When you read this, I potentially will be on the Slinky Dog roller coaster in Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. It’s my daughter’s favorite. Or we might be seeing Ariel at her grotto, which is my other daughter’s favorite. There’s a chance we’ll be on a safari at Animal Kingdom, my wife’s favorite. And there are certainly better-than-average odds I will be at the new Star Wars land, checking that out.
I’m at the Happiest Place on Earth as I write this, having landed Wednesday evening. My twin daughters turn 8 on Friday and because I am incredibly lucky, we are getting to spend their birthday with Mickey and friends. I joke a lot about being a “#companyman,” but perhaps the only thing I love more than Disney is taking my kids to Disney.
Old, single me never would have dreamed of missing a few days of work during football season. But I learned a few years ago that a few days here or there won’t matter at work, but spending a few days with my daughters at Disney will produce memories for a lifetime.
Now, I’m not fully taking time off. Because I am a company man, I’ll be at the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk on Thursday at 7 p.m. for a Week 8 Q&A/meet-and-greet, so if you are in the area, come say hi.
Because of our trip to Florida, my work week is truncated. So instead of a toss-away opening story, I thought I would take the opportunity to repost one of my favorite opening stories I ever wrote, and certainly my favorite about my daughters. I wrote this at the start of the 2017 season, and while I am my own harshest critic, I will tell you that this open is about as good as I get, for whatever that is worth. This first appeared on Sept. 7, 2017.
They are calm.
I, however, am an emotional mess.
It is Aug. 28, 2017, at 8:28 a.m. The first day of kindergarten for my twin daughters, who turn 6 in October.
In just a few minutes, for the first time in their lives, they will go to the public elementary school in my town. They will ride the bus to and from there.
And the journey will have officially started.
We took them shopping before the big day, and as they carefully considered lots of different clothes, shoes and sparkly backpacks, I was fine.
There also was an orientation meeting at the school, and we took them to meet their teachers, see where their classrooms were and learn where to get on and off the bus. I was fine.
And now it is the morning of. We are walking them to where the bus picks them up, and they slowly get on. They have excitement and fear in their eyes, and as they sit down in the second row together and look at me … I just lose it.
One of them is shy. Already too smart for her own good, she’s the prankster — often in her own world, very opinionated, a total mush ball and easily distracted. She’s 5 going on 15, constantly in her mom’s closet figuring out what she’s going to wear. She’s the one who’s going to give me trouble in high school — I already know it.
The other is the social one. Quick to make friends at a park, playground or someone’s house, she’s the rule follower — she’s super considerate of everyone else. She’s the one who shares, hyper aware of everything, and she has no problem putting her foot down, hands on her little hips and letting us know what needs to happen. She’s also five minutes older, so she takes the responsibility of being the “older sister” very seriously, often telling the other that she can have her dessert or that they need to watch what she wants to watch, because “that’s what big sisters do.”
And, as of 10 days ago, they are no longer mine.
They went to a daily preschool together — a half-day thing five minutes from our house — but otherwise have been at home with my wife up until this year, and so, even with the caveat that they are twins, they are very close. Sharing private jokes, not wanting to sleep unless the other one is in the room with them, they are inseparable.
The shy one always relies on the other to include her and bring her into play at playgrounds and parties. The “big sister,” poor thing, inherited her father’s awful eyesight (I wear contacts), so she wears glasses and sometimes is self-conscious about them. She leans on her younger sister for self-confidence and reassurance.
And now, at least in school, they won’t anymore. We decided — and by we, I really mean my wife decided and I didn’t fight it — that we would split them up. It’s what the school and other parents of twins recommend, so right or wrong, we’re doing it.
I feel that way all the time. Right or wrong, we are doing “it,” whatever “it” may be, in raising the girls.
I am sure this will be of no surprise to anyone who has read my columns for any amount of time, but I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to parenting. And as the girls grow older, that’s only going to become more apparent. To them and to me.
I often feel helpless, unsure of what to do, as my two little beans look to me for answers and guidance and for everything a little girl wants from her daddy. Attention and love, I’ve got down pat. It’s just everything else that’s a question mark.
But, at least, as I fumbled my way through that, it was self-contained. In our own little world — their mother and I, their brothers and some friends. It was a self-contained world, where the worst thing that happened to them is we run out of apple juice.
And that ended 10 days ago. I know I have to share them with the real world.
They’re ready. I’m not.
Like for most people, the things that are my greatest strengths are also my greatest weaknesses. I get in my own head a ton, overanalyze things, imagine every possible scenario, and I worry. Man, do I worry.
What if one doesn’t make friends? What if one struggles with her school work (she has a long name and struggles to write it) and becomes even more discouraged and self-doubt creeps in? What if something awful — the unthinkable — happens?
The school they go to is a K-6 elementary school, so that means they ride the bus with 12-year-olds. You ever meet a 12-year-old? I had a 12-year-old boy last year. They’re animals. I love my kid, but man, it can be a tough age. Twelve-year-old boys have lots of energy. Lots. And what they find funny, I have found, rarely jibes with what 5-year-old girls find funny.
That 12-year-old is now 13 and moving on to seventh grade, and he was upset he wouldn’t be able to ride the bus with them this year to “protect them.” Which is super sweet … and not at all reassuring. So I worry about the bus. And there I was, 10 days ago, watching them slowly climb into it.
All of it, of course, is just a microcosm of what I am slowly coming to grips with, which is that there are going to be increasingly more things about their lives I can’t control, protect or influence. My job responsibilities this year have basically doubled, which is great and presents an amazing opportunity, but scary as well. I worry about how that will affect my family life and my interaction with them.
These thoughts aren’t unique to me, of course. I assume every parent who has ever had their kid climb onto a bus or dropped them off at school for the first time has gone through this. But even without kids, it’s something everyone goes through in some small, dumb way, right?
We read everything, we mock draft, we get our players. They are ours. We love our little team. Maybe there’s an imperfection here or there — I wish I had more running back depth or you got stuck with a tight end you hate — but still. For better or worse, it is our little team. We have love in our eyes and hope in our hearts, and we want only good things for them, but we know it’s tough out there in the NFL. We will do everything we can to shield them and put them in a position to succeed, but ultimately, the season is here and we have to send them out on the field. We hope they make us proud and happy, and you want the hope that your journey starts with to turn into joy at the end, but there are outside forces we can’t control. We have to let them get on that bus, hope for the best and see what the world brings. And then deal with whatever that is, for better or worse.
After the girls got on the bus, I went to work, did the TV show and then raced home so I could be there when they got off the bus after their first day. And sure enough, they did, backpacks too big for them, shuffling their feet. And as we walked toward our house, I asked: “How was your first day?”
“Good,” they said.
“And what was the best part?” I asked.
And with big smiles on their faces, they answered at the same time.
Of course it was. And with that, each of them grabbed one of my hands. It was only the best feeling in the world. They were still mine, I just have to share them with the world. Which is taking some getting used to, but is also how it should be.
Here’s to hoping that when your season is over and someone asks you what your favorite part was, it is with a big smile that you’ll answer it’s the thing that worried you the most.
Thanks to ESPN for allowing me to do this, and thanks to Kyle Soppe and Damian Dabrowski for their help at various points in this column. Let’s get to it.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 8
Kirk Cousins, Vikings (vs. Redskins): The Redskins are traveling on a short week with a secondary that is allows the eighth-most completions per game, is tied for the sixth-most touchdown passes allowed per game and gives up the second-highest completion percentage, so they are in for a long night against their former QB. Since getting called out by Adam Thielen prior to Week 4, Cousins has been the second-best QB in fantasy, completing 75.6% of his passes for 976 yards, with 10 pass TDs and just one interception. Adam Thielen being out hurts, but Cousins is too red-hot and the matchup is too good to ignore.
Jared Goff, Rams (vs. Bengals): We know the deal with Goff. When he has time to throw, he can be pretty good. Over the past four weeks, Cincy has created pressure at the 10th-lowest rate. Goff hopes to build on last week’s turnover-free outing against a Bengals defense that has allowed every opposing QB to either throw multiple TD passes or rush for more than 45 yards (they can’t stop a QB from playing to his strengths).
Matthew Stafford, Lions (vs. Giants): The Giants are another team that doesn’t get after the QB (they have the eighth-lowest pressure rate), so Stafford should have a clean pocket and plenty of time to pick apart a secondary that allows the fourth-highest deep TD% and the most yards per deep pass attempt. Stafford is averaging 10.6 air yards per throw (highest in the NFL), and only Matt Ryan has more games with at least 290 passing yards and three passing touchdowns this season. With Kerryon Johnson on the shelf, Stafford will have to rely on his arm even more this week, giving him a good shot at his fourth such game.
Others receiving votes: Josh Allen has a nice rushing floor (more than 20 rushing yards in every game this season) and a great matchup with Philly’s bottom-10 secondary. Outside of the Patriots game, Allen is averaging more than 19 points per game, making him a very viable start this week. … For the truly QB desperate, I’ll note that Derek Carr has multiple touchdown passes in every stateside road game this season. He gets a Texans defense that gives up more than 21 fantasy points per game to opposing QBs, and this game has the second-highest over/under on the slate. … Ryan Tannehill threw for more than 300 yards and two scores in his first start and now gets a Tampa team that has a great run defense and the worst pass defense in the NFL. … Finally, count me in on Matt Moore being usable this week. Green Bay allows the sixth-most yards per completion this season (12.2 yards) and that can be exploited by a Chiefs team that leads the NFL in yards per catch after the reception. Remember, Andy Reid has gotten 20-plus fantasy-point games out of the likes of a rookie Nick Foles, a 36-year-old Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb, Koy Detmer, Mike McMahon and AJ Feeley. He’s had 10 days to coach up Moore, who is surrounded by the best offense he’s ever been in. Mamas, let your sons grow up to be QBs for Andy Reid.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 8
Carson Wentz, Eagles (at Bills): With fewer than 200 passing yards in three of his past four games, fewer than 20 completions in four of his past five games and coming off a Sunday night disaster, you can’t feel good about Wentz this week. Especially against a Bills team allowing the third-fewest yards per attempt (5.9) and one that has yet to allow multiple TD passes in a games this season. QBs average just 12 points against Buffalo, and while the Bills have faced fairly easy competition, that does include a game against Tom Brady. I have Wentz outside my top 10 this week.
Jacoby Brissett, Colts (vs. Broncos): As red-hot as Brissett has been this season, I’m worried about this one. Why should he pass? It’s certainly easier to run on Denver’s 15th-ranked run defense than their fourth-ranked secondary over the past four weeks. It’s worth noting the Broncos cough up the second-most yards per carry after first contact this season (2.09). As a six-point home favorite, expect the Colts to continue their run-heavy ways, as they rank sixth in rush percentage this season. Vegas has the total at 44 points in this one, and in the two games Brissett has been a part of this season with 50 or fewer total points scored, he has just 297 total passing yards and an average of 13.7 fantasy points. No QB has reached 17 points against Denver this season, and the Broncos are one of only two defenses yet to allow a goal-to-go passing TD. (New England is the other). Why does that matter? Because that’s where a ton of Brissett’s points come from. He leads all QBs with 36.1 goal-to-go fantasy points and his seven such touchdowns leads the league.
Philip Rivers, Chargers (at Bears): It hasn’t been anywhere close to pretty, but since Hunter Henry returned two weeks ago, Rivers has been the eighth-best QB in fantasy. If you’ve watched the games, it won’t surprise you to know that 73.6% of Rivers’ points have come when trailing by at least 10 points. I don’t like the chances of the Bolts falling behind by double digits on Sunday in a game with a 40-point projected total, especially against a Chicago offense that would be the sixth-lowest-scoring offense over the past four weeks if not for a pair of garbage time TDs last week against the Saints. The Bears’ offensive ineptitude keeps this one close, as does their slow pace of play. Since Week 3, both of these offenses rank in the bottom half of the league in pace of play.
Running backs I love in Week 8
Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, Packers (at Chiefs): Kansas City allows 4.99 yards per carry this season and 1.92 yards per carry after first contact, fourth most in the NFL. You can run on KC. And run on KC they shall. The Packers currently rank seventh in time of possession, so expect a heavy dose of both running backs against the Chiefs’ 30th-ranked run defense the past four weeks. One of the things I like is how both guys have been involved in the passing game recently. Jones has 21 catches in his past four games (he caught 26 balls all of 2018) and just as a pass-catcher alone, Williams has more than 12.5 points in consecutive weeks. I like Jones this week as a top-10 play with Williams a flex play consideration.
Todd Gurley II, Rams (vs. Bengals): The Bengals are allowing an NFL-high 5.23 yards per carry this season (including a pitiful 3.85 yards per carry before first contact, 11.3% worse than any other defense). That makes for an exciting matchup for Gurley and his fantasy managers. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Gurley has five scores in his past three games, held a 45-25 snap edge over Darrell Henderson Jr. last week (including a 15-2 edge in the red zone). Cincinnati has allowed the third-most red zone drives this season (27), so there should be plenty of chances for Gurley to get into the end zone overseas.
Sony Michel, Patriots (vs. Browns): The blocking has been inconsistent for Michel this season, and obviously, if his injury turns out to be something worse than we know, scratch this. (Michel left the Monday night game in the fourth quarter). But assuming Michel plays, he’ll produce against a Browns team that has the seventh-worst defense in the red zone and goal-to-go situations. Only Dalvin Cook has more goal-to-go carries than Michel this season, and Michel has at least 19 touches in three straight games. Giddy up.
Marlon Mack, Colts (vs. Broncos): The same reasons I am down on Brissett are why I am on board with Mack having a big week against a Broncos squad that, as mentioned previously, is allowing the second-most yards per carry after first contact this season. Mack has at least 16 carries in five of six games this season, and I expect another heavy workload, as the Colts are a 6-point home favorite.
Others receiving votes: With 28 targets in the three games since Melvin Gordon returned, Austin Ekeler has maintained his starter-worthy status. Expect him to once again be involved in the passing game facing a Bears defense that coughs up the second-most catches per game and the third-most receiving yards per game to opposing RBs this season. … While I am the president of the “Matt Moore is gonna be a lot better than you think” fan club, the fact is I do expect a heavier lean than normal on the run game from the Chiefs, which gives LeSean McCoy some flex appeal against a Packers run defense that ranks 25th over the past four weeks. Opposing running backs average the third-most red zone rushes against Green Bay. … If you managed to get to the wire and grab Ty Johnson, congrats. While he will split some time with JD McKissic, he should get decent run in what’s expected to be one of the higher-scoring games of the week. The Giants allow a rushing touchdown at the sixth-highest rate and allow the seventh-most rushing yards per game. Johnson is in flex consideration. … As of this writing, Adrian Peterson is banged up, Chris Thompson is out, and even though AD says he’s good and will be there Thursday night, it may not be up to him. Or he may be limited. Either way, Peterson isn’t the pass-catching back here; it’s Wendell Smallwood, who is an interesting desperation play. He has nine games in his career with at least 10 carries. He’s scored at least 11.7 points in six of those games.
Running backs I hate in Week 8
Derrick Henry, Titans (vs. Buccaneers): Only three RBs have scored more than 7.7 points vs. Tampa Bay this season, and all three of them caught at least four passes. Henry has one career game with more than two catches. The Bucs allow a league-low 2.89 yards per carry this season (19 yards is their longest rush allowed, and that came from WR Sterling Shepard). Fresh off of their bye, they’ll load the box and take their chances against Tannehill, as only one RB has more than 40 rushing yards in a game vs. Tampa this season.
Joe Mixon, Bengals (vs. Rams): An absolutely brutal year continues for Mixon, as just 23.8% of his carries have gained at least 5 yards. Among running backs with at least 50 carries, only David Montgomery has been worse. It’s not all his fault, as Mixon hasn’t gotten past the line of scrimmage on 31% of his carries (no other qualified RB is above 27.7%). The Rams have the 10th-best run defense in the NFL during the past four weeks, and given how bad Cincy’s defense is, the Bengals will have to start throwing sooner than later in this one. That often means Giovani Bernard gets a lot more run than Mixon managers would like.
Carlos Hyde, Texans (vs. Raiders): Very quietly, Oakland is the second-best run defense in the NFL over the past four weeks … and 29th against the pass. How do YOU think Houston attacks them? Exactly. Hyde is not involved in the passing game (fewer than two catches in all but one game this season), so he will need heavy volume or to fall into the end zone in order to pay off. Anything is possible in terms of scoring, but the Raiders have given up 10 touchdown passes in just the past three games, so, shrug emoji.
Melvin Gordon, Chargers (at Bears): So far this season, Gordon has 36 carries and he has more game-ending fumbles (one) than he has rushes of at least 8 yards. Seriously. It’s bad right now. I can give you bad Melvin stats — 2.3 yards per carry since his return, 42nd of 43 qualified RBs during that stretch — but to the eye test he just doesn’t look like … well, Melvin Gordon. The Bears have been hit by injuries and have actually been a bit vulnerable to the run recently, but considering that the Bears allow a league-high 22 short completions per game (fewer than 10 air yards) and I expect that to be the game plan as opposed to running into a brick wall over and over again, give me Austin Ekeler over Melvin Gordon once again this week.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 8
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks (at Falcons): If we were drafting today for the rest of the year, Lockett deserves to go among the top seven WRs. He has a TD or at least 75 yards in six of seven games this season. Lockett has been everything we thought he’d be this season, and so much more. The good times will continue to roll Sunday against a Falcons team that has given up the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Five WRs have scored at least 20 points against Atlanta this season and this Sunday, Lockett makes it six.
Stefon Diggs, Vikings (vs. Redskins): You had me at “Redskins.” Or at “Adam Thielen is out.” Or at “Redskins.” Not a typo, they’re just so bad it’s worth bringing up twice. With at least seven catches in three of his past four games and 115.3 receiving yards per game during that stretch, Diggs is primed for a big game against a Skins secondary that has allowed the third-most touchdown passes of 35-plus yards this season. Diggs, not surprisingly, is responsible for five of Minnesota’s eight receptions of 35-plus yards this season (and that includes three of his four TD receptions).
Courtland Sutton, Broncos (at Colts): Four catches every week doesn’t seem like a high threshold, but here is the entire list of WRs with at least four catches in all seven weeks this season: Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, My Little Cooper Kupp and … Courtland Sutton. With Emmanuel Sanders now in San Francisco, there is no question as to who the No. 1 target is when the Broncos throw the ball. And as 6-point road ‘dogs, the expectation here is that they will, in fact, be throwing. Sutton owns a 45% target share on balls thrown 10-plus yards this season, and the Broncos will take some deep shots against a Colts team that allows opponents to complete a league-high 66.7% of such passes this season.
Hunter Henry, Chargers (at Bears): Over the past two weeks, Henry leads all tight ends in targets, receptions, yards and fantasy points while boasting a solid 21.3% target share. Is that good? Because that seems good. With two first names (always a crowd-pleaser), I like Henry’s chances to keep it going against a Bears squad allowing 13.5 TE PPG this season (11th most). OK, I get that “11th most” may not sound like a high ranking, but …
1. It’s higher than you’d guess.
2. Three of Chicago’s past five games have come against a bottom-10 offense in terms of TE PPG.
3. Six TEs this season have a TD or four-plus catches in a game against the Bears.
Others receiving votes: DK Metcalf leads the NFL with 10 end zone targets, which is helpful to know when you consider the Falcons have given up 29 red zone drives this season (second most in the NFL). … Insert fast, perimeter receiver facing the Eagles here: John Brown has scored 88.5% of his points this season when lined up out wide. Meanwhile, Philly has been gashed by perimeter wideouts for a league-high nine TD catches, a league-high 1,158 yards and the second-most receptions by those lined up out wide (72). … The injury to Will Fuller V opens up some good possibilities for Kenny Stills downfield facing a Raiders secondary that has allowed a league-high nine deep TDs (15-plus yards downfield) and 889 deep yards (second most). With Oakland creating pressure at the third-lowest rate, Deshaun Watson will have plenty of time to take a few deep shots to Stills. … Ryan Tannehill? Or Ryan Tanne … THRILL? Exciting stuff last week for those with Corey Davis on the roster, as he showed an immediate connection with Tannehill. Davis has caught nine of 11 Tannehill targets this season (81.8%), compared with 56.5% from Marcus Mariota. Now Davis faces Tampa Bay’s NFL-worst pass defense.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 8
Alshon Jeffery, Eagles (at Bills): You already know I’m worried about Wentz in this one, and as he goes, so does Jeffery. The Bills have gone four straight games without allowing a touchdown to a perimeter wideout, and Jeffery is likely to see a lot of Tre’Davious White in this one. With one of the lowest totals on the board and facing a top-three scoring defense, Jeffery will need a touchdown to pay off in this one, and that feels unlikely as Buffalo is top eight in the NFL in pass defense, lowest completion percentage to perimeter players and lowest touchdown percentage.
Jarvis Landry, Browns (at Patriots): Landry has just one game this season with more than four catches, so the volume just hasn’t been there. The Browns will likely be down and throwing in this one, but since the Patriots have the second-best slot completion percentage against, the second-lowest yards per attempt allowed to the slot and, you know, the whole “they’ve given up only one touchdown pass all year” thing, I can’t imagine starting Landry with any confidence.
Greg Olsen, Panthers (at 49ers): Targeted on 15.1% of his routes during his past three games (down from 25.3% the first three games), Olsen doesn’t have particularly bright prospects against a Niners squad allowing a league-low 22.3 yards per game to opposing TEs this season and the fourth-lowest completion percentage on throws to TEs. They’ve allowed only one TD to TEs this season, so you know … how lucky do you feel?
I know, a pretty weak list of pass-catchers I hate this week. Odd week. Just assume that most players against the Patriots, 49ers, Bills and Panthers would have made it, but I would just be writing the same thing over and over.
Here’s hoping you have a magical Week 8. I know I will.