Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 16
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. Draft Pick Duel: Both Top 2021 Picks Post Top-15 Quarterback Weeks Head-to-Head
Both Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be connected forever as back-to-back picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, but their first meeting happens on Sunday. With two of the worst pass defenses in football squaring off, it should be decent conditions for the rookies to try and make their case for the better draft pick.
Lawrence, obviously, has had to pilot the Jaguars through the plague that is Urban Meyer. Lawrence's -0.06 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back is unsightly, but it's understandable given the talent deficiency his team faces most weeks.
Thankfully, the Jets' secondary isn't really in that category. They're allowing 0.28 Passing NEP per drop back as a unit (worst in the NFL), and we've seen Lawrence break 17 fantasy points four times when the matchup has been workable.
As for Wilson, it's been an up-and-down year with way more "low" than "high." He's broken 18 fantasy points three times, but he's failed to top 15 points in any other games. He's not at much of a deficit to Lawrence on Sunday in the matchup category, though; the Jags are the third-worst pass defense in the NFL in terms of Passing NEP per drop back allowed (0.26).
These two secondaries are terrible, which is why I was so surprised to see just a 41.5-point total in this game. Lawrence and Wilson have both had their moments, and quarterback really drops off after the cream-of-the-crop options.
The pick is both Lawrence and Wilson find the top-15 spots in great matchups, and both are really solid fits in two-quarterback or superflex leagues.
2. Sweet Sixteen: Najee Posts Over 16 Half-PPR Points
This doesn't feel bold, but Najee Harris hasn't hit this mark in six of the last seven weeks.
It's been a frustrating season for Harris managers. From a process perspective, you nailed his role if you drafted him in the second round. Harris has an 85.5% snap rate on the entire season. He hasn't missed a game this year, and he's seen 17.7 carries and 5.7 targets per game. It's everything you would have hoped for.
This week, hopefully, Harris finally does the absolute bare minimum with that type of role. He's facing a Kansas City defense that's been as inconsistent as their game totals would imply, but especially in the run defense category. The Chiefs are allowing 0.07 Rushing NEP per carry to opponents -- the sixth-worst mark in the league.
Harris is averaging 2.8 red-zone touches per game this season, and if he can score and maintain his usual workload in the passing game, he's got a great shot to get back on track.
3. Buffa-low Point: Stefon Diggs Doesn't Crack the Top-20 Wideouts
I'd be incredibly worried to start Stefon Diggs with a championship berth on the line this weekend.
Diggs' role has really reduced entering this brutal matchup with New England. In Week 15, Diggs was held to just a 22.6% target share on 7 targets. That tied Gabriel Davis, and it was one shy of Cole Beasley for the lead mark on the Bills. Diggs also played five fewer snaps and ran two fewer routes than Davis.
In a vacuum, that's still a good workload. However, a date with J.C. Jackson and the Pats is not a vacuum. New England is allowing -0.08 Passing NEP per drop back to opponents this year. That's the best mark in the NFL, and they've also allowed the second-fewest half-PPR points per game to wideouts (22.9). They are an outlier matchup in every sense of the word.
Diggs won fantasy football championships with 37.0 half-PPR points in Week 16 against New England last season. However, that was a very different personnel group than this one.
4. Evan-escance: Engram Scores a Touchdown Against Philly
In a week that will decide many playoff matchups in fantasy football, tight end is an unusually-difficult obstacle -- even by its own lofty standards.
Outside of George Kittle and Mark Andrews, you're sweating bullets. Travis Kelce is currently on the COVID-19 list, T.J. Hockenson is done for the year, Darren Waller is totally up in the air, and Dawson Knox and Hunter Henry have brutal matchups facing each other.
This could be the most important streaming decision of the season -- and some of you may be doing it for the very first time. I want to go back to a familiar face in lieu of hoping James O'Shaughnessy or Tyler Conklin cash in on mediocre volume. That's Evan Engram of the Giants.
Engram's quarterback situation is less than ideal, but he's a TE1 from seasons past with the physical ability to trust. His role is great right now, too. He played 88.1% of the snaps and ran 81.1% of the routes on Sunday. That was with Sterling Shepard active basically the entire game, and now Shepard is out for the season with a torn Achilles. With that the case, he could see more than his five targets in Week 15.
Philadelphia is the best matchup for tight ends in the league. They're allowing 1.80 adjusted half-PPR fantasy points per target to tight ends, per Brandon Gdula. That's the worst mark in the league. Engram is capable of exploiting that weakness, and he's my favorite sleeper at the position this week.
5. Sin City Stinker: Lock Turns it Over Multiple Times Against Las Vegas
In a blowout loss to the Raiders last season, Lock turned it over five times with four picks and a fumble lost. Now, the quarterback is likely in line to start in Vegas again after a scary-looking head injury to Teddy Bridgewater in Week 15.
Lock is a quarterback who is talented but prone to mistakes. As a result, Lock is at just -0.20 Passing NEP per drop back this season. For context, that's tied for the worst mark in the league with Mike Glennon for any quarterback with at least 40 pass attempts. It's not good.
The Las Vegas D/ST is a bizarre case study. It's not efficient per play; Las Vegas has the fifth-worst Defensive NEP per play (0.13) mark in the league. Yet, they've been a top-10 fantasy defense five separate weeks this year, and that's in large part due to a 34% pressure rate behind Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. That's the fifth-best mark in the NFL.
Their best effort of 2021 was in Denver against the Broncos. They had five sacks and four takeaways earlier this season. Although the repeat matchup is unnerving, Lock also wasn't under center in the earlier matchup. He's performed so poorly this year that it's hard to see the Raiders not finding at least a pair of takeaways in Week 16.