Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 14
Week 13 was a weird and fantastic weekend of football, but it wasn't a highly successful one for the column. We whiffed pretty big on four of our predictions, but fortunately Jack Doyle emerged from the injury-decimated Indianapolis Colts pass-catchers and posted the third-best tight end performance of the week.
Ronald Jones apparently missed an important blitz pickup and had to watch as teammate Peyton Barber got all the fantasy points we thought Jones would get heading into the week -- Barber finished as the RB7 for Week 13, while Jones finished as the RB75. Yikes. Phillip Lindsay still dominated the running back opportunities for the Denver Broncos but was kept out of the end zone by a Los Angeles Chargers defense that did a surprisingly good job of bottling him up. Sony Michel actually was decently efficient, but negative game script skewed things heavily in James White's favor. White finished the week as the overall RB1. And finally, I would prefer not to talk about Sammy Watkins.
We may have missed on four, but at least we managed to punch one in for Week 13 -- unlike Aaron Jones, who got stuffed twice at the goal line and had a touchdown wiped off the board by a penalty. So it could have been worse. Plus, 13 is always a little unlucky, right?
We'll bounce back with another set of five bold predictions for Week 14.
A.J. Brown Will Be a WR1
This season, Brown has averaged 3.1 more yards per target (11.6) than Davis (8.5) as a rookie and has more yards than Davis despite playing a part-time role for a significant part of the season. Davis missed Week 10 with a hip injury, but in Weeks 12 and 13, he played noticeably behind Brown on the team's depth chart. Davis had the slight advantage in snaps over Brown in Week 12, but Brown out-snapped Davis this past week and outproduced Davis in both weeks.
In other words, it's Brown's time to shine. Brown has showcased rare speed and agility for a 6'0", 226-pound receiver all year, and it was about time that the Titans embraced that. He's managed to produce with elite efficiency despite the unreliable passing volume of the Titans' run-first offense. In fact, only Stefon Diggs (12.2) and Mecole Hardman (12.2) have had a higher yards per target rate this season, while Brown's yards after the catch (YAC) rank 12th in the league.
So it's okay that the Titans may not need heavy volume to beat the Oakland Raiders because A.J. Brown doesn't need Michael Thomas' volume to finish as a top wideout. The Raiders have been getting dunked on recently, nearly losing to the Ryan Finley-led Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11, and losing blowouts to the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs the past two weeks. Teams have had no issue putting points on the board against the Raiders' defense, and neither will the Titans. The Titans' offense is currently projected for a decent 25 points but could easily go over that with how the Raiders have played recently.
As we noted before, Brown's been a massive YAC-guy this year -- and that's something the Raiders' defense has seriously struggled with in 2019. Only the Arizona Cardinals (1622) and the Atlanta Falcons (1531) have allowed more yards after the catch than the Raiders (1477), while only the Detroit Lions (10.1) have allowed a deeper average depth of target (9.8) to opposing offenses. Brown has been averaging an impressive 13.4 average depth of target -- basically, Brown is the Raiders' worst nightmare as a huge, fast receiver that can rack up yards after the catch with the best of them.
Everything but volume is stacked in Brown's favor this week, and we've established that he doesn't need much volume to have a big week in fantasy. He's currently projected just outside the top-30 wideouts this week, but I think he'll finish as a WR1 instead.
Baker Mayfield Will Finish as a Top-6 Quarterback
I'm willing to put every disappointment the Cleveland Browns have dealt us behind me this week. Even with everything they've done -- or rather, haven't done -- I still believe in Baker Mayfield as a player, and I think he'll finish as a top-six quarterback in Week 14.
And that's because he gets to play the Bengals. I don't know what the heck happened to the Jets last week, but we can pretty safely say the Bengals aren't a good football team and particularly on the defensive side of the ball. According to numberFire's power rankings, the Bengals have the fifth-worst defense in the league.
That should make things easy for Mayfield and company this week. While Odell Beckham has been having the worst season of his career, Jarvis Landry has been quietly breaking out recently, the team could be getting David Njoku back, and Kareem Hunt has already proved himself to be a weapon in their passing game. We know that on an individual level, each of the Browns' skill position guys are impressive talents -- they just haven't been able to put it together as a team. The Bengals should lend a hand in changing that this week, and Mayfield will be the glue that binds them all together.
The Bengals have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2019, while only the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cardinals have allowed more. It's kind of crazy how bad some defenses have been this year, too. The Bengals' 22.08 fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks this season would have been just 0.02 points per game fewer than the Falcons' league-worst defense against quarterbacks last season.
Mayfield hasn't been overly impressive this season, but it's worth noting that at least according to SharpFootballStats.com, the Browns have faced the most difficult slate of opposing pass defenses in the league to date. He's bombed matchups with the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots, but so has the rest of the league. He has shown he can still get it done against bad defenses, and he'll do just that this week against the Bengals.
Mayfield is currently projected as this week's QB22, but this has a chance to be the week Browns fans have been waiting for all year. He'll bounce back after last week's devastating loss and finish as a top-six quarterback for Week 14.
Washington Will Upset Green Bay
Okay, look. This one is pretty crazy. I'd be lying if I said I really thought that Washington would beat Green Bay, but I do think there's more of a chance of this happening than people realize. Green Bay are currently 13-point home favorites in this one -- the widest margin on the Week 14 slate -- but hear me out on this.
We know Washington is a bad football team led by one of the worst front offices in the league. But their strengths actually line up surprisingly well with the Packers' weaknesses. First, the Packers have arguably the worst run defense in the league -- numberFire's power rankings have them at second-worst, behind only the Carolina Panthers. The run game is pretty much the only thing Washington can do right on offense this year. We saw Derrius Guice absolutely take over against the Panthers last week, and Adrian Peterson -- who was no slouch himself in that game -- has had pretty much his best season since 2015.
Guice particularly has provided some much-needed juice to this offense. He's averaged 4.5 yards after contact per attempt and has already produced three different plays of over 30 yards since returning from injury. He even showed off his impressive tackle-breaking this week when he stiff-armed breakout linebacker Shaq Thompson to oblivion on his 37-yard run from Week 13. Guice and Peterson should be able to take advantage of the Packers' awful run defense and execute interim head coach Bill Callahan's offensive game plan to perfection in Week 14.
On the other side of the ball, Washington's defense has been kind of underrated this year. They've been about middle of the pack in yards per play allowed with 5.4 and have actually been one of the top teams in quarterback pressures per drop back -- their surprising 28.7% quarterback pressure rate ranks fourth in the league. That will be key against the Packers this week.
The Packers have done an okay job of protecting Rodgers this season. His pocket time of 2.5 seconds -- or the time it takes on average for either Rodgers to throw a pass or for the pocket to collapse -- is tied for ninth-longest in the league, and his 6.1% sack rate has been solid this season. But that low sack rate has actually been buoyed by Rodgers' habit of throwing the ball away when he is either under pressure or doesn't like what he sees -- he has the second-most throwaways in the league with 24. He prefers to throw balls away and let drives stall, as opposed to forcing throws into pressure -- he's been the fifth-least aggressive quarterback among current starters, according to Next Gen Stats.
And his protection has been struggling recently, as well. If you cut out their Week 13 matchup against the New York Giants, the Packers gave up 15 sacks over their previous four games. Rodgers could be in more trouble than he expects against Washington's surprisingly strong pass rush.
It's extremely unlikely that Washington will beat the Packers this week -- Washington is still a bad football team, and the Packers are still a good one -- but that's what makes this a bold prediction. Washington's strengths line up shockingly well with Green Bay's weaknesses, and that could make this a much more competitive game than people are expecting. In what has probably been the boldest prediction of the year, I think Washington will beat the Packers in Week 14.
Mecole Hardman Will Be a Top-24 Wide Receiver
This could be a pretty big week for rookie wide receivers. We're already predicting that A.J. Brown will finish as a top-12 wide receiver, and now we're going to predict that Mecole Hardman will finish in the top-24 at his position.
This is bold for a few reasons -- Hardman is currently projected as numberFire's WR84 on the week and for good reason. The Chiefs are taking on the Patriots this week, the harshest defense in the league to opposing wide receivers for fantasy football. Compounding matters is the fact that Hardman is a part-time player on the Chiefs' offense whenever Tyreek Hill is healthy. So how could Hardman finish as a top-24 receiver considering how the odds are stacked against him?
Well, while the Patriots have been very stingy to opposing wideouts in general, they've actually shown they can be attacked by slot wideouts. Randall Cobb posted 86 yards, Cole Beasley and JuJu Smith-Schuster each went for over 70, Jarvis Landry and DeAndre Hopkins (whose aDOT has dropped significantly this year in conjunction with his slot percentage rising) each had over 60 yards, and Golden Tate has been the only receiver to post over 100 receiving yards against the Pats. Each of those receivers -- with the exception of Hopkins, whose slot rate has more than doubled this year (23.3%) from last year (11.3%), per PlayerProfiler.com -- has lined up in the slot on over 50% of their routes this year, showing that while the Pats' secondary is quite strong, there are still yards to be gained from attacking them out of the slot and in short yardage.
That aligns perfectly with Hardman's skill set, who has lined up in the slot at a higher rate than every receiver on the Chiefs not named Sammy Watkins this season. Hardman has been an electric weapon for the Chiefs this year, who have put him in the perfect position to maximize his skill set. He's flashed his elite 4.33 wheels multiple times -- including his 63-yard touchdown reception in Week 10 on which he hit the sixth-fastest recording speed of the season -- and has routinely generated separation against opposing defensive backs. In fact, his 4.3 average yards of separation per target lead the entire NFL through Week 13.
On top of his elite speed, he's generating yards for the Chiefs at a highly efficient clip. On average, he has generated a ridiculous seven yards after the catch per reception over expectation, per Next Gen Stats, the highest rate in the league. And according to AirYards.com, only Michael Thomas (1.28) has a higher receiver air yards conversion rate (RACR) than Hardman (1.21) among receivers with 30 or more targets this season, which is especially impressive considering the fact that Hardman (10.1) has an aDOT almost three yards deeper than Thomas (7.7).
The Patriots have one of the deepest defensive back depth charts in the league and can hang with any receiver group, but Patrick Mahomes should be able to take advantage of Hardman's speed and efficiency even against this defense. Like fellow rookie A.J. Brown, Hardman has shown that he doesn't need much volume at all to have a big week, so he can finish as a top-24 receiver even without a top wideout's target share.
Le'Veon Bell Will Be the Overall RB1
2019 just really hasn't been Le'Veon Bell's season. Despite signing a lucrative contract that would seem to imply the New York Jets had big ideas about how to use him, he's on pace for his lowest carries per game (15.3) since he entered the league. Perhaps even more disappointing is that he hasn't been much of a factor in the Jets' confusing passing game, either. Still, not many backs are receiving similar workloads to Bell this year, which is how he's managed to stay afloat as the RB12 in total points so far this season.
If you drafted Bell this year, you've probably been a little disappointed with his lack of a ceiling, but happy overall with how he's done this season. He hasn't broken 20 fantasy points since Week 1, but he's also had 8 or more fantasy points in all but one game.
Most of his lack of a ceiling has come from a the Jets' total lack of touchdown production, but Gase's offenses have historically lacked touchdown production on the ground. In his two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Gase's teams produced the second-fewest and third-fewest rushing touchdowns in the league, while this year's Jets have rushed for the ninth-fewest in the league. Frustratingly, only three of the team's six rushing touchdowns have gone Bell's way.
I think that might change this week, with some touchdown regression headed Bell's way. While the Dolphins have been on a bit of a winning streak recently -- including their Week 9 win over this same Jets team -- they have still allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing backfields in the league and the second-most rushing yards per game. The Jets are currently projected as five-point home favorites for this one and figure to face a mostly-positive game script against Ryan Fitzpatrick's turnover-prone style of quarterbacking.
The Jets are by no means a good football team, but the Dolphins are arguably a worse one. Le'Veon Bell is due for some touchdown regression considering the disparity between his massive workload and low touchdown totals, and the Dolphins are one of the dreamiest matchups imaginable for fantasy running backs. Bell will hit his fantasy ceiling in this one and finish as the RB1 for Week 14.