Richard James had a problem.
He was an engineer, so problems were what he dealt in. But he just couldn't crack this one. It was 1943 and sensitive instruments aboard naval ships were getting thrown about the ship. Because ships move violently when they are out at sea and these instruments were very sensitive, it was, to be kind, a poor combination.
It was this problem James was attempting to solve when he started working with tension springs. The idea was that these springs would suspend the instruments on the ship and stabilize them, even in rough seas, so the coils needed to be strong yet pliable.
It was during one of these long and so-far fruitless days that James got careless. When he knocked one of the springs off the shelf, the spring did something weird. As the Lemels-MIT website describes it, the spring didn't flop onto a heap but rather "the spring 'stepped' in a series of arcs from the shelf, to a stack of books, to a tabletop, to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright."
Richard James didn't know it just yet, but he had just invented the Slinky.
He had failed, of course, in his stated goal of finding a way to stabilize sensitive instruments aboard naval ships in rough waters, but over a 250 million Slinkys later, you don't hear that many complaints about it.
I bring this up because it's time, once again, for my bold predictions column. The idea, of course, is not that I nail outrageous predictions. To be a bold prediction, it has to be unlikely to happen. "Drew Brees will throw for over 4,000 yards" is not a bold prediction because he has done that every single year he has been in New Orleans. No, a bold prediction would be Drew Brees throws for less than 2,000 yards this year. That is a bold prediction because it is highly unlikely to happen.
So what use can we derive from highly-unlikely-to-happen predictions? To illustrate some of the players I have a strong feeling about, one way or the other. In this very column last year, I boldly predicted that "Matt Ryan throws for over 4,500 yards, 35 touchdowns and is a top-five fantasy quarterback."
Now, I ended up getting that prediction wrong. He threw for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and was the seventh-best fantasy quarterback. So he fell short on the touchdowns and end-of-year rank, but considering all the numbers were career highs and he outperformed his ADP, I doubt any of his owners were upset with where they got him last year. It's not a billion-dollar toy idea, but it's something.
Last year in this column I called for huge years from Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Jamaal Charles, Mike Williams and the Seahawks defense, plus a down year for Mike Wallace among others. Of course, I also was down on Andre Johnson and Trent Richardson and called for big years from the likes of Brandon Lloyd and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ugh. This is high-risk, high-reward territory we are in, so don't use this as anything other than as intended: As a way to highlight players I feel strongly one way or the other about, as a way for you to feel better about your own predictions, and to subtly remind you that I still have a book out with that fancy box to the right. Now a New York Times best seller!
So here you go. One bold prediction per NFL team, in alphabetical order, with my reasoning for it. Here's what I say ...
Arizona Cardinals: I say Carson Palmer, currently being drafted 22nd among quarterbacks, throws for over 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. You heard me. What I'm thinking: What's Bruce Arians gonna do, run it? Exactly. They are going to throw, throw, throw. Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards last year with no wide receivers nearly as good as Larry Fitzgerald. I actually like Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler from a skills standpoint as well, and think Roberts in particular is a very interesting deep flier this year.
Atlanta Falcons: I say Steven Jackson leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns this year. What I'm thinking: If you've read anything from me this preseason, you know I'm all-in on Steven Jackson. He's a three-down back on an explosive offense that runs when it gets in close. If Michael Turner could get 10 rushing touchdowns last year, no reason the much better Jackson can't get to 15 or so, which is what led the NFL last year. All-in.
Baltimore Ravens: I say Ray Rice finishes the year as the No. 1 running back in fantasy. What I'm thinking: Pierce, schmierce. We looked at it: Last year, under current Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Rice averaged just as many touches and had more red zone looks and goal-to-go touches than he did under Cam Cameron. Did you see where he got 16 touches the other day … in a preseason game? He will once again be the focal point of a good offense, and Vonta Leach coming back only helps.
Buffalo Bills: I say EJ Manuel, currently going 26th at the position, is a top-15 fantasy quarterback this year. What I'm thinking: This assumes he comes back soon, of course, but it's all about the rushing. His 28 yards rushing in a half against the Colts this preseason showed his potential, and the Bills offense is going to be better than you think. Not amazing, but better than you think. Also thought about a good Fred Jackson prediction here; he's going to be a lot more valuable than folks think.
Carolina Panthers: I say Greg Olsen, currently going eighth among tight ends, is a top-three fantasy tight end this year. What I'm thinking: He's still the second-best pass-catcher they have and there has been talk of limiting the designed runs for Cam Newton, so maybe he finally gets some more red zone looks. Starting in Week 10 last season, only Jimmy Graham had more fantasy points among tight ends.
Chicago Bears: I say over 2,000 all-purpose yards for Matt Forte (which would be a career high) and double-digit touchdowns. What I'm thinking: He's a perfect fit for Marc Trestman's offense, they will give him some (not all, but some) goal-line carries this year and he plays all 16 games.
Cincinnati Bengals: I say the Bengals D/ST finishes the year as the No. 1 scoring fantasy defense. What I'm thinking: Touchdowns are flukey, especially for defenses. Did you know San Diego and Tennessee both had nine defensive/special team touchdowns last year? The Bengals were fourth in defensive scoring last year (just 12 total points fewer than the Seahawks) and scored only four touchdowns. The ferocious pass rush is still there, they just need to get a little luckier with their scoring. Don't we all?
Cleveland Browns: I say Josh Gordon (being drafted 43rd among wide receivers), Jordan Cameron (14th at tight end) and the Browns D/ST (D/ST No. 19) all outperform their ADP by at least 10 spots. Brandon Weeden (QB No. 27) is a top-20 QB. You heard me. Four times. What I'm thinking: I like what I have seen this preseason, and the amount that I don't like Norv Turner as a head coach is almost as much as the amount that I like Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator. They are going to use the tight end, they are going to throw deep and the Browns defense is a lot better than you think it is.
Dallas Cowboys: I say the running back on the Cowboys with the most fantasy points at the end of the year? Lance Dunbar. You heard me. What I'm thinking: Other than DeMarco Murray will get hurt? Once Dunbar gets healthy, they're going to use him in a "Darren Sproles-type role" (that's actually what they said they'll do, not just me thinking it) and this is a pass-first team (31st in rush attempts last year). Bill Callahan promises a more balanced approach, but I'll believe it when I see it. Same thing for Murray staying on the field.
Denver Broncos: I say the running back on the Broncos with the most fantasy points at the end of the year? Knowshon Moreno. You heard me again. What I'm thinking: Ronnie Hillman can't hold onto the ball and Montee Ball is having protection issues. Meanwhile, Moreno is back healthy, played well down the stretch last year, kept Peyton Manning upright and, with the up-tempo no-huddle offense they want to run (plus Peyton audibling all the time, which is too a verb), Moreno won't come off the field once he gets on there.
Detroit Lions: I say Reggie Bush sets the NFL record for receptions by a running back (currently 101, by Larry Centers in 1995; Eric Metcalf played WR the year he got 104). What I'm thinking: I feel like I've talked about Reggie Bush in every article this preseason, so why stop now? The Lions targeted running backs 129 times last season, and that was with Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. Dude.
Green Bay Packers: I say Eddie Lacy, currently going as running back No. 21 in the fifth round, finishes as a top-10 running back. What I'm thinking: It's not as if they won't have scoring opportunities. Double-digit touchdowns seems very doable here and the Packers were 16th in rushing attempts last year, and that was with Alex Green leading the team with 135 totes, 31st in the league. Now that they have a running back who they can feature, the Packers can go even heavier on the run, and with DuJuan Harris out for the season, Lacy gets majority of work and a crack at the goal-line carries.
Houston Texans: I say DeAndre Hopkins has a better fantasy season than Andre Johnson. What I'm thinking: Now that everyone has bought back in that Johnson isn't a health risk, he gets injured again and misses significant time. Plus, the double-teams on him open up Hopkins for more targets, especially in the red zone, where Johnson never gets any love (he's never had double-digit scores in a season).
Indianapolis Colts: I say T.Y. Hilton, currently being drafted as wide receiver No. 32, finishes as a top-15 fantasy wide receiver. You heard me. What I'm thinking: He's the best wide receiver on this team (you heard me) and soon, the Colts will realize it. The big-play ability, the run after the catch; Reggie Wayne will still get his, but Hilton's talent will soon be too much to ignore.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I say Maurice Jones-Drew plays all 16 games and has the best statistical year of his career. What I'm thinking: Healthy, something to prove and an offense that is in better shape than it has been for quite some time.
Kansas City Chiefs: I say Dwayne Bowe, currently going 18th among wide receivers, is a top-five fantasy wide receiver. What I'm thinking: Pretty simple. Andy Reid likes to throw and when they throw, they are throwing it to Dwayne Bowe. He has been a top fantasy wideout before and now he has a competent QB to get him the ball.
Miami Dolphins: I say Lamar Miller, currently the 25th running back off the board, finishes with over 1,500 total yards and eight touchdowns. What I'm thinking: I've seen Daniel Thomas play. And I love Miller's talent.
Minnesota Vikings: I say Cordarrelle Patterson is the best fantasy wide receiver not only of this year's rookie class, but on the Vikings as well. What I'm thinking: Other than that I don't trust Greg Jennings to stay healthy? The Vikings will force the ball to Patterson, an explosive playmaker, with bubble screens, handoffs, quick slants, etc. He'll be starting sooner than later.
New England Patriots: I say Zach Sudfeld, currently going in the 14th round, is a top-10 fantasy tight end. What I'm thinking: The same thing I wrote about last week; That the Patriots attempted the third-most passes to tight ends, despite Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing a combined 12 games. And they've thrown the most passes to tight ends in the past three years. You're telling me Sudfeld can't get 700 yards and 6 TDs, which is what tight end No. 8 (Owen Daniels) did last year?
New Orleans Saints: I say Mark Ingram, currently going 34th among running backs, is a top-20 back this year. What I'm thinking: What am I gonna do, pump up Drew Brees or Jimmy Graham? Darren Sproles and Marques Colston are what they are, but there's real potential for a fully healthy (so far!) Ingram who will be more involved in the offense. He has even caught a few passes!
New York Giants: I say David Wilson is a top-10 fantasy running back. What I'm thinking: Phenomenal talent, big-play ability, no more Ahmad Bradshaw, I just picked him in the 16-team "War Room" league and really need him to deliver so I'm talking myself into it ... pick a reason, any reason.
New York Jets: I say someone on this team will be a usable fantasy starter. What I'm thinking: It's the Jets. What do you want from me? If Chris Ivory stays healthy he'll be a top-20 running back. One of the receivers (Jeremy Kerley?) will emerge. So yes, sorry, but you are going to have to pay attention to this team for a bit this year.
Oakland Raiders: I say Marcel Reece has the most fantasy points of any Raiders running back. Yep. You heard me. What I'm thinking: He almost did it last year, finishing second to Darren McFadden. He's a nice pass-catcher, the Raiders are going to be down and throwing a lot and mostly checkdowns, as they don't have the most accurate passers in Oakland. Oh, and I don't think McFadden stays healthy, but that's not really a bold prediction, is it? Oh, and I also don't believe in Rashad Jennings. Came close to doing a Rod Streater prediction, incidentally. Like Streater in deep PPR leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers: I say 1,000 yards each for Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. What I'm thinking: It's not as though the Steelers can run the ball. Both of these receivers are nice fits for a short-passing offense that will try to get them in space and take advantage of yards after the catch. (See, if they pass short, they don't have to block as long.)
San Diego Chargers: I say Danny Woodhead is top five in the NFL in running back receptions and makes for a sneaky-good PPR play. What I'm thinking: Ryan Mathews can't stay healthy and this is a team that is going to be down and throwing. A lot. Philip Rivers has suddenly become a checkdown king.
San Francisco 49ers: I say Vernon Davis, currently going fifth among tight ends, is not a top-12 tight end this year. What I'm thinking: I'm not buying this whole "Davis is going to line up wide and it's going to be a huge boon to his value" thing. They did it some last year and the numbers weren't amazing. Once Colin Kaepernick took over, Davis wasn't even the best fantasy tight end on his team; Delanie Walker had more fantasy points. This is still a run-first offense and Davis is too inconsistent to justify his current draft position. A good postseason does not a fantasy star make.
St. Louis Rams: I say Chris Givens, currently going 40th among wide receivers, has 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. What I'm thinking: A big-play threat who has a shot to take it to the house anytime he gets the ball, he's going to get three or four long pass attempts a game. If converts them half the time -- he had five straight games last year with a pass play of over 50 yards -- we're in business.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I say everything falls apart and no Buccaneer lives up to his draft-day ADP. What I'm thinking: I'm just sort of nervous about Josh Freeman. If he really struggles, does he bring Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams down with him? And then teams start focusing on stopping Doug Martin, running behind a struggling offensive line. Something just doesn't seem 100 percent so far in the preseason.
Tennessee Titans: I say Chris Johnson is back, baby, to being a legit top-five fantasy running back. What I'm thinking: He looks good. Spry, healthy, quick, I'm buying the revamped offensive line and the removal of Chris Palmer as offensive coordinator. Not worried about Shonn Greene for two reasons: One, goal-line carries have never been a huge part of CJ2K's fantasy value anyway, and two, he's Shonn Greene.
Washington Redskins: I say Aldrick Robinson has 850 yards and seven touchdowns this year, or basically what T.Y. Hilton had last year. What I'm thinking: I just love this kid's talent and the Skins need to throw deep to keep defenses honest around Alfred Morris, and throwing out of play-action is a staple of the offense.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- boldly predicts he'll get through a column without plugging his book this year. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. You may have also heard: He's written a book.