Formed in 2005 in Fargo, North Dakota, the “Win the Battle” league is a 10-team non-PPR keeper league comprising a bunch of high school buddies. The teams play three WRs, no flex and you can keep up to two players a year, costing you a draft pick three rounds better than where you got the player the year before.
Their commissioner, Travis Anderson, has been playing for close to two decades in a lot of different leagues, but this league — the one he’s been in for more than a decade, the one filled with many of his closest friends, the one he runs — is the most special to him.
A controller for a local bank and a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, Travis is 37 years old. He and his wife Donna have three sons: Andrew will be 6 in December, Jackson will turn 3 in January and Ethan is two weeks from his first birthday.
Husband, father, fantasy junkie.
Travis Anderson is one of us.
Like us, he drafted a team he likes. And like for many of us, Week 1 was tough. Other than Drew Brees, it was a poor start for his team, The Dirt Merchants. Kareem Hunt could only watch as Tyreek Hill went nuts, Leonard Fournette left early with an injury, and bad matchups and shaky QB play led to disappointing season debuts for Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson and Devin Funchess. But while you were cursing your team, cursing yourself for drafting them, cursing me for recommending them, Travis Anderson was busy dealing with something else.
You see, in early August, he started getting headaches. This was weird — he’s never gotten headaches before. The back of his neck was hurting a little bit, so he figured it might be spinal. Visits to chiropractors didn’t help and not only did it not go away, he started having difficulty communicating complicated thoughts and explanations, something he often needed to do as part of his job. When we spoke this week, he told me he felt emotionally distant and he knew something was wrong. So he decided to make an appointment to get a CAT scan. Frustratingly, it took him a while to get one, but eventually the day arrived.
While driving to get the scan, he got a call from his doctor’s office. Travis’ insurance wouldn’t cover it. Don’t get me started on this one, but the insurance would, however, cover an MRI, so they scheduled him for a MRI a week later. Travis turned around and drove home. But in the middle of that week, encouraged by his father, Travis couldn’t wait any longer, so he went straight to the ER and got an MRI.
It was Aug. 23. Travis had a league to set up, keepers to decide, and a draft to prep for. Instead, he was sitting in a doctor’s office, where he learned he had a brain tumor.
Within 24 hours, Travis was in surgery, where Dr. Alexander Drofa had come in from out of town to find, and ultimately remove, the tumor.
As you can imagine, people wondered if Travis would keep the league going. Certainly, no one would blame him if he wanted to shut it down, or even take a year off.
But to Travis, that wasn’t even a consideration.
“I wouldn’t not be able to keep the league going,” he said. Travis was told to take it very easy for the next six weeks, and that was a big factor in keeping the league going. “I really enjoy fantasy,” Travis said. “It gives some excitement to Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights. It gives me something to do each day, each week.”
The league, and fantasy football, provides Travis with an escape and comfort. Something happy to focus on. Last year, another member, Mike, had been diagnosed with cancer. He, thank goodness, is in remission now, but it was a long year. That is why the league is named “Win the Battle.”
Travis had spent the previous year being a rock of support for Mike. Now it’s Mike’s turn.
Personally, I don’t know how Travis did it. The day after his draft was the day he would go see his oncologist to get the pathology results from the surgery. Can you imagine having to draft a team knowing what was on the schedule the next morning?
Me either, but Travis is a better man than I. He drafted a strong team and the next morning he went to see his doctor.
He tells me that while they got 99 percent of his tumor, they didn’t get everything. Most importantly, the tumor was not benign.
Travis has brain cancer. A grade IV glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) to be exact.
Thirty-seven years old. Wife, three kids under 6 and The Dirt Merchants, four-time champions of the Win the Battle league. Travis has a lot to fight for, so fight he does.
It won’t be easy. He is looking at six weeks of radiation and lower-dose chemo, five days a week. When he is done with that, he will do six different cycles of higher-dose chemo at a five-days-on, 23-days-off schedule. And after the first six weeks, he will need to wear an Optune electrical stimulation cap for, well, basically forever. But to the extent you can be with something like this, he told me doctors have been encouraged by what they have found in subsequent tests. And as he said toward the end of our conversation, “There are people that beat this. And I intend to be one of them.”
I have no doubt, Travis. Because he is not going into this battle alone. Donna, of course, has been a rock. As has his family. And his league, especially “Tweets,” as everyone calls Mike.
And now he has all of us. I have often spoken of the power of fantasy football, the community and love that family, friends and strangers alike have for this game we play. How it brings people together, lifts them up and can shine light into even the darkest of places. This is one of those times.
Travis is on Twitter @TMA2112. He doesn’t tweet much, he tells me, but I am sure he’d love to hear from you and read your words of support, encouragement and love.
Travis will “Win the Battle,” and he will do it with all of us behind him. That’s a group that includes Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
I asked Travis if I could write about his story, so he obviously knew this article was coming, but this part he doesn’t know until now.
When Travis and I spoke, one of the things I found out is that, due to living in Fargo — approximately 235 miles from Minneapolis – he has never seen a Vikings game in person.
So when Kirk Cousins heard about Travis’ story, he said he immediately wanted to rectify this. Kirk, and the entire Minnesota Vikings organization, asked me to pass along that they would love host Travis and his family at a game, along with on-field passes for the pregame and anything else they can do to make Travis’ first Vikings game a special one. Kirk specifically asked me to tell you, Travis, that he can’t wait to meet you and your family.
Here at ESPN, we are getting Travis in touch with The V Foundation to see if there’s anything we can do to help.
Because, you see, Travis Anderson is one of us.
Which means he’s busy getting The Dirt Merchants ready for Week 2. Just like we all are. Let’s get to it.
What follows are a bunch of accurate statistical statements. Heavily researched, well-thought-out, 100 percent true, can’t be argued with, fully vetted facts.
That tells only part of the story. The part of the story I want you see.
Just like everyone else does.
And that might be the most important thing you ever learn about fantasy football research. Nothing you read/watch/hear from me in this column (or from anyone) or anything in the future is black and white. It’s all shades of gray.
As you go through the process every week of choosing your lineup, making waiver claims and trade offers, you’ll hear countless analysts give you all sorts of reasons why this player is awesome and this one is a bum and why you gotta start that guy but must avoid another one … and it’s all just opinions. Facts and stats and snippets of game film parsed to show you the side that supports their belief. Their opinion. And ONLY that opinion. Just remember that. Always remember that. Question everything, find someone whose thinking aligns with yours, and make a call. Because that’s what all of us are doing. Taking a slice of a larger pie and making a call.
What follows below is completely accurate. Some of it is about players, some of it is about matchups and not a damn bit of it tells the whole story.
These are 50 facts you need to know before Week 2. And what you do with them is up to you.
1. Since 2015, Drew Brees has 30.1 more points AT HOME than any other QB.
1a. On Sunday, Drew Brees is at home.
1b. He faces a Browns team that just gave up 313 passing yards.
1c. … in a storm, to a quarterback who turned over the ball six times in that game.
2. Last season, there were six instances in which a QB totaled 21-plus fantasy points against the Browns.
3a. Drew Brees is a lot better than those guys. #analysis
4. The quarterback opposing Brees in this game is Tyrod Taylor.
4a. Taylor has at least eight rushing attempts OR a rushing score in nine of his past 16 games.
5. In Week 1, Taylor ripped off three runs of 15-plus yards.
5a. All other QBs totaled six such runs in Week 1.
5b. In Week 1, Ryan Fitzpatrick had 36 yards rushing against the Saints.
6. Last season, the Saints allowed a league-high 6.4 yards per carry to QBs.
6a. That was the most YPC allowed to QBs since 2014.
7. Vegas has set the over/under for this game at 49 points.
8. For his career, Taylor is averaging 20.9 fantasy points in games that see at least 49 points scored.
9. Since 2014, Ben Roethlisberger averages 23.3 points per game at home, which leads all QBs (minimum five starts).
10. Since the start of last season, there have been five instances of a quarterback scoring at least 25 points against the Chiefs.
10a. All of them have come AWAY from Arrowhead.
10b. This offseason, the Chiefs lost Marcus Peters and Derrick Johnson, among others, and as of this writing (Wednesday afternoon), safeties Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen are not expected to play Sunday against Pittsburgh.
10c. In 2017, Philip Rivers had just 10.6 points TOTAL in his two games against the Chiefs.
10d. In Week 1 of 2018, Rivers had 29 points against them.
10e. Vegas has listed this game as having the highest over/under of Week 2 (52.5 points).
11. Last season, there were 413 total points scored in Pittsburgh home games.
11b. That was the second most in the NFL, behind only New Orleans.
11b. Patrick Mahomes is my No. 5 quarterback this week.
11c. He is somehow still available in 15 percent of ESPN leagues.
12. Since Week 8 of last season, the Detroit Lions are allowing the sixth-most yards per play, the fourth-most passing yards and the third-most red zone drives.
13. Since the beginning of last season, the Lions are pressuring the QB at the fifth-lowest rate (25.5 percent).
14. After his first two passes on Monday night, 21-year-old rookie Sam Darnold went 16-for-19 for 198 yards and two TDs against the Lions.
14a. … who now travel on a short week to face Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.
15. Between current Packer Jimmy Graham, current Redskin Paul Richardson and the injured Doug Baldwin, 64.1 percent of Russell Wilson’s red zone targets from 2017 will not be on the field when Seattle plays in Chicago Monday night.
16. Last season, the Chicago Bears allowed the third-fewest touchdown passes in home games.
16a. They allowed six.
16b. In eight home games.
16d. They allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing QBs.
16e. That was without Khalil Mack.
16f. … but with an offense that wasn’t very productive and often left the defense with poor field position.
17. Since the start of 2014, Wilson averages 4.6 fewer points per game on the road than at home.
18. In each of the past three seasons, no team has allowed more receptions to running backs than the Atlanta Falcons.
19. On Sunday, they face the Carolina Panthers.
20. In 2017, Christian McCaffrey led all running backs with 110 targets.
20a. That tied for the third most by a RB during the past decade.
21. Last season, in the seven games Greg Olsen played, McCaffrey had 39 targets on 187 routes (targeted on 20.9 percent of those routes) and averaged 11.96 fantasy points per game.
21a. Last season, in nine games without Olsen, McCaffrey had 71 targets on 259 routes (targeted on 27.4 percent of those routes) and averaged 16.10 fantasy points per game.
21b. Olsen will not play on Sunday.
22. Since Week 12 of last season, the Houston Texans are allowing the eighth-most yards per carry (4.31) and the third-most rushing yards per game (135.6).
23. Last week, only 11 teams allowed more rushing yards than the Texans.
25. In his past five games, Derrick Henry is averaging 2.31 yards per carry.
25a. Last week, Lewis played 47 snaps.
25b. Henry played 20.
26. Since Week 14 of last season, 97 players have at least one carry that gained 15-plus yards.
26a. Henry is not one of them.
27. Since the start of 2017, Henry has two massive runs of 70-plus yards.
27a. Remove those two outlier carries and Henry is averaging 3.39 yards per carry.
28. Last week, Henry accounted for less than 35 percent of the Titans’ running back touches.
28a. … and was in on less than 30 percent of snaps.
29. Since the start of 2017, the Indianapolis Colts have allowed 16 rushing touchdowns.
29a. That’s tied for fourth most in the NFL.
31. Last week, no running back had more yards after first contact than … 33-year-old Adrian Peterson.
31a. He was second in the NFL in touches last week, with 28.
32. The past nine running backs to get at least 20 touches against the Colts averaged 18.4 fantasy points per game.
33. Speaking of that game, last season, the Redskins gave up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs.
33a. They also gave up the seventh-most receptions to opposing running backs.
34. Since the beginning of last season, per ESPN Stats & Information tracking data, the Washington Redskins have created pressure on 33.6 percent of dropbacks, the highest rate in the league.
35. Last week, Colts rookie running back Nyheim Hines had nine targets and was targeted on 32.1 percent of his routes.
35b. He’s available in 92 percent of ESPN leagues.
36. In Week 1, despite pregame reports of his expected usage, Josh Gordon was on the field for 78.6 percent of Cleveland’s offensive snaps.
37. Despite being the third-most blitz-happy defense in the league since the beginning of last season, the Saints create pressure at a below-average rate.
38. For his career, 25 percent of Tyrod Taylor’s deep completions when not pressured have resulted in TDs.
38a. The NFL average is 17.3 percent.
38b. Taylor targeted Gordon three times last week: 31.7 air yards per target.
39. In nine games without Greg Olsen last season, Devin Funchess had a 24 percent target share.
40. In 2017, 26 of the Panthers’ 40 red zone targets to WRs or TEs went to Kelvin Benjamin, Olsen and Funchess.
40a. Only one of them will play Sunday against the Falcons.
41. Over the past two seasons, the Buccaneers have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing wideouts.
41a. They just allowed 439 yards passing to the Saints.
41c. Since the start of 2017, the Bucs also have allowed the highest yards per attempt and completion percentage to slot receivers.
41d. They also have given up the third-most completions to the slot.
42. Tampa Bay wide receiver Chris Godwin has gotten 45-plus snaps three times in his career.
42a. He averages 16.2 fantasy points in those games.
42b. DeSean Jackson is currently in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
43. Last week, with Doug Baldwin banged up, 64.9 percent of Tyler Lockett’s routes run came from the slot.
43a. Last season, the Bears were a bottom-12 defense when defending the slot, in terms of both completion percentage and touchdowns.
43b. Randall Cobb caught all eight of his slot targets last week against Chicago for 133 yards and a touchdown.
43c. While much of Cobb’s production came on one big play, it’s not like Lockett doesn’t have big-play potential.
43d. Lockett played 98 percent of offensive snaps last week.
43e. Baldwin will not play Monday night against the Bears.
44. After Aaron Rodgers returned from his injury in the second half last week, 90.5 percent of his targeted throws came while in the shotgun.
45. Since the beginning of 2015, Cobb leads the Packers in receptions (145), targets (216) and receiving yards (1,574) when Rodgers is in the shotgun.
46. Since the beginning of last season, 85.7 percent of TD passes allowed by the Vikings have come from QBs in the shotgun.
46a. The league average is 74.1 percent.
47. Since Week 15 of last season, George Kittle is the third-best tight end in fantasy.
47a. He has 1.5 more fantasy points than Zach Ertz during that stretch.
47b. That number would have been even bigger had a potential 80-yard touchdown not slipped past his fingers last week.
47c. He had nine targets last week on 49 snaps, his most snaps since Jimmy Garoppolo joined the team.
47d. He is still available in 32 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
47e. COME ON PEOPLE!
48. Last week, Ricky Seals-Jones ran 34 routes and stayed in to block just once.
49. He played 92 percent of snaps and got six targets, a 19 percent target share.
50. This week, he plays the Rams, a team that just gave up 180 yards to Jared Cook.
50a. JARED COOK!
A reminder, you can stream episodes of The Fantasy Show, including the Week 2 edition of Love/Hate, on ESPN+. Thanks to Kyle Soppe and Damian Dabrowski for their help, as always, and good luck to you in Week 2.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, had a bunch of good stats about Jack Doyle, but ran out of room. Start Jack Doyle. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.