“I never saw it coming.”
In this bold predictions series, we’ll look at weekly matchups, using history as a contextual backdrop – as well as in-season trends – in order to unearth unexpected events that have a chance at coming true.
We had the right idea last week in predicting Michael Thomas as the overall WR1. He snagged two touchdowns, as predicted, but couldn’t quite rack up the yardage needed to finish higher than the WR3. Other predictions were less fruitful:
- Marqise Lee never had a chance to outscore DeAndre Hopkins after leaving with an ankle injury. Hopkins was held to his lowest catch total since Week 6, however.
- Don’t fade Aaron Rodgers, kids. He’ll make you look silly, just as he did with me after finishing as the QB6 in his return after I predicted a QB17 finish or worse.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Top 6 WR
With Antonio Brown laid up for the fantasy championship weekend, all three of PIttsburgh’s wideouts are worth a look against a leaky Texans secondary, but I believe it’s Juju Smith-Schuster who has the best chance at making a significant impact. The rookie caught all six of his targets for 114 yards and very nearly cashed in with a TD after Brown left the game. Here’s how the passing game looked in the second half, after Brown’s departure.
Smith-Schuster had more targets than his other two teammates combined with Brown out, and while Martavis Bryant is always a threat to score a TD, Smith-Schuster should be the focal point of the potent Pittsburgh passing game. The matchup is an alluring one as well, with the Texans giving up above-average catch rates up and down the field.
The Texans have surrendered some meaty lines to WRs, too, including four games of 30-plus points.
The worry here is that the Steelers simply blow the Texans out, leaving them little incentive to lean on the passing game. However, Pittsburgh tends to underwhelm in games where they are heavy road favorites, which means they may need a lot of good JuJu to make it through.
Rookies Break Fantasy Seasonal Records
Tracking the assault this year’s rookie crop is making on the fantasy record book has been fun, and we go back to the well with two more predictions:
- Alvin Kamara finishes with the most rookie RB receiving yards since 2000.1
- Evan Engram finishes with the most rookie TE receiving yards since 2000.
Let’s start with Kamara, who may already have broken this record if he hadn’t missed most of the game in Week 14 with a concussion. The electric rookie needs 46 receiving yards to pass Reggie Bush for the most receiving yards in a fantasy season by a rookie RB.
On a per-target basis, this one isn’t even close, with Bush needing 119 targets to get the record, while Kamara has just 85 on the season and is within shouting distance of the yardage record. He fell one yard short of that 46-yard mark in last week’s matchup with the Jets, but now gets a Falcons team which surrendered 25 yards on three catches to Kamara before he was knocked out of their Week 14 matchup.
It’s a much taller task for Evan Engram, who needs 95 receiving yards to pass Jeremy Shockey for the most all time by a rookie TE. Engram already holds the record for most PPR points in a fantasy season and will most likely set the marks for targets and receptions, too.
Engram has topped 95 yards just once on the season—in Week 13 against the Oakland Raiders. He gets an Arizona team which is by no means weak against TEs, giving up the 11th-fewest points in the league with 6.7 per game. The worst TE performance they’ve surrendered all year was 79 yards to Jack Doyle, and with Sterling Shepard hogging targets of late, it’s going to take a few big plays to get the record.
Robert Woods Outscores DeAndre Hopkins
One would think I learned a lesson from trying to fade DeAndre Hopkins last week, but here we go again. This prediction is more of a vote for Robert Woods than it is a knock on Nuk. Woods gets an enticing matchup with the Tennessee Titans and tops the list of Dave Caban’s personal Game Level Similarity Projections. The GLSP App is also bullish on Woods but has Hopkins with a higher ceiling.
Woods wasn’t heavily used in a blowout game versus the Seahawks last week, but he’s just three games removed from an 8-171-2TD line, so we know he has the potential for a big game. Obviously the same holds true for the QB-proof Hopkins, though he faces a stiffer test against a Pittsburgh secondary that gives up the 11th-fewest points to WRs.
Despite solid overall numbers, the Steelers are vulnerable downfield, which is of course where Hopkins does most of his damage. He’ll get his, and we can only hope the Steelers find a way to limit the damage.
Like all our predictions, this one is a longshot, but either way, Woods stands an excellent chance of winning a few fantasy titles this weekend.
- In a fantasy season—Weeks 1 – 16. (back)