Love/Hate is dead. Long live Love/Hate.
Hello friends, old and new, and welcome to NOT Love/Hate. In case you missed it, I announced a few weeks ago that, for a variety of reasons, mostly health- and schedule-related, the weekly Love/Hate column was going away. You can read about it here, but the end result is my new column, which you now hold in your hot little hands. This assumes, of course, that you have printed it out and that you do, in fact, have hands. Otherwise, just go with it. Which is good advice for life and fantasy football, in that order, especially early in the season.
My new Thursday column will be "50 Facts for Week __" and is a play off of a column I have written for more than a decade, my preseason "100 Facts." As I have often noted, it is my favorite column to write every year.
Each week, there will still be an opening story to read (or skip) that is all about me, about you and about the "Fantasy Life" that we all love so much. And it starts this week with another tradition, my yearly bold predictions. Normally it is a preseason column, but then I ended up writing 14,000 words and killing off Love/Hate, which took two weeks to do and, well, yeah. Instead of cramming in another column in an already busy preseason, I am trying to take care of myself (somewhat) and I decided to do it here as an open.
The idea of a bold prediction, of course, is that it is UNLIKELY to happen, but within the realm of possibility. I make hundreds of predictions every single week. Not all of them pan out, of course, but all of them are well thought out, steeped in film study, research, analysis and talking to sources.
This is swing-for-the-fences territory. The idea isn't to try to nail outrageous predictions, but to highlight some players I have strong feelings about, one way or the other. And to have some fun.
Last year's bold predictions column correctly predicted a top-five season for Keenan Allen, a monster year for Kareem Hunt, big breakouts for Adam Thielen and Carson Wentz, rookie Cooper Kupp outscoring Sammy Watkins, and the ascension of Chris Carson.
Of course, I also had huge years for Terrelle Pryor Sr., Martavis Bryant, Marcus Mariota and Brandon Marshall, among many other big swings-and-misses. So yeah, this is high-risk territory we are heading into. Enough caveats for you? Good. Let's do it: one bold prediction per team. You Heard Me!
I say Ricky Seals-Jones (ADP: TE26, undrafted) finishes as a top-12 TE.
My thinking: RSJ ran only 68 routes last season, but he was targeted on 42.1 percent of them. (Last season, Zach Ertz led all qualified TEs at 26.7 percent.) Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen like to throw short and there's opportunity behind Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson in an offense that will be behind.
I say Julio Jones (ADP: WR2), does not finish as a top-15 WR.
My thinking: I get the argument for positive touchdown regression. It SHOULD happen. And he's crazy-talented. But did you know Julio has finished as a top-five fantasy WR only once in his entire career (2015)? That if you remove his 50.8 fantasy-point game against Tampa Bay in Week 12 last season, Jones would have finished as WR18? That if you gave him 15.7 points in that Tampa game (his per-game average last season), he would have finished as WR16? That he has had more than six touchdowns once in the past five years?
I say John Brown (ADP: WR68) is a top-30 WR this season.
My thinking: He's healthy now and crushed the preseason. They love him in Baltimore. Brown averages 13.0 PPG for his career when getting six-plus targets (26-game sample). Steve Smith scored 183.9 points as Flacco's WR2 in 2016. WR30 last year was 171.8 points.
I say Kelvin Benjamin (ADP: WR43) finishes with double-digit touchdowns.
My thinking: During the past five seasons, 73.5 percent of double-digit receiving TD seasons belong to players who stand at least 6-foot-1 (Benjamin is 6-foot-5). Someone has to catch them in Buffalo, and remember Benjamin caught nine TDs as a rookie ... from a QB who finished that season 29th in completion rate (58.5 percent). So he's used to, ahem, accuracy challenges.
I say Christian McCaffrey (ADP: RB11) finishes as the top-scoring fantasy RB.
My thinking: Last season, McCaffrey averaged 1.16 fantasy points per touch, fourth-best among players with at least 100 touches. McCaffrey finished as RB10 last season despite having only four games with more than eight carries. He's going to get a ton more touches this season and he's a perfect fit for a Norv Turner offense.
I say Trey Burton (ADP: TE11) finishes as a top-three TE.
My thinking: Just 46.7 percent of TEs drafted in the top three at the position during the past five seasons have finished the season as such (total points). During Matt Nagy's two seasons as Kansas City offensive coordinator (2016-17), the Chiefs led the NFL in TE receiving yards and were second in both targets and receptions. Bears TEs owned a 22.3 percent target share last season with Mitchell Trubisky under center.
I say A.J. Green (ADP: WR7) does not finish as a top-20 WR.
My thinking: Green has played all 16 games just twice in four years and is on the wrong side of 30. He had a career-low 54 percent reception rate and only three games with at least 85 receiving yards in 2017 (21 players had more). The Bengals are going more run-heavy this season.
I say Tyrod Taylor (ADP: QB23) plays all 16 games and finishes as a top-10 QB.
My thinking: Taylor is QB12 over the past three seasons with much less talent than he has in Cleveland. In those three seasons, only five QBs have more games with 15 or more points (Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford). The Browns will stay competitive enough to keep Baker Mayfield on the bench.
I say Dak Prescott (ADP: QB16) does not finish as a top-20 QB.
My thinking: Prescott had only one game last season with 300 passing yards, eight games with fewer than 200 passing yards, and the Cowboys' receiving corps is worse this year. There are already offensive line issues, and you are relying a lot on him to rush for six-plus touchdowns for a third straight season. Cam Newton is the only QB in the past 15 seasons with three seasons of six or more rushing scores.
I say Royce Freeman (ADP: RB17) becomes the third consecutive rookie to lead the league in rushing.
My thinking: Denver was eighth in rushing attempts last season and the offense should be much better this season with Case Keenum under center. There's not a lot of competition and Freeman is built to be a workhorse. His 5,621 rushing yards during the past four seasons at Oregon ranked second in FBS.
My thinking: Golladay was a top-10 WR last season (minimum 25 receptions) in terms of fantasy points per reception (3.38). He's a big red zone target who is healthy this season. Plus, Jones averaged 10.2 targets in the five games in which Golladay was inactive, but only 5.1 targets in the 11 games in which Golladay was active.
I say Aaron Jones (ADP: RB43) leads all Packers RBs in fantasy points and is top 15 at the position during the second half of the season.
My thinking: The most talented back on the Pack, Jones averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 14.8 fantasy PPG in the four games in which he got 10-plus carries last season.
I say Lamar Miller (ADP: RB22) is a top-10 RB.
My thinking: There's not a lot of competition, and Miller averaged 15.4 PPG in Deshaun Watson's six starts last season. On a per-game basis, that would have been RB11. He's the only RB with 240 touches AND six touchdowns in each of the past four seasons.
I say Andrew Luck (ADP: QB9) plays all 16 games and finishes as a top-three QB.
My thinking: He was QB4 in 2016 and QB2 in 2014, his past two full seasons. Luck just has to stay on the field.
I say the Jaguars don't finish as the top defense in fantasy.
My thinking: In the past three seasons, the nine defenses that scored at least 150 fantasy points in a season have come from nine different franchises. Not one team has repeated. And only two of them were drafted inside the top 10 defenses in the season they had their big year. Two.
I say Patrick Mahomes (ADP: QB15) finishes as a top-three QB.
My thinking: Alex Smith was QB4 last season in this offense and Mahomes had double-digit rushing TDs in each of his final two college seasons.
I say Antonio Gates (ADP: TE14) finishes as a top-six TE.
My thinking: There's no Hunter Henry (ACL), and in the past two seasons, Chargers TEs have 22 receiving TDs (third most in the NFL). Gates was the No. 1 tight end in fantasy in the final two weeks of last season when Henry was out.
I say Brandin Cooks (ADP: WR21) does not finish as a top-30 WR.
My thinking: He has just three total games with double-digit targets over the past two seasons. In addition, Cooks has been held to three or fewer catches in 25.9 percent of his career regular-season games. He's fourth on his new team for touches.
I say Kalen Ballage (ADP: RB77, undrafted) leads all Miami RBs in fantasy points during the second half of the season.
My thinking: Kenyan Drake has never had more than 133 carries in any season (college or pro). He's more of a situational back, and I think the Dolphins will lose a lot and start looking to the future, so the talented Ballage gets run as they see what he has.
I say Kirk Cousins (ADP: QB10) does not finish as a top-15 QB.
My thinking: Cousins was QB5 from 2015-17 ... and his Redskins ranked 26th in rushing attempts during that stretch. Meanwhile, the Vikings ranked second in rushing attempts last season. Plus, a much better defense means fewer shootouts.
I say Chris Hogan (ADP: WR24) finishes as a top-10 WR.
My thinking: Prior to being injured, Hogan was WR10 during the first eight weeks last season. And that was with Brandin Cooks there. They love him.
I say Michael Thomas (ADP: WR6) finishes as the top-scoring WR in fantasy.
My thinking: Positive passing TD regression is coming for Drew Brees, and last season Thomas saw at least eight targets in 14 of his 16 games.
I say Saquon Barkley (ADP: RB6) has 2,000 scrimmage yards.
My thinking: In a lost season, Giants RBs totaled 2,089 scrimmage yards in 2017. Barkley's final 16 collegiate games: 2,280 scrimmage yards. Massive volume coming.
I say Isaiah Crowell (ADP: RB37) scores 10 touchdowns.
My thinking: Any volume stat requires staying on the field ... Crowell has yet to miss a game in his four-year NFL career. Bilal Powell has cashed in just eight of his 70 red zone rushing attempts during the past five seasons (11.4 percent). Crowell has cashed in 19.6 percent of his career red zone rushing attempts.
I say Amari Cooper (ADP: WR15) finishes as a top-five WR.
My thinking: Thirty percent of Oakland's targets are gone from last season. In his 13 career games with 10-plus targets, Cooper averages 21.8 PPG.
I say Jay Ajayi (ADP: RB20) is a top-12 RB.
My thinking: Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry with the Eagles last season, LeGarrette Blount is gone and with the keys to the passing game banged-up, Ajayi gets to prove he can be a workhorse.
I say Vance McDonald (ADP: TE24, undrafted) finishes as a top-12 TE.
My thinking: Last season, the Steelers tied for 10th in TE red zone targets, and the playoff game versus Jacksonville last season showed what he is capable of.
I say George Kittle (ADP: TE18) finishes as a top-10 TE.
My thinking: Kittle ranked as TE5 in the final three weeks last season despite playing just 49 percent of the snaps. Jimmy Garoppolo loves him and in Jimmy G's five starts, TEs accounted for 17.8 percent of targets, 19.5 percent of receptions and 26.7 percent of receiving yards.
I say Doug Baldwin (ADP: WR17) finishes as a top-five WR.
I say Peyton Barber (ADP: RB33) finishes as a top-20 RB.
My thinking: During the final five weeks of the 2017 regular season, only five RBs had both more carries AND averaged more yards per carry than Barber. The job is clearly his.
I say Corey Davis (ADP: WR30) finishes as a top-15 WR.
My thinking: Davis is talented and healthy, and he had 23.1 percent target share in the playoffs. I expect that to continue. Including the playoffs, Davis had eight-plus targets four times last season. In those four games, he totaled 21 catches for 271 yards and two TDs. Extend that over 16 games, and you get 84-1,084-8.
I say Alex Smith (ADP: QB17) repeats as a top-five QB.
My thinking: The Redskins have the sixth-most fantasy points by their quarterbacks in the past three seasons and talent-wise, I think Smith is a better QB than Cousins. He's also more mobile.
And there you have it. Please bookmark this, so you may mock me 12 months from now.
I will do a personal story next week, but for now, it's time to dive into Week 1.
For those who haven't read a version of this column before, let me quickly repeat the premise I wrote about this summer:
Everything you are about read below is an accurate statistical statement. A heavily researched, well-thought-out, 100 percent true, can't be argued with, fully vetted fact.
That tells only part of the story. The part of the story I want you see. I can talk any player up or down. I just have to choose the right stats for the job. For example:
You gotta start Philip Rivers on Sunday against a Chiefs team that was 24th against QBs last season and has a questionable secondary. Remember, Rivers tied for the most games of 15-plus points last season (12).
You gotta bench Philip Rivers on Sunday against the Chiefs. Remember, his two worst games last season came against K.C. In fact, since 2014, Rivers averages just 9.37 PPG against the Chiefs and 17.94 PPG against everyone else.
I could do that all day. You see, there's very little in this world I am good at, but one thing I am a world-class master at? Manipulating stats to tell the story I want. But here's the other big secret:
I am not the only one.
Everyone does it. Some do it better than others, but everyone does it. They do it in fantasy football analysis, they do it in politics, in pop culture, in office presentations and happy-hour debates. Everyone tells you the stats or the side of the story that supports what they think. But they don't tell you the whole story.
And that might be the most important thing you learn about fantasy football research ever. Nothing you read/watch/hear from me in this column (or from anyone) or anything in the future is black and white. It's all shades of gray.
As you go through the process every week of choosing your lineup, making waiver claims and trade offers, you'll have countless analysts give you all sorts of reasons why this player is awesome and this one is a bum and why you gotta start that guy but must avoid another one, and it's all just opinions. Facts and stats and snippets of game film parsed to show you the side that supports their belief. Their opinion. And ONLY that opinion.
Everything that follows is completely accurate. Some is about players, some of it is about matchups and not a damn bit of it tells the whole story.
These are 50 facts you need to know before Week 1. And what you do with them is up to you.
1. Since 2014, Matthew Stafford is averaging 3.1 more fantasy points per game at home than he is on the road (18.7 to 15.6).
2. The Lions have not had a 100-yard rusher in 68 straight games.
3. Last season, the Jets allowed the third-most QB points.
3a. Only the Giants allowed more passing touchdowns.
3b. Stafford is at home this week against the Jets.
4. Since 2015, Tyrod Taylor leads qualified QBs (at least 650 pass attempts during that stretch) in percentage of TD passes that have come on deep throws (51 percent).
5. Last season, the Steelers allowed the sixth-most deep passing yards.
5a. They ranked below league average in deep completion percentage, deep touchdowns allowed and deep TD/INT rate.
6. Last season, Browns QB DeShone Kizer, with much less talent around him than the team has now, posted a top-10 finish in both meetings with the Steelers (QB9 and QB3, to be exact).
6a. Tyrod Taylor is a lot better than Kizer was last year.
7. No team allowed more deep completions last season than the Indianapolis Colts.
8. Their expected starting secondary this season is less experienced and, at least on paper, not as talented as last year's secondary.
8a. ... which gave up the 28th-most passing yards in the NFL.
9. The last time Andy Dalton faced the Colts, he finished as the third-best QB in fantasy that week.
10. He's available in 82 percent of leagues.
11. Last season, opponents completed 68.1 percent of passes versus Oakland last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL.
12. The Raiders allowed a league-high 4.8 TD/INT rate last season.
13. They allowed the 26th-most passing yards per game last season.
14. That was with Khalil Mack putting pressure on the QB.
14a. Mack, ahem, no longer plays for the Raiders.
15. Last season, no quarterback threw more touchdown passes on the road than Jared Goff.
16. In Week 1 of 2015, Russell Wilson was QB15, with 15.1 points.
17. In Week 1 of 2016, Wilson was QB24, with 11.9 points.
18. In Week 1 of 2017, Wilson was QB24, with 8.3 points.
19. This week, Wilson is on the road against a Denver defense that allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards in the NFL last season.
20. In Week 1 of 2015, Kirk Cousins was QB31, with 7.7 points.
21. In Week 1 of 2016, Cousins was QB28, with 10 points.
22. In Week 1 of 2017, Kirk Cousins was QB20, with 10.6 points.
23. Last season, the Vikings ran the ball at the second-highest rate in the NFL.
24. The Vikings are a 6.5-point favorite against the 49ers at most Vegas books.
25. Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers allowed a league-high 5.98 yards per play.
26. Alvin Kamara averaged 1.59 fantasy points per touch last season, best in the league.
27. In two games against the Bucs last season, Kamara had 280 total yards and three touchdowns.
28. He did that on just 16 and 15 touches, respectively.
28a. ... with Mark Ingram playing in both games.
28b. Ingram is suspended for the game on Sunday.
29. Last season, the Bills allowed a touchdown on 82.1 percent of goal-to-go drives last season, the fourth-highest rate in the league.
30. Alex Collins scored on 40 percent of his goal-to-go carries last season.
30a. That was good for the fourth-highest rate among players who had at least 10 such carries.
31. Last season, from Week 8 onward, Collins was the eighth-best running back in fantasy.
32. In games in which he had at least 15 touches last season, Collins averaged more than 16 fantasy points per game.
32a. The Ravens are a 7.5-point favorite against the Bills.
33. There is a running back who has at least three touchdown catches in each of the past three seasons.
33a. That same RB ranked top-10 in receptions per route run last season.
33b. That same RB is playing a defense this week that allowed opponents to complete 77.9 percent of passes to RBs last season, way up from the 61.2 percent completion rate they give up to all other positions.
33c. That same RB plays with a quarterback who has, since 2015, thrown 27.8 percent more touchdown passes to RBs than any other quarterback, despite missing four games in 2016.
34. That running back's name is James White.
35. Last season, eight different receivers recorded at least one 40-plus-yard catch against the Colts (Taywan Taylor, Keelan Cole, Marquise Goodwin, Allen Hurns, J.J. Nelson, Marqise Lee, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyler Lockett).
36. As noted earlier, the Colts allowed the most deep completions in football last season.
36a. John Ross is available in 47 percent of ESPN leagues.
37. Sammy Watkins has scored single-digit fantasy points in 48 percent of his games in his career.
37a. Over the past two years, Watkins is averaging fewer than 10 points per game.
38. In fact, 44.8 percent of his career points have come via the deep pass.
38a. Opponents completed just 29.5 percent of their deep passes against the Chargers last season.
38b. That's the lowest completion percentage on deep passes since the Revis Island Jets in 2009.
39. Last season, Nelson Agholor led all pass-catchers in fantasy points from the slot.
40. With Nick Foles under center, Agholor's target share was 22.7 percent.
40a. With Carson Wentz, it was 16.2 percent.
41. The Falcons allowed the fourth-most slot touchdowns last season.
42. ... and the third-highest completion percentage when targeting the slot.
42a. Alshon Jeffery will not be playing in this game.
43a. That was without Andrew Luck.
43b. Luck is back.
44. During Luck's career, 23.1 percent of his completions, 21.9 percent of his passing yards and 31.8 percent of his passing touchdowns have gone to tight ends.
45. Last season, Bengals opponents completed a league-high 72.8 percent of passes to tight ends.
47. Reed actually leads all tight ends in catches per game during that same time frame.
48. In those past three years, no QB has targeted tight ends more than ... Alex Smith.
49. In that time frame, 29 percent of Smith's completions and touchdowns have gone to the tight end.
50. Last season, Arizona was the ninth-worst red zone defense in the NFL.
And there you have it. First one in the books. First weeks are always hard, as you don't have any data from this season to go on, and this is my first one of these for a weekly point of view. What did you like? What did you hate? Send me some feedback on Twitter @MatthewBerryTMR. The more I do it and the more of a groove I get in, the better these will get. But for a first time, I'll take it. Hope you enjoyed. Good luck in Week 1, and thanks for reading.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, saved this file as "Love/Hate Week 1 2018" out of habit. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.