Editor’s note: Nate Jackson, a San Jose native, spent six seasons in the NFL. His books include “Slow Getting Up” and “Fantasy Man.”
I am a fantasy football failure. In the three leagues I play in, populated with more than 30 of my closest friends, I am the only one to have played in the NFL — or to have played college football, for that matter. And despite my experience, my combined record going into this final week is 8-28. I am the best actual football player among these 30 men, and perhaps the worst at fantasy football. I have missed the postseason in all three leagues.
There were a few years when I did well — won a few championships, even. But this was an anomaly, I now understand. At the very least, my experience playing football has given me no edge whatsoever. Perhaps more accurately, it has been a hindrance. Before all else, I am an athlete.
Despite sports analysis being driven by numbers — scores, standing stats — the athlete in motion does not think numerically. If he considers the number, he falters. The athlete is the action; the number comes after. And so to ask an athlete to be the predictor of a numerical result is to ask a bird to measure his wingspan. In many ways, this dichotomy symbolizes the difficulty that athletes have in the real world. Though they fly, they can not explain how.
And so, dear reader, this will be my last fantasy football column of the year, as this week is the last week of the fantasy season. I cannot, in good conscience, offer playoff tips in this field, because I myself have failed so miserably. There have been some things I was correct about, yes. And had I only followed my own advice, I might have won more games. But I couldn’t even trust my own guidance, because I knew I was just making it up. Alas, I am no fantasy man. I am simply a man. Or a bird. Or some other creature.
But don’t go thinking that I am giving up on you this week. Nay! We will finish strong; or as our president would say — strongly. Tremendously strongly.
Four out of the five top scorers last week were wide receivers: Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen and Robby Anderson. As the football season wears on, practice time shrinks. Players are banged up. Coaches try to protect them during the week. This weakens the running game and strengthens the passing game, because passing plays are easier to practice. If you’re choosing between a running back and a receiver for your "flex" position, go with a wide-out. He’s peaking.
But there are several running backs worth relying on as the season creeps into December. Samaje Perine of Washington, Joe Mixon of the Bengals, Jamaal Williams of the Packers and Latavius Murray of the Vikings all had more than 20 carries last week.
They are young and fresh — none of them were used much in the first half of the season. This is their time.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first start this week on the road against the Bears. It will be 51 degrees and sunny in Chicago on Sunday, and the Bears are struggling. If Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are right about Jimmy, this is the beginning of something beautiful.
If you are like me, and have nothing to lose this week, you might as well put Jimmy into your starting lineup. He will be buoyed by your vote of confidence. But if you have something to play for, leave Jimmy on your bench until he shows us what he’s made of.
The Giants come to Oakland on Sunday and will be playing without starting quarterback Eli Manning for the first time in 210 consecutive games. Eli has been benched by soon-to-be-fired head coach Ben McAdoo. This curious decision will only help the Raiders, who will be coming for Eli’s replacement, Geno Smith. I actually did not know that
Geno Smith was on the Giants; that is how firm a grasp Eli has had on the starting spot for the past 14 years. He has thrown 334 touchdowns during this time for over 50,000 yards. But he will be watching on Sunday in Oakland, along with Michael Crabtree, who is suspended after his fight with Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib.
Crabtree was defending the honor of his stolen necklace, which likely costs more than the fine he’ll receive from the league office.
With Eli and Crabtree on the bench, my fantasy advice for this game, aside from starting BeastMode — who had 26 carries in last week’s win against the Broncos — is to stay away.
This is the same advice I used to give my family when I played for the Broncos. Once a year, we came to Oakland, which always presented us with a hostile crowd. Knowing that my family would not be able to avoid cheering for me, thus drawing attention to themselves, my plea was identical: Stay away from this game. Watch it on TV — unless it’s blacked out.
My favorite ever trip to Oakland was in 2006. As our bus rolled up to the stadium, along the chain-link fence, crowds of Raiders fans tailgated steps away. A woman noticed our buses, sneered, walked to her cooler, opened it, pulled out a handful of eggs, and began throwing them at us.
Crack. Crack. Crack. The yolk ran down the window.
Then we turned into the parking lot, and were surrounded by a black-clad mob, banging on the side of the bus, spitting as they screamed. As we got closer to the stadium, they dispersed, and I noticed how long the lines were for the Porta Potty. The longest lines I had ever seen for a day game — which is a good measure for how rowdy they will be inside the stadium.
When we took the field for team warm-ups, there was a gaggle of fans that stood just behind us in the end zone. They hurled more insults, which bounced off of our game day armor. I turned to see who was yelling such clever take-downs, and was surprised to see an old lady among them.
Now, this isn’t right, I thought. Poor lady is being subjected to these — … I couldn’t finish the thought. She saw me looking at her and removed two hands from her pockets and used each of them to flip me the bird. Double-birdie, as it was.
Michael Crabtree must have seen the same lady before last week’s game. And judging by the outcome, I know he made her proud.