Fantasy Football Predictions
Week 3 was a weird one in the NFL. The Vikings were favored by 16.5 points over Buffalo, but lost by three touchdowns. The Patriots couldn’t get anything going offensively against what had been a porous Detroit defense. Jacksonville lost at home to the Titans in a game where neither team scored a touchdown. For fantasy purposes, Calvin Ridley outscored Julio Jones, Mike Williams dominated Keenan Allen, Tyler Boyd outperformed A.J. Green, and Dallas Goedert was more productive than Zach Ertz. Just a very weird week.
All of which is not to forgive a poor performance for Bold Predictions last week, but to offer a little context. Still, it was a tough week for my picks, with the most notable misses being my faith in Latavius Murray and Corey Clement as RB1’s. The two COMBINED for 106 total yards rushing and receiving, and neither found the endzone. Yikes! We will hope for better as we turn the page to Week 4.
The below projections are meant to highlight sleepers and lesser-owned players who could put you over the top in season-long and DFS contests, or guide you toward fading a popular fantasy option who is poised to disappoint. Questions about our bold predictions or your own weekly lineups are encouraged and appreciated via the comments section or on Twitter.
1. Giovani Bernard will be an RB1 in PPR leagues this week
In the first week of Joe Mixon’s absence after knee surgery, Bernard was every bit the workhorse fantasy owners were hoping he would be. Playing 88% of the offensive snaps for the Bengals, Bernard handled every running back carry and also saw nine targets in the passing game. A total of just 86 yards from scrimmage was a bit lackluster, but Bernard found the endzone and no one can complain about his usage. Mixon has already resumed running and cutting but is likely to miss at least one more game, leaving Bernard with a huge opportunity on Sunday. Cincinnati faces a Falcons defense that is conceding the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs on the season and has been absolutely destroyed by receiving backs over the last two weeks. With defensive stars Deion Jones and Keanu Neal sidelined, Atlanta has given up 32 receptions for 232 yards to running backs over the last two weeks, setting the table for a big performance from Bernard in what should be a high-scoring game.
2. This is the week the FitzMagic finally runs out
I love the Ryan Fitzpatrick story, from the unlikely success to start the year to the postgame press conference in DeSean Jackson’s clothes. While a lot of people were taking victory laps on Twitter during the first half of Monday’s game against Pittsburgh when Fitzpatrick looked terrible, I was hoping to see him turn it around in the second half… and he did. But I expect Week 4 to be the end of the magical run, with the Buccaneers traveling to Chicago to face a Bears defense giving up just 289 total yards per game through the first three weeks of 2018. If Pittsburgh’s lacking defense cane make Fitzpatrick look as bad as they did in the first half last week, it’s scary to think about what Khalil Mack and company might do on Sunday. Fantasy owners that have been riding the FitzMagic train the last few weeks would be smart to leave him on the bench in Week 4. The matchup is terrible and with Jameis Winston returning this week from a three-game suspension, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fitzpatrick pulled from the game at some point.
3. Matt Breida is still an RB2, even with the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo
Fantasy owners are justifiably concerned about the prospects of San Francisco’s skill-position players following a season-ending ACL tear for Jimmy G. And while I share those concerns in relation to guys like Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon, Breida should be able to hold onto his fantasy value with C.J. Beathard at the helm of the offense. The team may not be as explosive, but an offense already attempting 27.3 rushes per game (tied for 11th in the league) will likely lean on its running backs a bit more moving forward. Breida is stuck in a timeshare with Alfred Morris, handling 32 carries versus Alf’s 40, but he has been considerably more productive than Morris this season, averaging 8.6 yards per carry to the veteran’s 3.8 YPC mark. And the biggest boon for Breida’s fantasy production this week could be in the passing game. During the six games in which Beathard served as the 49ers primary quarterback in 2017, then-running back Carlos Hyde saw a team-high 50 targets in the passing game, a 21.4% share. While not a pass-catching stud by any means, Breida has seen nine targets to start the year and is well ahead of Morris, who brings next to nothing as a receiver. With the Chargers allowing the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, Breida should continue to produce for fantasy owners in Week 4.
4. Sterling Shepard is a borderline WR1 this week
I would think Shepard is an obvious fantasy start in Week 4, but he currently appears in just 30.2% of lineups in ESPN leagues. Not only should he be a lock for your team this week, but I expect him to challenge the top-end players at the positon and flirt with WR1 production. As Mike Rigz pointed out in his Start’em Sit’em article for this week, the Saints have been roasted by number-two receivers over the first three weeks of the season, conceding 146 yards and two touchdowns to DeSean Jackson, 81 yards and a score to Antonio Callaway, and 146 yards and three trips to the endzone to Calvin Ridley. With cornerback Marshon Lattimore generally shadowing opposing number-ones, New Orleans just doesn’t have anyone else that can handle a talented second option. Shepard has seen 19 targets over the Giants first three games and can expect a boost in activity with tight end Evan Engram out with an MCL sprain. In a game with an over/under of 50.5, there should be plenty of fantasy goodness to go around and Shepard will be a big part of it.
5. Aaron Jones is poised for a fantasy breakout
Jones returned in Week 3 from a two-game suspension and promptly outperformed incumbent starter Jamaal Williams, gaining 42 yards on six carries compared to 29 yards on five carries for Williams. Jones saw just 25% of Green Bay’s offensive snaps versus 43% for Williams, but the former was clearly the more effective runner. Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin praised Jones this week for his “explosiveness” and Aaron Rodgers noted Jones’ “dynamic abilities”, with the star quarterback calling him “a different type of runner than we have had” and saying the team had to find ways to get Jones the ball. Williams is the superior pass protector of the two running backs, a particularly valuable skill with Rodgers currently hobbled by a knee injury, but at this point a viable rushing attack could do more for Rodgers and the Packers than some pass blocking. With Williams averaging just 3.8 yards per carry in 2018 after a 3.6 YPC mark across 16 games last season, expect Jones to see an increased workload in Week 4 against a Bills defense that generally doesn’t perform well against the run. Buffalo is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2018 and has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns in its last 13 games dating back to last season.
6. Larry Fitzgerald belongs on fantasy benches
Fitzgerald’s production has gone from bad to worse over the first three games of 2018, with receiving totals of 76, 28, and nine yards in weeks one through three, respectively. Arizona has the worst offense in the league thus far, averaging just 190.3 total yards and 6.7 points per game, making it hard to trust anyone for fantasy purposes. And while a quarterback change to rookie Josh Rosen this week might breathe a little life into the Cardinals, Fitzgerald doesn’t necessarily stand to be a big beneficiary. After entering the game last week, Rosen failed to target Fitzgerald and instead demonstrated a connection with fellow-rookie Christian Kirk. Half of Rosen’s six pass attempts were directed at Kirk, a player he has known personally since the two were high school prospects and one with whom he showed considerable chemistry over the summer in Cardinals camp. With a questionable role on a limited offense, as well as a lingering hamstring issue, Fitzgerald needs to be benched in fantasy leagues until he can show some signs of life.
7. Phillip Lindsay is an RB2 in PPR leagues
A quick look at the Broncos Week 3 box score would seem to suggest that Royce Freeman has taken control of Denver’s backfield, as he out-touched Lindsay 14 to four. But Lindsay was ejected in the second quarter of the game for throwing a punch during a scrum for a loose ball. Prior to his disqualification, Lindsay saw four carries and two targets compared to five carries and zero targets for Freeman, demonstrating that the timeshare is still firmly in place. After playing on 35% of offensive snaps in Week 1 to Freeman’s 39%, Lindsay actually took a big step forward in snap count in Week 2 (42%) while Freeman was less involved (24%), perhaps signaling that Lindsay was trending toward lead-back responsibilities before his ejection last week. Regardless, Lindsay should remain a key part of Denver’s offense this week in a game with the highest over/under of Week 4 at 55.5 points. As the Broncos attempt to keep pace with Kansas City’s league-leading offense, look for Lindsay to get his share of carries while playing a vital role in the passing game. The Chiefs have allowed the fourth-most receptions and a league-leading 334 receiving yards to opposing running backs this season.
8. Andy Dalton is a QB1 this week
What does Dalton have to do to get more respect in fantasy circles? He has been a top-12 performer at the quarterback position in each of the last two weeks and barely missed that designation in Week 1. With one of the game’s top receivers at his disposal, it’s practically criminal that Dalton remains owned in less than 50% of ESPN leagues. The Bengals offense is much improved in 2018 and Dalton has an opportunity to shine in a Week 4 matchup with Atlanta. I’ve already touched on all the catches and yardage the Falcons are ceding to opposing running backs in the passing game, but the totals allowed to opposing quarterbacks are also in Dalton’s favor this week. After holding the Eagles in check in a rainy season-opener in which they lost their two best defensive players, Atlanta has given up 731 yards passing and eight total touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks over the last two weeks. A.J. Green was banged up to start the week, but returned to a full practice on Thursday and should be ready to team up with Dalton, Bernard, and Tyler Boyd in a shootout with the Falcons. Despite a general lack of respect, Dalton can be started with confidence in fantasy leagues this week.
9. Isaiah Crowell will be a fantasy bust
On the whole, Crowell’s fantasy production in 2018 looks pretty good, but he continues to be a touchdown-dependent player that is only receiving a little more than half of his team’s carries. A 62-yard touchdown run against the Lions in Week 1 is buoying his yards-per-carry number for the season, but excluding that one big play Crowell has averaged less than three yards per attempt and managed just a 2.1 YPC mark against Cleveland last week while seeing just two more carries than Bilal Powell. In Week 4, he faces a Jacksonville defense that is allowing the fourth-fewest total yards and a league-low 14.7 points per game. The Jaguars have allowed only one rushing touchdown this season and just four rushing scores to opposing running backs in the last 15 regular season games. This is not the week the bet on a Crowell touchdown saving his fantasy day. I expect him to be a total bust in Week 4.
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