Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 1
One of the things that makes fantasy football so captivating is the variance. Even throughout Cooper Kupp's historic, unflappable season, he was the top wideout for the week just three times in 2021. That means, on individual weeks, some very strange players may pop in terms of 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. Stripes Earned: Burrow Follows Up Hot Playoff Run with 300 Yards in the Opener
Joe Burrow is one of the players I can't wait to see in the regular season again this year.
Burrow was a solid passer in 2021, ranking ninth in numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.21). However, that ranking rose to fifth amongst all playoff quarterbacks on the Bengals' run to the Super Bowl.
Last season, Joe Shiesty carved up the Steelers. He completed 80.1% of his passes in two games, but that came on just 42 attempts with both contests lopsided. The Bengals had a +45 point differential in two games against Pittsburgh.
This year, Burrow might get more opportunities to dice them. Pittsburgh added George Pickens on the perimeter and -- regardless of who starts -- a sure upgrade at quarterback over Ben Roethlisberger's league-low average depth of target (aDOT). They'll likely keep things closer if a 6.5-point spread on FanDuel Sportsbook is any indication.
Where the Steelers didn't add was their secondary. Outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick, it's a lackluster group that Pro Football Focus sees as the 28th-best unit in the NFL entering the year.
With many of the top passers projected well, Burrow ranks 12th in numberFire's yardage projections for Week 1 (244.1). Despite some issues in camp due to appendicitis, expect one of the league's best gunslingers to start with a better effort than that in one of his best matchups.
2. Walk CMC: McCaffrey is Held Under 100 Scrimmage Yards
Obviously, Christian McCaffrey is a dynamic dual-threat option who terrifies me to bet against.
However, his assignment in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns is a tough one. It's easy to love all three levels of the Browns' defense entering 2022, which includes Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney upfront.
Last year, even when healthy, McCaffrey's Rushing Success Rate (46.4%) was just 20th amongst backs with at least 75 carries. That was surely a sizable portion due to a poor offensive line, but this is still a unit that PFF sees as the 24th-best one in the league. It's not a strength.
Also, last year before the always-odd Week 17, Cleveland was 11th in adjusted half-PPR points allowed to running backs per target. With Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah roving the middle, they've got a really solid matchup for McCaffrey catching the ball out of the backfield, as well.
McCaffrey will score plenty of fantasy points in 2022 so long as he stays healthy, but this brutal matchup also contains the lowest projected game total (41.5) of Week 1. It'll be tough sledding to put up yards or scores.
The Browns will also likely play at a glacial pace to protect Jacoby Brissett most of the season, so don't expect the best effort of McCaffrey's fantasy season in Week 1.
3. Sammy's Song: Watkins Delivers Week 1 Magic Again with 12+ Fantasy Points
Now, in hindsight, we know Watkins' season -- and really, entire career -- was marred with injuries and inconsistency. However, he'll have a chance to wreak havoc in an opener once again.
With Allen Lazard fighting an injury, Watkins could be Aaron Rodgers' top target as Green Bay heads to Minnesota. That's a tremendous role considering the Packers were already tasking Lazard, Watkins, and others to replace Davante Adams' massive 31.6% target share from a year ago.
Even with his top target gone, the reigning two-time MVP will probably still find some success on Sunday through the air. The Vikes have PFF's 18th-best expected secondary this season, and at the very least, it doesn't appear to be a prohibitive matchup on paper.
With the Pack poised as a 1.5-point favorite in a game with a 47.5-point projected total, there will be passing production from the Green Bay side. With Lazard potentially joining Robert Tonyan on the shelf, Watkins and Randall Cobb might be lead-pipe locks for double-digit fantasy points, and they're available on a ton of waiver wires right now.
4. Wait-and-Kelce: The Chiefs' Tight End Finishes Outside the Top 3 at His Position
Tyreek Hill posted a WR2 and WR7 season in back-to-back fantasy football years, but for whatever reason, many aren't expecting the Chiefs to take the same step back in passing efficiency that is forecasted for Aaron Rodgers without his top target.
Hill's 25.0% target share -- and whopping 35.8% air yards share -- are up for grabs by totally unproven targets on the outside. K.C. hasn't been a top-eight team in explosive plays the past three seasons solely due to Byron Pringle or Demarcus Robinson. That's Hill's blazing speed, which is now gone.
Naturally, that will allow teams to pay more attention to Kelce -- especially in the red zone. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling can be serviceable, but being dynamic is a totally different expectation.
The Cardinals already were a quality force against tight ends last year, posting the 10th-fewest adjusted fantasy points per target before Week 17. Jalen Thompson is one of PFF's top coverage safeties, so the personnel fits the production in that regard.
Patrick Mahomes' nuclear September history is certainly leaving this one in the "bold" category, but a step back in Kansas City is more than reasonable given how crucial Hill was to the identity of their passing game. At this point, in this matchup, I'm not sure Kelce starts the season hot.
5. Mac's South Beach Sauna: Dolphins D/ST Brings the Heat with Multiple Takeaways
Despite an impressive, efficient rookie campaign from Mac Jones, everything smells funky around the start of his 2022 campaign.
Now, I'm not normally one to discount Matt Patricia calling plays in New England in the NFL's high-tempo, creative offensive climate, but I will. Between 2018 and 2020, Patricia's Lions never even posted a top-half offensive season, and there's also the small caveat that he's been a defensive coach since 2006.
The Pats also did little to address their skill-personnel issue. They added DeVante Parker from Miami, who is a nice player but was replaced by the Dolphins for a reason. New England has the NFL's most expensive set of wideouts and tight ends, yet in 2021, Hunter Henry had their most productive season in terms of total Receiving NEP (68.3). He was 45th in the NFL.
I'm expecting a struggle for Jones and the Patriots on offense in 2022, and it'll start with a tricky date in South Beach with numberFire's 14th-ranked pass defense. The Fins were seventh in the NFL in takeaways per game (1.5) a season ago, as well.