Almost unbelievably, my 10-year-old son is entering his third season of playing fantasy football.
I was -- and still am -- a bit uneasy about allowing him to start so young.
The heart of the issue has to do with what this game does to our ability to root for our favorite team.
Take me, for example.
I grew up a huge Bears fan, but those loyalties have been beaten down by two big factors:
1. There's no cheering in the press box -- i.e. reporters aren't supposed to root for any team or player.
2. Fantasy football.
Veterans of fantasy know that if you want to win your league, you must pick the best players available -- and that includes guys on teams you despise. This leads to you rooting for Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and/or Jordy Nelson when you despise the Packers with every bone in your body.
And then there's the flip side -- rooting against Matt Forte, Jay Cutler or Brandon Marshall because your opponent has one of them on his or her team.
This is no way for 10-, 12- or 14-year olds to go about their youth.
"Please Clay Matthews, stop Matt Forte before he gets to the end zone! STOP HIM! BURY HIM INTO THE GROUND!!!"
No. This is just wrong on so many levels.
The constant checking of fantasy scores while watching the Bears is also a big turnoff.
"Dad, can I see the score of my game? Dad? Dad? Dad?"
"Not yet, Connor."
(15 seconds later)
"Dad, c'mon, Calvin Johnson just scored! PUH-LEEEEEEZE! DAAAAAD?"
In our house, some form of that conversation happened about 4,999 times in the last two years.
This is certainly no way for parents to groom our budding sports fanatics into woof-woof-woofing Bears fans.
So, here's my advice to those of you under the age of 18 involved in this crazy game:
1. Have fun but don't make it life and death. Enjoy the Bears game and don't worry about your team every 30 seconds -- or 30 minutes even.
2. On draft day, do everything you can to pick at least one player from your favorite team, even if it's the kicker. Give yourself something to root for every Sunday. My son has the Bears defense for the second straight season, so he can root for Brian Urlacher and Co. all season long.
3. If your team falls out of contention, keep submitting a lineup and try to win the week.
4. Need help with lineup or trade advice? Shoot me an email -- I'm here to help!
And here's some advice for everyone -- don't panic if you start 0-1, 0-2 or even 0-3. It's a long season. I've seen many a team turn itself around after poor starts with shrewd trades and by paying attention to the free-agent market.
Good luck, everybody!
Here's the drill:
For those of you new to this space, I always end my column with a list of good bets and bad bets for the upcoming week. My goal is to identify the fringe starters who I believe will play well and place them in the good bets. The bad bets normally consist of studs or guys you normally start who I think will have an off-week. In other words, you're never going to find Aaron Rodgers in the good bets or Bears WR Earl Bennett in the bad bets.
So, off we go ...
•Lions RB Kevin Smith and WR Titus Young vs. St. Louis. The Lions should put on one of the most impressive offensive displays of Week 1. Watch Smith salt away the game late and Young get on the board early as the Rams try to guard Calvin Johnson with four cornerbacks, three safeties and four linebackers. "Forget the pass rush," Rams coach Jeff Fisher was overheard saying. "We're going with the quadruple-quadruple-triple-coverage-on-Megatron game plan!"
•Vikings RB Toby Gerhart vs. Jacksonville. The guess here is Adrian Peterson doesn't play, meaning Gerhart can expose the Jaguars for what they are -- a Pop Warner team in teal uniforms.
•Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings at Minnesota. Not expecting miracles here, but 16-18 touches and 75-85 yards with a possible score means Jennings is worth considering.
•Saints WR Lance Moore vs. Washington. Moore may have gone undrafted in some leagues, but he has a nose for the end zone and should score eight times this season.
•Bears QB Jay Cutler vs. Indianapolis. The Bears should win this game in a waltz, so let's hope Cutler gets busy early. I'm expecting 250 yards and 2 TD passes.
•Niners WR Michael Crabtree at Green Bay. Playing a hunch here. If we get a high-scoring game, Crabree figures to end up with over 70 receiving yards and a TD.
•Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams at Tampa Bay. Jonathan Stewart's banged up and the Bucs' D is a mess so watch for Williams to have a big day.
•Packers RB Cedric Benson vs. San Francisco. I like Benson over the long haul this season but not against one of the league's best defenses.
•Dolphins RB Reggie Bush at Houston. The Texans know there's only one player who can hurt them Sunday. Bush will finish with under 50 yards from scrimmage and be muttering afterward, "I felt like there were 51 guys after me on every play."
•Steelers WR Mike Wallace at Denver. Long holdout, road game in the Mile High air. It adds up to a 3-catch, 35-yard game for Wallace.
•Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis at Baltimore. Cincinnati is missing its starting center and a starting guard. That's no way to start the season, especially when facing tough-as-nails defense like the Ravens.