Any time you have any sort of opinion these days, it is labeled a "hot take." The more outlandish the opinion, the "hotter" the take. I sort of hate all of it, but this column is the closest I come to that sort of thing ... it's my ninth annual bold predictions piece, aka "You heard me."
The premise is very simple. Pretend we are having a conversation and I'd say something nutty.
ME: You know, I believe the Redskins win the Super Bowl!
ME: You heard me!
It's an outrageous and unlikely prediction, but it's not impossible. All 32 teams, in theory, could win the Super Bowl.
So that's what we are dealing with here. To be a bold prediction, it has to be, in fact, bold. Saying I think Aaron Rodgers is going to have a great year is not bold, it is in fact likely to happen based on his talent and previous production. A bold prediction would be to say Rodgers finishes outside the top 15 at QB (he never has been lower than seventh). I'm not saying that, by the way, as Rodgers is my No. 2 QB.
I've made a ton of predictions this preseason, and while the odds say it's unlikely all of them will come true, they are steeped in research, scouting and facts that suggest they are much more likely to happen than not.
So the idea for this column is not to nail low-percentage outrageous predictions, but rather to highlight players I have strong feelings about, one way or the other. These are scenarios that are not likely to happen, but they aren't impossible, either.
And frankly, it's not important whether I get it right.
You heard me.
Because that's not the point of this column. In last year's edition, I said, "I say Tyrod Taylor, currently being undrafted, is a top-15 fantasy quarterback." Technically, I got that wrong. He finished 16th among QBs. But considering that on a points-per-game basis he was a top-10 QB, and certainly he returned tremendous value for anyone who drafted him late, I count that as a "win" and if you're using this column the right way, so should you.
Among the other not-obvious things I nailed in last year's column? Big seasons for John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Delanie Walker. Of course, I also predicted big things for Joseph Randle, Charles Johnson and Andre Johnson, among many other misses. This is high-risk, high-reward territory we are entering here.
So again, please use this column as intended: to highlight players I have a strong feeling about one way or the other, to make you feel better about your own predictions and to subtly remind you that I have an awesome premium fantasy football site called RotoPass.com, complete with a fancy box to the right!
So here you go. One bold prediction per NFL team, in alphabetical order, with my thinking behind it. You heard me.
Arizona Cardinals: I say John Brown, currently being drafted at WR30 and behind Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, finishes as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver. My thinking: He had 10 regular-season games in 2015 with 99 yards OR a touchdown ... the same number as Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins. The deep threat on a deep-throwing team, he has continued to improve and takes the next step this year.
Atlanta Falcons: I say Devonta Freeman, last year's No. 1 running back and currently being drafted as RB5, finishes outside the top 20 at RB. My thinking: A historic and unlikely-to-repeat first half last season masked a very pedestrian second half. More touches for Tevin Coleman plus additional weapons in the passing game lower Freeman's touchdown total and make him more of a low-end RB2/flex type than a fantasy stud.
Baltimore Ravens: I say Kamar Aiken, currently being drafted as WR54, finishes as a top-25 WR. My thinking: Last season, if you took the best receiver stat line for each game between him and Steve Smith Sr., you get a 101-catch 1,412-yard, 7-touchdown season (for comparison, last season's WR10 Larry Fitzgerald finished with 109 catches, 1,215 yards, 9 TDs). Smith is 37 years old and, although Mike Wallace got a lot of targets in one preseason game, there's a reason Wallace is on his third team in three years. Nothing flashy about Aiken, he just keeps getting the job done when given a chance. This season, one way or another, he gets another shot.
Buffalo Bills: I say Tyrod Taylor finishes the season as a top-five fantasy QB. My thinking: He was a top-10 QB on a points-per-game basis last season. Now, coming into the season knowing he's the starter, having established a rapport with Sammy Watkins and, possessing strong rushing ability, he just needs to play all 16 games.
Carolina Panthers: I say Devin Funchess, currently being drafted as WR46 in the 13th round, outscores Kelvin Benjamin, currently being drafted as WR24 in the sixth round. My thinking: He's 6-foot-4 and Benjamin is 6-foot-5, so they're both obvious red zone targets. Both of these guys will start, so I ultimately expect it to come down to touchdowns, and it's not crazy to think Funchess could get more of those than Benjamin. Funchess is having a great camp, building on a nice second half last season and certainly is a much cheaper option.
Chicago Bears: I say Jeremy Langford, currently being drafted outside the top 20 at running back, finishes the season with more fantasy points than Matt Forte had in 2015 (159, RB8) and causes my friend and colleague Mike Clay to question everything he holds dear in this world. My thinking: He has looked good this preseason. In the four games in which he got 15-plus touches last season, he had 449 yards and four scores, and there's not a lot else on the Bears' roster these days.
Cincinnati Bengals: I say Tyler Boyd, currently being drafted as WR67, leads all rookie wide receivers in fantasy points. My thinking: Despite strong buzz around guys like Sterling Shepard, Corey Coleman, Tajae Sharpe, Laquon Treadwell, Will Fuller and, for some, Michael Thomas, there are 153 targets that Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left behind. Tyler Eifert is hurt, and I am not a Brandon LaFell believer. Boyd will be an important part of this offense from moment one.
Cleveland Browns: I say Terrelle Pryor, currently being drafted as WR66, finishes as a top-30 WR. My thinking: We discussed this on the podcast the other day. Pryor is a favorite of my colleague Anita Marks, and this is a team that is going to have to throw, throw, throw in the second half of games. The 6-foot-4 Pryor, who has a relationship with Hue Jackson back to their Oakland days, will become a nice red zone target for RG III.
Dallas Cowboys: I say Dez Bryant, currently being drafted as a top-seven wide receiver, finishes the season outside the top 20. My thinking: I'm nervous about him reinjuring the foot, and I'm nervous about him playing without Tony Romo. If you take his career numbers without Romo and then spread them over a 16-game season, he's Jermaine Kearse last season. Dak Prescott will be better than what they've had previously, but he's still a rookie.
Denver Broncos: I say Virgil Green, currently being drafted as TE26, finishes the season as a top-12 TE. My thinking: The Broncos have a QB in Trevor Siemian, who is inexperienced but having a strong preseason. Gary Kubiak's TE-friendly system and Green's 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame makes for a nice payoff in the red zone. That will make Green one of the season's earliest free-agent pickups in 10-team leagues.
Detroit Lions: I say Matthew Stafford, currently being drafted as QB15 and without Calvin Johnson as a teammate for the first time, has the best statistical season of his career. My thinking: It's all about Jim Bob Cooter, baby. He will sprinkle his magic Cooter dust all over Stafford and voila! Stud. Jokes aside, Stafford feels very comfortable in Cooter's system and was a top-five QB last season after his bye week (when Cooter took over). With post-hype sleeper Ameer Abdullah and Eric Ebron finally taking the next step, Stafford ends up with more weapons than ever before.
Green Bay Packers: I say Jordy Nelson, currently being drafted as WR8, finishes the season as the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy. My thinking: Well, it's tough to do a bold prediction on the Packers. They're all so damn good that you can't go negative on them. Since 2011, Nelson is the ninth-best wide receiver in fantasy, and that's while missing 20 games in that span. Now fully healthy, Aaron Rodgers' top target gets back to being a scoring machine.
Houston Texans: I say Lamar Miller, currently being drafted in the second round at 15th overall and RB7, finishes the season as the No. 1 RB in fantasy. My thinking: Please read anything else I have written this preseason: 100 Facts, Love/Hate, anything. I love Lamar Miller. LOVE.
Indianapolis Colts: I say Frank Gore, currently being drafted as RB25 in the eighth round, finishes with at least 160 points, which last year would have been RB8. My thinking: The only guy on an offense that should be much more efficient this season, Gore is a workhorse who rarely comes off the field and stays healthy. He's a good pass-catcher too, and Luck loves to dump off to his running backs.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I say Blake Bortles, the fourth-best QB in fantasy last season, finishes outside the top 15 at QB this season. My thinking: A better Jaguars team means less junk-time scoring (85 percent of Bortles' touchdowns last season came when trailing), and Chris Ivory takes away a lot of the short TDs Bortles got last year.
Kansas City Chiefs: I say Spencer Ware, currently being drafted as RB53, in the 15th round, finishes as a top-25 running back. My thinking: He'll certainly have a role (he has been getting a lot of first-team reps in practice), has a nose for the end zone and, given Jamaal Charles' injury history, could be vaulted into a top-10 back.
Los Angeles Rams: I say Jeff Fisher is fired after the season, after failing to get to 8-8. My thinking: I can't come up with a bold prediction for the Rams that I even remotely believe. Todd Gurley is good. Tavon Austin will be inconsistent. There's no one else on the team that I have a strong feeling about, fantasywise. But Fisher, who miraculously keeps his job long after other coaches would have been fired for similarly subpar seasons, finally gets the axe this year.
Miami Dolphins: I say Kenyan Drake, currently going undrafted in standard leagues, finishes the season with the most fantasy points of any Dolphins running back. My thinking: The talented rookie certainly has big-play potential, and I don't expect Arian Foster or Jay Ajayi to stay healthy all year.
Minnesota Vikings: I say Stefon Diggs, currently being drafted outside the top 40 at WR and who just lost his starting quarterback for the season, has 1,000 yards and at least six touchdowns, which last year would have been WR21. My thinking: They are still going to need to generate offense, and without Bridgewater, teams will stack the box even more against Adrian Peterson, daring the Vikes to throw it. Diggs will see a lot of man coverage, which he can beat with his speed. They are indoors this year, which will also help.
New England Patriots: I say Martellus Bennett, currently being drafted as TE14, finishes the season as a top-five fantasy tight end. My thinking: No team runs more two-TE sets than the Patriots, and they are a heavy passing team. We've seen the Patriots have two top-five fantasy tight ends in the same season before (2011), and Bennett may be the most talented player they've ever had opposite Rob Gronkowski.
New Orleans Saints: I say Willie Snead, currently being drafted as WR44, finishes as a top-25 WR. My thinking: After Week 4 last season (when Drew Brees came back from injury), Snead was 26th in receptions per game among WRs and 22nd in receiving yards per game. Now firmly established in his role in one of the best passing offenses in the NFL, Snead is ready to take the next step.
New York Giants: I say Rashad Jennings (being drafted as RB28) and Paul Perkins (RB62) will combine (that is, you would start just one of them in any given week) to be a top-15 running back. My thinking: This is a fast-paced, fantasy-friendly offense, and Jennings looked great down the stretch. I don't expect him to stay healthy, so the talented rookie from UCLA will take over at some point and also be effective. You can get a cheap RB2 this way.
New York Jets: I say Bilal Powell, currently going in the 12th round, comes within 20 points of Matt Forte, currently going in the fifth. My thinking: The Jets don't want Forte to carry the full load all season, despite what it has looked like in the preseason so far. Much like Chris Ivory and Powell last year, this will be more of a committee than people think (even though Ivory and Forte are much different running backs).
Oakland Raiders: I say DeAndre Washington outscores Latavius Murray. My thinking: Much of Murray's success last season came on volume, and they love Washington in Oakland. Murray is on a short leash and Washington will have a role from the start. If he impresses -- and I expect he will -- it won't take long.
Philadelphia Eagles: I say Jordan Matthews, currently being drafted in the ninth round as WR32, has 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. My thinking: As the No. 1 option on a team that wants to and will need to throw a lot, Matthews should build on the chemistry he had with Sam Bradford toward the end of last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: I say Ben Roethlisberger, currently being drafted as QB6, finishes outside the top 12 at the position. My thinking: He's a threat to get injured and is missing a lot of weapons already, and I expect the team to lean more heavily on the run game. There is more competition for the top 12 QB spots than ever before.
San Diego Chargers: I say Travis Benjamin, currently being drafted as WR47, finishes the year as a top-25 wide receiver. My thinking: Philip Rivers has never had the kind of speed Benjamin possesses at his disposal, and he will take full advantage of it, taking shots downfield and trying to get him in space, earning yards after the catch. The Chargers will be an underrated offense this season.
San Francisco 49ers: Torrey Smith, currently being drafted outside the top 40 at WR, has the best fantasy season of his career, which means he would finish inside the top 20 at WR. My thinking: He's all they've got, and the No. 1 WR in a Chip Kelly offense has put up career numbers each year Chip has been in the league.
Seattle Seahawks: I say Christine Michael leads the team in rushing. My thinking: The question with Michael has never been raw talent, it has been putting that together on the field. He has now figured out how to do that, so Thomas Rawls, who doesn't have the pedigree of Michael and is coming off injury, will be on a short leash with Michael getting opportunities from game one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I say Jameis Winston, currently being drafted as QB19, finishes the year as a top-10 QB. My thinking: One of only three rookies to throw for more than 4,000 yards in his rookie season (Cam Newton and Andrew Luck are the others), Winston has the talent around him, the aggressive offense and the physical tools to take the next step. Luck and Newton were top-five in their second seasons, incidentally.
Tennessee Titans: I say Derrick Henry, currently being drafted four rounds after DeMarco Murray and 84 picks after fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, ends the season with more fantasy points than Murray and within 10 spots of Elliott in terms of total fantasy points. My thinking: This is a team that wants to run a ton, Henry is an absolute beast who will be a scoring machine and it won't take long before the Titans realize Henry is the best RB on their roster.
Washington Redskins: I say Kirk Cousins, currently being drafted in the 11th round and 53 picks behind Ben Roethlisberger, outscores Big Ben and finishes as a top-six fantasy QB. My thinking: Now entrenched as a the starter from day one, playing for a contract on a team that will struggle to run the ball, Cousins will have to throw to make up for a defense that has improved but will still be middle of the pack. Last season, from the "you like that" game on, only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson had more fantasy points.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, says that everything this season will turn out exactly as we think. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.