Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 14
One of the things that makes fantasy football so captivating is the variance. Derrick Henry was the RB1 in all of fantasy in half-PPR formats in 2020, but Henry himself only had three weeks as the top fantasy scorer. That means, on individual weeks, some very strange players may lead the league in fantasy points at their positions.
That opens the door for some room to be "spicy" and make some fun predictions. In a landscape increasingly set ablaze by "hot takes," it can be difficult to understand the difference between a bold prediction -- based on a particularly strong spot for a team or player -- and a senseless take with the prayer of becoming correct based on variance.
Let's shoot for the former with five interesting spots to target during this weekend's NFL games.
(All predictions are for half-PPR and FanDuel scoring for quarterbacks.)
1. K1 is QB1: Kyler Tops Quarterback Scorers for a Second Straight Week
The NFL season is 6.3% longer than it used to be, so there may still be time for Kyler Murray to surge back into the MVP race.
The Arizona quarterback returned in full form for Week 13 in Chicago. Murray posted 0.54 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back; that's nearly five times the league average that currently hovers around 0.11. He was tremendous on the ground as well en route to posting 30.8 half-PPR points as the QB1.
With Patrick Mahomes against a vulnerable Raiders defense, and Josh Allen likely firing 50-plus attempts against Tampa Bay, Murray should have plenty of competition for QB1 this week. He's probably not the odds on favorite with those matchups seeming to be so positive, but Murray's is so much better than perception.
The presence of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey gives the Rams a free pass into the "elite defense" discussion. But, even with a proverbial bye against Jacksonville this past week, they're struggling nearly as much as any defense in the sport -- especially through the air.
In the last five weeks, Los Angeles is allowing 0.21 Passing NEP per drop back. That's the sixth-worst mark in the NFL in that period.
Murray already toasted L.A. for 22.7 half-PPR points earlier this season in a blowout win, but the Rams were actually defending the pass better at that time. The prediction is the volatile Los Angeles pass defense cedes another top week to the surging MVP candidate from "The Grand Canyon State".
2. Jiving with Javonte: Williams Is a Top-5 Running Back if Melvin Gordon Sits Out
I don't like baking a "no contest" qualifier into a prediction, but this one is important.
Obviously, Javonte Williams will be hard-pressed to post a top-five week without a true starting role like he had in Week 13 against the Chiefs. Melvin Gordon did not even touch the practice field last week, and at this point, it's truly unknown if he plays.
Assuming he doesn't, Williams will hold the entire Broncos' backfield to himself. He had 23 of Denver's 27 running back carries against Kansas City on a 79.2% snap rate. That was in an exclusively negative game script as well, and Javonte saw nine targets for his trouble.
Really, this prediction is about Williams' role and his stellar athletic profile. The one-win Lions are better against the run than perception (0.02 Rushing NEP per carry; 18th-most in the league), and the 42.0-point total in this game is less than awe-inspiring.
Williams is a great player with a three-down skill set. He's 11th in the NFL in yards after contact this season despite the part-time workload and breaks tackles at will. With the full-time opportunity, he will be a top-five fantasy running back weekly.
Now it is a good time to buy if at all possible, and you'll easily want to start him over some pretty big names like Aaron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, James Robinson, and James Conner this weekend if the opportunity arises.
3. Aiyuk and I: The 49ers Wideout Outscores Teammate George Kittle
The Cincinnati Bengals might lose their entire remaining schedule.
Their schedule is insanely difficult, Joe Burrow is nursing a finger issue, and their offensive line is ceding the most pressure in the league. Their defense is actually playing well (-0.01 Defensive NEP per play the past five weeks), but the 47.5-point total in their game with the 49ers should still have some fantasy-motivated eyeballs on the television.
San Francisco is a fantasy hotbed currently with Deebo Samuel out with a groin issue. The volume is pretty concentrated between Elijah Mitchell, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk at the moment. Aiyuk may be the unheralded name on that last, but he's every bit as interesting.
The Bengals have been solid against tight ends behind Pro Bowl safety Jessie Bates III. They're allowing just 3.5 receptions and 38.9 yards per game to tight ends this season despite a pretty solid strength of schedule. Kittle's monstrous output last week will certainly be challenging to replicate.
Aiyuk, meanwhile, has an amazing role just like Kittle with a more forgivable matchup. The Bengals are giving up the 15th-most half-PPR points per game to wideouts (29.1), and Aiyuk is basically unopposed as an option for San Fran. He's got a team-best 25.3% target share and 34.1% air yards share the past three weeks.
Don't let Aiyuk's so-so Week 13 from a results standpoint take you away from starting him this weekend. You'd likely start George Kittle in your flex spot, and Aiyuk has a comparable -- if not better -- role with more natural yardage upside from his position.
4. Hig-Bee Hive: Tyler Stings Arizona for a Touchdown
The largest underperformer in PFF's Expected Touchdowns category might be a surprise. It's Tyler Higbee of the L.A. Rams.
Higbee is a tough case study. It's likely all that points back to the notable statistical outlier season of Cooper Kupp, but Higbee has a role that has PFF projecting him for 5.2 touchdowns based on his workload this season. He has just three in an offense scoring a ton of points.
Overall, Higbee has 16 red-zone targets across 12 games. That overall touchdown-to-red-zone-target ratio (18.8%) is still way lower than Kupp's (44.0%). So, yes, Kupp's role is individually outstanding and could go down in fantasy football record books in terms of targets, but he's still dramatically overperforming in the touchdown column.
By the way, both Van Jefferson (38.5%) and Odell Beckham (33.3%) are significantly outperforming Higbee as well. The league average this year for a receiving-touchdown-to-red-zone-target ratio is 34.9%. By just about any measure, Tyler Higbee should be scoring more often.
His matchup is nothing special (Arizona allows the ninth-fewest adjusted FanDuel points per target to opposing tight ends), but basic regression says the Western Kentucky alum should find the end zone soon. The 51.5-point total in this weekend's game should give him ample opportunities.
He's a quality stream on the field often.
5. The 12th Man In the 11th Hour: The Seahawks D/ST Continues Its Rebound and Finishes Top 10
I want this to be very clear -- the Seahawks defense is not good.
Seattle is one of the teams in a five-way tie for the ninth-worst defense in the league in terms of Defensive NEP per play (0.10). They've put forth several pitiful efforts in 2021, but they're building momentum into a tremendous matchup. They also just lost Jamal Adams for the season with a shoulder injury.
The Seattle D/ST has posted back-to-back games with eight or more standard scoring points behind four takeaways and two sacks. They only allowed 23 points to the high-flying 49ers, and they held the Football Team to just 17 points in Week 12.
The real reason they're a quality stream this week is the Houston Texans. Houston's offense is hard to classify as functional at the moment. Over the past five weeks, the Texans are averaging -0.23 Offensive NEP per play. They have just a 33.78% offensive success rate in that same span (i.e. -- the percent of offensive plays that result in positive expected points). It's terrible.
To make matters worse for the lowly Texans, Tyrod Taylor was banged up in Week 13, and the return of Davis Mills is right around the corner.
Just about any defense in the NFL except the Jets would be in play for this matchup -- home or road -- with undoubtedly the worst offense in football currently. Seattle travels to Houston on Sunday, and the pick is they emerge with a week that is more than worth a potential addition this week.