With more than a quarter of the NFL regular season behind us, the dust has settled on many preseason predictions, and fresh storylines have surfaced to keep things interesting. There will never be enough data to make certain predictions in sports; if you have the algorithm that predicted Isaiah Crowell’s monster performance last week, let’s talk. However, over the last five weeks, teams have shown enough that with some research (and a little guesswork), we can predict with reasonable certainty how things should shake out.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons’ record (1-4) is a bit deceiving. Atlanta’s defense has been bad, really bad, but the offense has operated at a fairly efficient level for most of the season. Matt Ryan has completed just over 68% of his pass attempts en route to 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. Matty Ice is in peak form and is surrounded by capable pass catchers. Couple that with the fact that one of the worst passing defenses in the league (Tampa Bay) is coming to town this weekend, and you’ve got the recipe for a big game from Matt Ryan. Between the high-octane offenses and struggling defenses that will be featured in this game, we could see a lot of points on the board.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
It’s important to realize the point of these Hot N Cold posts. I am not here to tell you who the top fantasy producers will be, rather, I’m predicting which players I think are set up to perform outside of what their current projection says. Russell Wilson hasn’t been spectacular, and there’s no real reason to expect top 3 fantasy numbers out of him this week. However, his rushing ability will always keep his floor higher than most, and the emergence of David Moore seems to have revitalized the Seahawks’ air attack. If Wilson plays at the level he showed last week against the Los Angeles Rams, the Oakland Raiders will not be able to contain him. Again, I don’t expect 400 yards or 6 touchdowns for Russell Wilson, I do expect him to produce more than the 17.6 fantasy points ESPN has projected for him.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben will lead his team into extremely hostile territory Sunday with the Steelers on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. These two teams do not like each other, and the Bengals will be looking to force the Steelers to move the ball on the ground. Volume has been Roethlisberger’s friend to this point, he has the fourth most pass attempts in the league to this point. My fear is that a hungry Cincinnati defense will bring about Roethlisberger’s alter ego “Road Ben”, who is known for single handedly ruining fantasy lineups. Avoid Ben Roethlisberger this week if you can, if you must start him, hope that Vontaze Burfict catches his inevitable suspension as soon as possible.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill got off to a good start to the season, but after 5 weeks, Miami’s lead man is ranked 23rd in passing yards. This week Miami is at home against one of the toughest defenses in the league in the Chicago Bears. Chicago currently ranks second in total sacks (18) and third in interceptions (8). Miami just doesn’t have the juice to contend with Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defensive front. Avoid all Dolphins players this week, starting with Ryan Tannehill.
Hot Running Backs
T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
A healthy Leonard Fournette is obviously the best running back in Jacksonville, but too many people have forgotten that T.J. Yeldon was once a regular NFL starter. Yeldon is a solid runner averaging 4 yards per carry for his career, but his real talent comes from his ability as a receiver out the backfield. This week’s matchup with Dallas favors the Jags, Dallas doesn’t have the offensive weapons to stay on the field against Jacksonville’s elite defense. Dallas has actually been respectable against the run this year, but again, Yeldon’s receiving ability raises his floor and makes him a prime candidate to catch every dink and dunk pass Bortles throws his way.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Kareem Hunt’s name became known in last year’s season opener, when he absolutely torched the New England Patriots. The long awaited rematch comes this Sunday in Foxborough. While I don’t know if we’ll see the same fantasy explosion that put Hunt on the map, this is a good situation for the Chiefs’ second year running back. The best way to beat Tom Brady is to keep him off the field, which means you don’t want Pat Mahomes lobbing 60 yard bombs to Tyreek Hill all day. Additionally, New England’s rushing defense has been subpar this season, allowing 4.4 yards per carry to opposing backs. Kareem Hunt is firmly positioned as an RB1 this week even on the road against a Belichick defense.
Cold Running Backs
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
Lewis and the Tennessee Titans take on the Baltimore Ravens at home this week as a 2.5 point underdog. This matchup has slow-paced slugfest written all over it. The Titans have failed to eclipse 12 points in two of their last three games, and seem completely content to do just enough to win or lose by a small margin. Their last three games have been decided by three points of less, and that’s a trend I don’t see breaking this week. Another Titans trend, below average rushing. The Titans have struggled on the ground, and Lewis will likely need a big run after catch out of the backfield to have a shot at fantasy relevance. Dion Lewis is a decent flex play, but there are plenty of better options out there.
Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
Admittedly, I’m taking a shot on this one. Lindsay has been electric, and the Rams have actually been poor against the run, allowing 5 yards per carry. The numbers point to a big game for Denver’s homegrown rookie running back. But this isn’t a knock on Lindsay so much as it is faith in the Broncos’ other rookie runner Royce Freeman. Vance joseph is on record saying he wants his backs to be more involved, and I think this week it comes to fruition for Freeman. Denver will want to keep their defense as fresh as possible to deal with Sean McVay’s potent offense. So expect a ground and pound approach from Denver. Freeman profiles as the type of back who can wear down a defense and hit you for 4 yards every time while Lindsay is a playmaker you want on the field for a potential comeback. Lindsay should still see ~15 touches this week, but the presence of Royce Freeman has me hesitant to lift Lindsay into RB2 territory.
Hot Wide Receivers
Josh Gordon, New England Patriots
This seems like one of the easier predictions to make. Josh Gordon is very good, Tom Brady is very accurate, and the defense their up against (Kansas City) is very, very bad. Gordon is a weapon, and he’s had enough time to learn enough of the playbook to see a meaningful number of snaps this week. Edelman is still Brady’s go to guy, and Gronkowski is still the redzone matchup from hell, but Gordon is far and away the most dynamic outside weapon on New England’s roster. New England will be looking to make a statement and hand the Chiefs their first loss of the season. The only way that happens is with a big game from Tom Brady and the weapons that surround him, including Josh Gordon.
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
It’s fair to say that Keenan Allen has underperformed to this point this season. Currently ranked 27th in the league, Allen has 32 receptions for 372 yards and has only found the end zone once. Respectable numbers, but not what we’ve come to expect from Keenan “Vacuum Hands” Allen. But we must remember that Allen also got off to a slow start last season. When Phillip Rivers drops back against a much improved Cleveland defense, I have no doubt he’ll be looking for his veteran receiver. Denzel Ward has boosted the Browns’ secondary to a much higher level than years past, but they are still giving up nearly 300 yards receiving per game, and are a friendly matchup for receivers of Allen’s caliber.
Cold Wide Receivers
Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers
Funchess will be up against one of the better passing defenses in the league by the numbers when the Panthers suit up to take on the Washington Redskins. Funchess is a solid wide receiver with the size to make him a legitimate red zone option for Cam Newton. However, game flow may be an issue, as only 139 passes have been attempted against the Redskins all season. The Panthers are more than capable of getting the W by running through Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, and C.J. Anderson. Not to mention, Greg Olsen is healthy once again and may eat into Devin Funchess’ targets, particularly in the red zone, if the veteran tight end can stay on the field.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Father Time is undefeated, and even if he hasn’t come for Larry Fitzgerald quite yet, Father Time effectively took out Fitzgerald by claiming Carson Palmer last year. The future hall of famer has only mustered 176 yards across all five games, and he has not scored. That’s an average of 35.2 yards per game, ouch. The cardinals are on the road against Minnesota this week. While the Vikings haven’t been as good as advertised defensively, they have more than enough to keep the lid on a struggling Arizona offense. Larry Fitzgerald will go down as one of the best wide receivers in NFL history, but he’s best left on the bench of your fantasy roster.