Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 5
Another week, another set of near misses.
Last week's bold predictions were so close to hitting they were basically overturned on review. Matthew Stafford finished just one spot shy of a top five quarterback finish. The Buffalo Bills were very close to defeating the New England Patriots in what ended up being a nerve-wracking defensive struggle. The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears combined to score 22 points, but the game script played out just like we outlined. And for one brief, glorious moment, DeVante Parker looked like he was going to coast to a top 5 finish -- he ended up finishing with 70 yards and a touchdown as the week's WR11. Less close was our prediction for Josh Jacobs, but he still performed well and finished as a back-end RB2.
We've been getting closer, and this week we are going to seal the deal.
Green Bay will topple Dallas by at least a score
As of this writing, the Dallas Cowboys are 3.5-point home favorites squaring off against the Green Bay Packers. I think that spread is optimistic at best -- really, I think the Packers are going to crush the Cowboys and win by at least a touchdown. But why?
Green Bay's defense has been one of the big storylines of this season. After a few years of middling-to-disappointing performances, the Pack have seemed to turn things around in 2019. They've allowed their opponents to score on just 24.5% of their offensive drives -- the fifth-best rate in the league -- and have given up just 4.5 adjusted yards per attempt in the passing game. That's better than the much-feared Chicago Bears defense through Week 4. And to top it off, their 8.3% sack rate is one of the best marks in the league as well.
That's going to matter a lot this week, as the Cowboys' perennial All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith is likely to miss the game. The last time Smith missed significant time, people actively wondered if Dak Prescott was any good at all. Prescott took a Deshaun Watson-esque 14 sacks in 3 games without Smith in 2017, with the Cowboys losing those games by a combined 70 points.
Ironically, most people identified Ezekiel Elliott's absence as the reason for Dak's performance during that time, and yet Dak has performed progressively worse in 2019 as Zeke has been reintegrated to the Cowboys offense. In Week 1, when the Cowboys dismantled the New York Giants, they passed 69% of the time on first and second downs. That number has dropped every week since -- all the way to 50% in Week 4 -- while Zeke's workload has up to its usual volume.
The run game in Dallas is averaging -0.04 Net Expected Points (NEP) on first downs, meaning they are expected to lose 0.04 points every time they rush on first down (you can read more about NEP in numberFire's terms glossary). They've been doing that more and more with Zeke back, shooting themselves in the feet every time they start a set of downs with a running back rush. That's not likely to change without Tyron Smith -- not to mention that his absence on the line means Dak will be under relentless pressure from Green Bay's formidable defensive front.
Green Bay's defense is going to shut down a Dallas offense that has been trending in the wrong direction since Week 2. Their offense is starting to click -- they put up 27 points against the Philadelphia Eagles last week and probably should have had more if not for some strange pass interference calls. The Pack are going to beat the Cowboys by over a score -- this game isn't going to be close.
Will Fuller will finish as a top 6 receiver
Remember how good Will Fuller was the last two seasons when both he and Deshaun Watson were healthy? He averaged about a touchdown a game in his two seasons with Watson before tearing his ACL last year. Watson's splits with and without Fuller are pretty telling as well. So it's safe to say that Fuller has been a little disappointing in 2019.
But let's be fair -- Fuller tore his ACL in October of last year, and not everyone can come back from ACL surgery looking stronger and faster, like Cooper Kupp. We should have expected a relatively slow start for the speedy wideout. But in Week 5, Fuller is going to look all the way up to speed.
Despite how disappointing Fuller's stat lines have looked through four weeks of NFL action -- he has 14 receptions for 183 scoreless yards -- he's been getting closer and closer to hitting the big one. Fuller is actually top 12 among wideouts in air yards in 2019 with 399. He's been playing over 90% of the Houston Texans' offensive snaps each week. And with new teammate Kenny Stills likely sidelined by a hamstring injury, Fuller could see a slight uptick in targets.
This week the Texans take on the Atlanta Falcons, who were just shredded at home by Marcus Mariota like it was 2016. The Falcons defense isn't very good, and likely got worse when they lost Keanu Neal -- particularly when it comes to defending the kinds of deep passes that Fuller specializes in.
It's a perfect storm of opportunity for Fuller in Week 5. He is currently projected as this week's WR41 in numberFire's weekly projections, but I think this is the week he breaks out. Will Fuller will have a top six receiver performance in Week 5.
Chris Thompson will finish as an RB1
If the New England Patriots have one area opposing offenses can attack, it's passes to the running back. While no one has really exploited that weakness this year, in 2018 the Pats allowed the ninth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs despite allowing the tenth-fewest fantasy points to backs overall. The Buffalo Bills almost took advantage of that in Week 4, as T.J. Yeldon caught 4 of 4 targets for 68 yards.
If there's one thing Chris Thompson excels at, it's catching passes out of the backfield in negative game scripts. And we all know that Washington is going to see plenty of negative game scripts in Week 5 -- they're currently 15-point dogs at home. Thompson already has the second-most targets in the league at the running back position with 28.
Washington is going to struggle regardless of who starts -- or finishes -- at the quarterback position in Week 5, but one thing is for certain: Chris Thompson is going to get fed in a game that could enter garbage time as early as the first quarter. Thompson will finish as an RB1 in Week 5 in FanDuel scoring leagues -- not bad for a guy who's currently available in 35% of Yahoo! leagues.
George Kittle will hit pay dirt -- twice
It seems like every year, the Cleveland Browns defense forgets to cover opposing tight ends. They allowed the sixth-most points to opposing tight ends in 2018, the fourth-most in 2017 and the most in 2016. They've been doing a little better in 2019 -- they've allowed the eleventh-most through four weeks -- but have allowed the fantasy-relevant tight ends they've faced to go off. Delanie Walker had 55 yards and 2 scores against them, while an injured Mark Andrews had 31 yards and another score. Only the Arizona Cardinals (six) have allowed more touchdown receptions to opposing tight ends than the Browns (3).
This week, the Browns face the San Francisco 49ers and tight end monster George Kittle -- who is due for some serious regression in the touchdown department. Kittle has yet to find the end zone in 2019 after struggling to find it 2018, but not for a lack of trying. He's already had multiple scores called back due to penalties and still has the tenth-most receiving yards at the position despite playing in one fewer game than every other tight end of consequence.
Only Darren Waller (28%) has a higher target share than Kittle (25%) among tight ends in 2019, so when the San Francisco 49ers pass there is a strong chance those passes are headed Kittle's way. And the 49ers just haven't had to pass that much this year due to strange game scripts. In Week 1 they had two defensive touchdowns, in Week 2 they massacred the Cincinnati Bengals on the ground, and in Week 3 they didn't have to do much to topple Mason Rudolph and the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are one of just two teams that have passed the ball on fewer than 50% of their offensive plays in 2019, but that could change against a competitive Browns team.
The 49ers have found terrific success on the ground this year, but may have a tougher time against the Browns defense. They'll have to throw more than they have been so far in 2019, and those passes are heading Kittle's way. It was just a matter of time before he started converting those looks into scores -- that turning point will be Week 5 against the Browns.
The Jags will pounce on the Panthers
The Panthers defense has been something to watch this year. Rookie Brian Burns has already made his presence felt, as the Panthers lead the league in quarterback hits (34) -- two more than the Pats despite playing a tougher slate of opponents -- and in tackles for a loss. They've consistently been getting behind opposing offensive lines and are playing tight defense all around.
On the other side of the ball, the Jags seem invigorated by Minshew, and have been a competitive football team in 2019 despite their rookie backup quarterback playing all but 11 of their snaps this season. Minshew has thrived in the short passing game, which should help him get the ball out before the Panthers' elite pass rush can get to him.
Meanwhile, Kyle Allen has come very close to losing games for the Panthers with his fumbling. His passing has been solid -- especially for an undrafted free agent backup -- but Allen now has five fumbles through two starts in 2019. That's the second-most in the league despite starting half as many games as most other quarterbacks. We're two years removed from the season that earned the Jags the "Sax-onville" nickname, but they've been solid at getting to opposing quarterbacks this season. Their 27 quarterback hits are tied for sixth in the league. They've only forced turnovers on 2.3% of opposing drives, but that number should be due for regression when we stack it against how they've performed in years past.
Kyle Allen's fumbling is going to cost the Panthers big this week, while Minshew's accuracy in the short passing game will negate the strength of Carolina's defense. It's not going to be a pretty game, but the Jags are going to come out on top.