Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 18
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. Big Ben Rings the Bell: Roethlisberger Goes Out With a Top-15 Performance
It's been a sad year for Ben Roethlisberger, and likely, he's laced up his cleats at Heinz Field for the final time.
However, he does have one more game left in what surely is a Hall of Fame career, and it's this Sunday in Baltimore. He could have plenty of success in it -- at least from a stats perspective.
The Ravens are still injured and young in the secondary, and over the past five weeks, they've allowed the most Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back in the NFL. They've allowed three straight 300-yard passers since Marlon Humphrey was lost for the season due to a pectoral tear.
Roethlisberger is the opposite of efficient, but one guarantee comes with the Steelers' current offense -- passing volume. Roethlisberger has attempted at least 35 passes in five of his last seven games, and that actually did not include a neutral script against Baltimore in Week 13. Humphrey played in that game, though.
Pittsburgh needs a win to stay alive for the postseason. That should have Roethlisberger passing quite a bit with the favorable matchup, and the Steelers' offense just doesn't appear efficient enough to fear a heavy positive script with or without Lamar Jackson. With usual stars like Aaron Rodgers potentially resting, Ben could crack the top-half of quarterbacks this week fairly easily.
2. Sony's Streak Snapped: Michel Fails to Reach 70 Rushing Yards
The Rams are leaning heavily on Michel down the stretch with Cam Akers still not quite back from his Achilles injury, and Darrell Henderson shut down with a knee injury. Akers could potentially return in Week 18 in an extremely limited role, but Michel handed 57 of the Rams' 58 running back snaps in Week 17. He's not exactly headed to a committee anytime soon.
That role is everything we seek in fantasy football, so why would I be bearish on Michel entering the final week? His matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.
Quietly before the playoffs, the Niners have solved their run-game defensive woes. Over the past five weeks, S.F. has allowed the third-fewest Rushing NEP per carry (-0.09) to opposing ball carriers. This stretch has included Cordarrelle Patterson, Joe Mixon, and Rashaad Penny, so they're not just chewing up Rex Burkhead and the Texans like in Week 17.
San Fran limited L.A. to just 52 yards rushing in their Week 10 battle, so the pick is that the 49ers can hold the Rams' backfield (hint: it's all Sony Michel) under 70 rushing yards again. That will be the first time in five games Michel has failed to eclipse 70 yards in his new role.
3. Don't Chase the Points: Ja'Marr is Outscored By a Teammate in Week 18
No one responded, and I'm guessing it's because not many made it to the title game with Chase. In Week 12 through Week 16, Chase was just 39th in the NFL in target share per game (20.2%) and 31st in receiving yards per game (59.6). On a deeper title team, someone might have even benched Chase in a Week 17 performance that came from nowhere.
Chase is obviously an incredibly talented player, but his offense is too deep for fantasy football superiority. He was behind Tee Higgins in target share in that aforementioned five-week stretch, and he was behind Tyler Boyd in yardage per game. C.J. Uzomah is lurking as well. Ultimately, Joe Burrow is going to get the ball to his best matchup -- including handing off to Joe Mixon.
Not that it matters for decision-making purposes, because you're starting Chase in a game the Bengals need to win to stay alive for the top seed, but the pick is that Ja'Marr falls back to Earth a little in Week 18 -- especially against a Browns squad that limited Burrow to -0.41 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 9.
4. Getting Higgy With It: The Rams' Tight End Cashes a Touchdown
I've featured Tyler Higbee in this column before, and it's because he's still having a year to forget if you believe in regression.
Higbee has played at least 80% of the snaps (and ran at least 80% of the team's routes) in all but three contests he's played this season. He's also seen a great workload for a tight end, seeing more than five targets in six straight games. He even led the Rams with nine targets in Week 17.
It's likely connected in some way to Cooper Kupp's historical anomaly, but Higbee is 2.6 touchdowns behind Pro Football Focus' projection using their expected points model. He has seen 19 red-zone targets inside of them, but he can't score touchdowns. It's the strangest circumstance in the league for a capable tight end seeing regular work.
With that type of role, and Los Angeles needing a win to stay in the hunt for the NFC West, the prediction is that logic and regression pull through, and Higbee finds the end zone once more to cap off a more well-rounded, deserved stat line for the season.
5. Playoff Pats: New England Caps Its Year With Another Top-5 D/ST Performance
This comes as no surprise considering the pair's respective divisions, but New England definitely has the advantage in their matchup this week. Dallas gets a tough Philadelphia squad with seeding on the line for both teams, but the Patriots draw an eliminated Dolphins team in a must-win contest to stay alive in the AFC East.
With no reported injuries, Tua Tagovailoa likely still plays for Miami in Week 18, but it's their offensive line that has created a lot of the Fins' offensive woes. Miami's 32% pressure rate allowed is tied for the worst in the league, and, in a stark difference from prior years, the Pats' pass rush is elite. Their 32% pressure rate as a defense is tied for eighth-best in the NFL.
The game is in Miami, which is less than ideal, but with motivation squarely in the New England corner, and Tagovailoa coming off arguably his worst performance as a pro (-0.33 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 17), this matchup has all the makings for a Patriots' rout of the Dolphins.