I have him inside my Top 7 quarterbacks in Week 13.
Others receiving votes: ... No one wants to be home for the holidays more than Jared Goff. On the season, he's averaging 20.4 PPG at Ford Field, compared to 8.5 PPG at non-Ford Fields. This week he gets a home game against a Jaguars team allowing the seventh-most fantasy PPG to quarterbacks. Lions-Jags also has the second-highest over-under on the Week 13 slate. … Conventional wisdom has long been that Jimmy Garoppolo is San Francisco's weak link. Well, bad news for the rest of the NFL because their weak link also seems quite strong. Garoppolo has now put up 13-plus fantasy points in eight consecutive games and is QB10 in PPG since Week 5. Now he gets a Miami defense allowing red zone touchdown passes at the second-highest rate. … I get it. You're sick of Aaron Rodgers, you're done with Aaron Rodgers, he killed you last week and many times this season. But he's also thrown at least two touchdown passes each of the last three games and in four of the last five. I think he's useable as a upper end QB2 this week against a Bears defense that he not only “owns.” But also just got lit up by Mike White for over 300 yards. Speaking of Mike White, he is probably even being added on waivers this week in Zach Wilson's mom's friends league. Last week he led all quarterbacks with 11.3 yards per pass attempt. This week he faces a Vikings defense coming off three straight games allowing 300+ passing yards. The Vikings have also given up multiple touchdown passes in five of their past six.
Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 13:
Tom Brady vs. New Orleans
In Brady's last two games against the Saints dating back to last season, he has a single touchdown pass, a completion percentage of 53% and is averaging just 7.1 PPG. In three of his last four games against New Orleans, Brady has single-digit fantasy points. And in his five regular season games against New Orleans since joining Tampa Bay, he's averaging 12.4 PPG and has thrown more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (7). The Saints treat Tom Brady worse than … well, the entire calendar year of 2022 has treated Tom Brady. Given that New Orleans is the seventh-best pass defense over the last month while also being a bottom five run defense, I'd expect a run-heavy attack against the Saints in Week 13's second lowest total. It's hard to see Brady being a top-12 option this week, and the fact that All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs is out against a Saints team that ranks eighth in pressure rate over the past four weeks doesn't help. I have Brady outside my Top 14 quarterbacks for Week 13.
Daniel Jones vs. Washington
Daniel Jones said this week that he's excited to finally play meaningful football games in December. Pffft. I thought this guy had a Duke education? If Daniel Jones was smart, he would know that he's been in meaningful games in December his whole career, because December is the fantasy playoffs. He would also know that since Week 5, Washington is allowing the fewest passing yards per game in the NFL. Jones has one or zero touchdown passes in eight of 11 games this season and, with less than 25 rushing yards in three of his past four games, his high floor is starting to drop. Consider dropping Jones out of your starting lineup in Week 13. He's just my QB 22.
Running Backs I Love in Week 13:
Josh Jacobs vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Welcome to No. 1, baby! It's been a quite a, ahem, run this year for Josh Jacobs, who was told the Raiders didn't want to pick up his fifth year option, then he played the first two full series for Las Vegas in the first preseason game as all the other stars – Derek Carr, Davante Adams, Darren Waller, etc., sat. Widely panned by the fantasy community (Guiltily raises hand) Jacobs has been incredible this year, capped off by his unreal 48.3 effort last week. And you know all this. So why is he a “LOVE” you ask? Well, first, just wanted a way to acknowledge his incredible season (and apologize for fading him!). Obviously you're starting Josh Jacobs in every possible league format but I ALSO love him even at his price in DFS this week. Jacobs has 20+ touches in seven of his past eight games (and 100 yards in six of those seven). This week he gets a Chargers defense that has shown no ability to stop the run game. LAC allows a league-high 5.6 YPC to backs this season, and they've surrendered 125+ rushing yards in five straight. Now, this all is IF Jacobs plays this week. If he doesn't? Then, yeah he's on the Hate list. You shouldn't play him. Hashtag: analysis.
Rhamondre Stevenson vs. Buffalo
The New England Patriots continue to struggle to develop wide receivers, so it seems they decided instead to turn Rhamondre Stevenson into a pass-catching monster. And I don't hate it. A season after having 14 receptions total, Stevenson has 15 catches in just the last two weeks alone and now has 50 on the season. Stevenson is averaging 106.8 scrimmage yards per game since Week 3 and this week Damien Harris is out. So it's all Stevenson against a Bills defense that, over the past four weeks, is allowing over 100 rushing yards per game to running backs. Easy top-5 play for me this week.
David Montgomery vs. Green Bay
Back in Week 2, David Montgomery has 136 yards on 17 touches against the Packers. I know, I know. That game kind of seems like a fluke because the Packers actually won that football game. What a strange outcome! But get this: since Khalil Herbert went on IR, Montgomery has 110-plus total yards in both games and an 18% target share. Green Bay has allowed 100+ rushing yards to running backs in six of their past seven games. Give me Montgomery as a Top 13 back in Week 13.
Dameon Pierce vs. Cleveland
After putting up 80 or more rushing yards in six of seven games between Weeks 3 and 10, Dameon Pierce was held to just 8 rushing yards in each of his last two games. That is (checks notes) not ideal. Man, I am CRUSHING this analysis thing this week. But I think that “8” has a chance of reuniting with its old pal “0” again this week. Cleveland is allowing the second-most fantasy PPG to running backs this season and, since Week 4, the Browns are allowing the second-most rushing yards per game to running backs. In a game sure to be running high on emotions as Deshaun Watson makes his return to the NFL and Houston specifically, I expect a strong effort from the Texans, one that controls the clock. I'm in on Pierce as a Top 15 RB in Week 13.
Others receiving votes: Brian Robinson kicked off America's “big hat” craze last week and I am all for it. Honestly, as a bald(ing!) American, I am very pro-headwear. In fact, let's make headwear mandatory so those of us in the bald(ing) community will no longer be shamed! Okay, back to football. Robinson has 15-plus touches in three straight games and now he faces a Giants defense that has surrendered 150-plus rushing yards to running backs in each of the past two weeks, as well as six rushing touchdowns over their past four games. … Lamar Jackson needs to stay off of Twitter and focus on the positive things in life. Like the fact that Gus Edwards has 16 carries and a rushing score in both full games he's played. This week Edwards takes on a Denver defense that, since Week 4, is allowing the fifth-most rushing yards per game to running backs…. Last week Kyren Williams led the Rams in carries and also caught three passes for 25 yards, along with posting a season-high snap rate (70%). Admittedly that's damning with faint praise but I do think he could be useable for an RB desperate team this week. I know the Rams LOVE Williams and this week he gets a Seattle defense that allows the third-most fantasy PPG to running backs.
Running Backs I Hate in Week 13:
Miles Sanders vs. Tennessee
Miles Sanders put up 31 fantasy points on Monday night, the most he's had in a game since Week 15 of his rookie season back in 2019. Congratulations to Miles! And now, in the American tradition, I will attempt to knock him off of his lofty pedestal. Tennessee has not allowed 70+ rushing yards to a running back since Week 1 and they've allowed only two rushing touchdowns to backs all season. Not only that, over the past four weeks, Tennessee is allowing 50 rushing yards per game and under 3.0 YPC to backs. You don't have to be standing atop a pedestal to see that Miles Sanders has a terrible matchup in Week 13. He's outside my top 20 running backs for the week.
Jamaal Williams vs. Jacksonville
I know, it's a risk to put a player who scores approximately 12 touchdowns per week on the Hate list. But I'm a risk-taker. That's just how I live my life. I mean, today on the way to work I hit 42 mph in a 40. I immediately slowed down and did a citizen's arrest on myself, but still…risk-taker. So touchdowns aside, it's worth knowing that Williams averages just 7.5 PPG in games this season without a score. It's also worth knowing that his Week 13 opponent has given up just one rushing touchdown over their past three games. The Jaguars have also allowed under 4.0 YPC to running backs in five of their past seven games. And if Williams doesn't crack the end zone, it's unlikely the passing game will help his fantasy production. Over the past four games he has grand total of zero targets. Add in the fact that D'Andre Swift is finally off the injury report, and all of that puts Williams outside my Top 20 running backs in Week 13.
Latavius Murray vs. Baltimore
Poor Latavius Murray. He beats out Melvin Gordon for the RB1 job, and his reward? Having to play for the Denver Broncos while Gordon gets to run around with Patrick Mahomes. Life is unfair. Also unfair? This week's matchup for Murray. Baltimore has allowed less than 45 rushing yards to running backs in four straight games. Over the same stretch, backs have averaged just 2.6 YPC and run for a single touchdown. Murray's usage will also be limited this week if Mike Boone returns to action. Remember: Boone was playing the majority of passing downs pre-injury. So Murray is on the Hate list down at RB32. Even worse: he's on the Denver Broncos.
Pass Catchers I Love in Week 13:
Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. Jacksonville
From Weeks 1-3 this season, Amon-Ra St. Brown averaged 24.4 PPG. Then, from early October through the first week of November — Weeks 5-9 — he averaged just 7.7 PPG. And then he went right back to being awesome, putting up 21.7 PPG in his three games since. Why the big lull in October? It's obvious! St. Brown wanted his fantasy managers to trade him at top value at the start of the season, get a huge return, and then get him back in a deal before the deadline at below market value, upon which he would revert right back to league-winner performances. And he pulled it off! What a fantasy legend. A legend whose legacy grows further this weekend against a Jaguars team allowing the fourth-most yards per reception to the slot, where the Sun God lines up much of the time. In St. Brown's seven full games this year, he's averaging 21.2 PPG and a 33% target share. Why do I mention that massive target share? WR's who see 7+ targets against the Jags this year average 17.1 fantasy points. Top-6 play this week as he starts another epic end-of-fantasy-season run.
A.J. Brown vs. Tennessee
So yes, A.J. Brown returning to face the Titans isn't the player-on-a-new-team-taking-on-his-old-team matchup that will get the bulk of the attention this week. But it is the one that won't make you feel like you need to take a shower. Unless you're in the Titans secondary. They'll probably want a shower after chasing Brown all over the field. Tennessee allows the second most fantasy points to WR's this year and over the last month, no team in the NFL gives up more passing yards per game than Tennessee. Only two teams have allowed more touchdowns to WR's this year. Given how good Tennessee is against the run (Miles Sanders is on the Hate list for a reason), it makes sense the Eagles will – wait for it – take to the air. I have A.J. Brown as a top-10 play this week.
Garrett Wilson at Minnesota
Well, at least all the Jets who purchased WILSON jerseys last year won't have to throw them out. They'll just need to, you know, paste over the numbers. Or somehow turn the 2 into a 7 and sneak in a 1. Or see if a Mom in your neighborhood will give you some money for your Zach jersey and maybe a quick mowing of the lawn. And then you can buy a new jersey. Lots of ways to go here. I'm just spitballing. One thing I don't have to guess at is how good Garrett Wilson is when getting thrown to by anyone but Zach Wilson. In games started by Joe Flacco or Mike White this year he averages 19.4 points vs. 8.4 points in games with Wilson under center. With at least seven targets and 90 yards in three of the past four games and Mike White playing QB, Garrett should have another highly productive Sunday against a Vikings defense that allows the fifth-most fantasy points to wide receivers and have allowed at least 15 points to 11 different wide outs already this year.
T.J. Hockenson vs. New York Jets
In his four games since joining the Vikings, T.J. Hockenson has 26 receptions, 34 targets and is averaging 12.8 PPG. I haven't seen someone in Minnesota explode like this since Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. (Yeah, I know Fargo is in North Dakota. But the movie Fargo was primarily filmed in Minnesota! What?! Don't yell at me! Blame the location scout! I didn't decide where to film it!) Anyway, since that trade, he has a 22% target share and multiple red zone targets in three of those four games. As good as the Jets defense has been this year, Jets are actually bottom five in receptions allowed to tight ends this year.
Others receiving votes:
In each of his last three games, Christian Watson has four receptions and at least six targets and a touchdown. Part of Aaron Rodgers owning Chicago this weekend is going to be throwing deep (Bears allow the highest catch rate and second-most yards per catch to WR over the last month. Forty-five percent of Watson's targets the last three games have come on deep passes… Remember how we all picked Zay Jones late in drafts for … well, much longer than we should have? It turns out we actually may have stopped too soon. Double digit targets in back-to-back games and in 3 of the last 5. Lions allow the third-most fantasy points to opposing WR's… Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pitt Panthers, Pickett, Pickens … we get it, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you like the letter “P.” But it's getting a bit ridiculou- … I mean preposterous. But I do also really like George Pickens this week returning to the state of Georgia where he went to college. Falcons give up the third most fantasy points to WR's. … I am all-in on Mack Hollins. Get it? All-in … Hollins? They sound similar. Cool. And to be clear: I'm not really all-in on Mack Hollins. He's just in the “votes” section. But I simply can't let a bit of terrible wordplay go unused. Quietly, Hollins has at least 11 fantasy points in 4 of his last 6 and is playing on 93% of the snaps giving him some upside in deeper leagues this week in what should be a high scoring game (a 50.5 over/under as of this writing)... Meanwhile his teammate Foster Moreau has a touchdown in two of his last three games. Chargers also allow the third most yards per game to TE's… In a Jets offense that can suddenly throw the ball, TE streamers should take a look at Tyler Conklin who, since week 7, quietly has a 18% target share. It's also the #revengegame I'm sure everyone is talking about, taking on his former Viking teammates who are bottom ten in fantasy points allowed to tight ends this year.
Pass Catchers I Hate in Week 13
Adam Thielen vs. New York Jets
The “Law of Conservation of Mass” says that matter can not be created or destroyed. The similar “Law of Only So Many Footballs to Go Around” says that the rise in prominence of one receiver in an offense will have a negative impact on the production of the offense's previous star receiver. Basic fake football science. And so, as Justin Jefferson has become fantasy royalty, Adam Thielen is now little more than a WR3/Flex option. And this week? I don't even think he's that. Jets have allowed over 60 yards to multiple WR's in only one game this year. With Jefferson sure to get his, it's hard to see Thielen also going off consider that even with his big game on Thanksgiving he still has seven straight games with under 70 yards. Jets give up the third-fewest fantasy points and second-fewest yards per game to opposing wide receivers. He's outside my top 35 this week.
Treylon Burks at Philadelphia
Treylon Burks scored his first career NFL touchdown last week by jumping on a fumble in the end zone. That's not really a sustainable means to put up points. Seriously, I am just absolutely crushing the analysis this week. An even worse way to try to put up fantasy points? Playing the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Eagles allow the second-lowest catch rate to WR's (Burks has just one game this year with more than four receptions) and the fourth fewest yards per game on deep passes (56% of Burks' yards the last two weeks have come on two separate 51 yard receptions). He's outside my top 40 this week.
Greg Dulcich at Baltimore
If Denver DT Mike Purcell wants to yell at someone other than Russell Wilson for failing to produce this week, Greg Dulcich is an option. His last red zone target came in Week 6 and he now has 30 or fewer yards in three straight. Meanwhile, Ravens are top 10 in fewest catches and yards allowed to TE's this year. So yeah, might be tough sledding on Sunday. But honestly, if I was Purcell, I'd still probably yell at Wilson. Russell that is, not Zach. Although he could yell at Zach too. Tough year for all the QB's named Wilson.
Matthew Berry – The Talented Mr. Roto – says, in his best Bill and Ted voice – Cheshire High School Football Rules!