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Bold Fantasy Football Predictions: AFC North

A bold prediction here and there can go a long way in fantasy football. It’s conceivable that someone out there is the proud predictor that Cooper Kupp would finish as the top overall wide receiver last season. If every person goes with chalky takes and analysis in their rankings, then fantasy football would not be what it is. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box. Do a deep dive into your analysis and follow a few bold predictions to give you a one-up on the rest of your league.

Over the next eight weeks, myself and Michael Govier will highlight one bold prediction from each team, division by division. They hopefully will get the gears in your head turning. Some are positive while others may be negative. The likeliness that every single one of these predictions hits is certainly not 100%.  However, they should generate some buzz or having you thinking twice about each player. Just be confident in your feelings when you’re on the clock.

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A Fantasy Football Bold Prediction for Each AFC North Team

Baltimore Ravens

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Rashod Bateman becomes the first ever Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Ravens

It’s shocking to me that there is not a single Ravens player in their team’s history to have a Pro Bowl season as a wide receiver. However, it’s certainly fitting given that none of the current Baltimore receivers have more than two years of NFL experience. So, to say Rashod Bateman is going to be the top receiver amongst the group is one thing. To say he’s going to have a Pro Bowl season is certainly a bold prediction.

Bateman is entering his second season after a rookie year full of bad luck. His training camp was cut short due to a groin injury that landed him on Injured Reserve. When he finally did come back, he played just seven of 12 applicable games with Lamar Jackson under center before an injury of his own. Building a rapport this off-season with the former MVP quarterback is crucial. It’s worth noting the last game they played together, Bateman had his first, and only, 100-yard game with a 7/103/0 stat line on eight targets.

Ahead of the 2022 season, 195 of last season’s 335 wide receiver targets (58%) in Baltimore are up for grabs. Bateman, at 6’2″ 210 pounds with 4.39 [40-yard dash] speed should command a heavy majority of those. I’m fully expecting around 100 targets, 1,000 receiving yards, and a lot of scoring from Bateman. I love him at his current WR38 Average Draft Position. If he does live up to my bold prediction, he will be the steal of your fantasy football drafts.

Govier’s Bold Prediction: The Ravens will have the fewest starter games lost to injury in 2022

There is no way the Ravens can have the same injury luck they had in 2021. That likely is not a bold prediction. I counted 10 starters lost to injury for some duration in 2021. That’s why not only having fewer starter games lost to injury in 2022, but the fewest number of games by starters in the NFL in 2022 would be a bold prediction.

During 2020 the Ravens were not nearly as close to being decimated by injuries as they were in 2021. According to the Football Outsiders Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric, the Ravens had a score of 59.6 in 2020 while winning 11 games in the regular season. That put them right on the nose with the Titans for strikingly similar outcomes in both areas that year. In 2021, as we all know well by now, the Ravens AGL score ballooned to a league-leading 191.2 which was by far the highest AGL score Football Outsiders had ever produced when prorated over 16 games!

The biggest loss was suffered in the backfield when budding star RB J.K. Dobbins tore his right ACL, Gus Edwards also tore his right ACL and Justice Hill tore his Achilles. Will this amount, severity, and situational injury luck ever be topped in the NFL? One position absolutely decimated by injury. There is just no way that happens again. Lamar Jackson missed 4 games at the end of the year too. The Ravens injuries were not borderline practice squad players. That’s why they will have the least amount of games lost to injury by starters in 2022!

Cincinnati Bengals

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Tee Higgins will outscore Ja’Marr Chase this fantasy football season

Rewind to the 2020 NFL Draft. The Bengals make Joe Burrow the future of their franchise as the first overall pick. Then, with the first pick of the second round, they select none other than Tee Higgins. Moving into their rookie season together, Joe Burrow suffers a season-ending knee injury and Cincy goes on to lose five of their final seven games without him. Because of that, they are able to draft Ja’Marr Chase with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. My point being is that Higgins is an important player to this franchise and was the planned top weapon for the offense until they were able to land Chase.

Even after he missed three regular-season games last year, Higgins finished with just seven total receptions fewer than Ja’Marr Chase. Chase can boast seven 100+ yard games from last season, including the NFL playoffs, but Higgins is right behind him with six of his own. More importantly, looking at usage, and keeping Higgins’ absence in mind, he averaged 6.11 targets while Chase averaged 6.09 per game. Higgins only had one less target and two fewer receptions than Chase inside the 20-yard line last season, as well.

Chase is undeniably a home-run hitter when it comes to big plays averaging 18.0 yards per reception last year, which was second across the entire league to only Deebo Samuel. I think, however, that while Chase is fully capable of continuing his dominance, a healthy Tee Higgins sees more total targets and has more receptions next year. If he can keep pace with Chase’ scoring, then you’re getting a value in Higgins approximately two rounds after Chase.

In short: If you can get behind this bold prediction, and pass on drafting Ja’Marr Chase, draft Tee Higgins!

Govier’s Bold Prediction: Joe Burrow will win the 2022 MVP

If you’re a college football aficionado then you should be well versed in the mystical aura of Joe Burrow. He is a proven winner with a National Championship title at LSU in 2019 after transferring from Ohio State. More recently, Burrow is known for leading the Bengals to three gutsy playoff wins and falling just one score short of a Super Bowl title. There is nothing Joe Burrow can’t do on this plane of existence!

That’s why predicting Burrow to win the MVP feels cheap to me. The numbers from his first full professional season reveal a man who is not your everyday QB. Leading the NFL with a 70% completion rate while also leading the league in yards per attempt stands out as such a dangerous combination! How can you defend a player with pinpoint accuracy all the way down the field? Remember his game against the Ravens last year where he threw for 525 yards and 4 TDs? In fact, he had over 400 yards passing in both meetings against Baltimore in 2021.

Burrow has three traits down to a science. I already mentioned his accuracy, but he’s also elite in the pocket in addition to his ability to go through his progressions downfield at light speed. When you throw in his supporting Bengals cast, you have the final tally in favor of his MVP case. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon are all back in his offensive war chest. Plus Cincinnati realized how important it is to keep Burrow healthy so they invested heavily in offensive line upgrades to make sure Burrow doesn’t get sacked 19 times again as he did in their 4 playoff games. The division will be challenging, but everything is aligned for Burrow to flourish in 2022!

Cleveland Browns

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: David Njoku will finally finish as a top-10 PPR tight end

First and foremost, I am operating as if Jacoby Brissett will be the starting quarterback in Week 1 for the Cleveland Browns. Looking at his career thus far, he has just three seasons in which he’s thrown 225 or more pass attempts. Throughout those seasons, his yards per attempt are 6.6 or less. He has just 6.8 air yards or less per attempt, as well. Compare that to a more elite player, like Patrick Mahomes, who averages 8.1 yards with 8.7 air yards per attempt.

With that in mind, I foresee David Njoku winning plenty of one-on-one matchups off of the line. As a result, I see him receiving a ton of short-yardage work in the passing games. In contrast, deep-threat receivers on this offense, like Donovan People-Jones, could suffer.

Njoku is entering the 2022 season under a new 4-year/$54.75 million deal. Additionally, tight end Austin Hooper, who has dominated the tight end target share the last two seasons (50%, 43%) is no longer on the team. It’s finally time for Njoku to shine. If the Browns can move the ball and get into the red zone, Njoku should be a top target there, score more than his career-high in a season of four touchdowns, and help me nail this bold prediction. He is likely going undrafted in most fantasy football leagues.

Govier’s Bold Prediction: Nick Chubb wins his first rushing title

The closest has come to winning the rushing title was in 2019 when he finished runner-up in the crown to the legend himself, Derrick Henry. The Browns have not had a player lead win a rushing title since Leroy Kelly ran for 1239 yards in 1968.

Chubb has only been around since 2018, but he owns a career average of 5.3 yards per attempt. That puts him slightly ahead of Cleveland legend Jim Brown who is stuck at 5.2. Chubb’s lowest YPC in a season was 5.0 in 2019 when he had a career-high 298 rushes. That was the season where his pal slash nemesis from a fantasy perspective, Kareem Hunt, joined the team. Hunt’s presence continues to limit Chubb’s ability to rush for 2000 yards.

So, what is different about this year than the others for Chubb? Approach. Deshaun Watson will be suspended (as he should be) for part or all of 2022. Jacoby Brissett is the current QB who will hold down the fort. Now I actually like Brissett quite a bit, but head coach Kevin Stefanski is no dummy. He knows where the strength of his team emanates from. The RBs. Even if Kareem Hunt gets a chunk of the carry pie, the Browns will focus much more on the ground game in 2022. Chubb will be in line to rack up 1600 yards plus on the ground this year.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: George Pickens breaks team’s rookie receiving yards record

The standing record for a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie is one set just a few seasons ago, in 2017, by Juju Smith-Schuster, of 917 yards. Last season, three rookies, Ja’Marr Chase (1,455), Kyle Pitts (1,026), and Jaylen Waddle (1,015) surpassed that amount on their own respective teams. Meanwhile, other rookies, namely DeVonta Smith (916) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (912), came very close. It is admittedly a bit easier with an extra regular season game to break certain records. However, given the many mouths to feed in this Pittsburgh receiving corps, to say George Pickens will get it done fits the mold for a bold prediction.

Pickens’ entrance into the league reminds me a lot of D.K. Metcalf’s. Both players are known to have carried an injury concern, Pickens, his knee, and Metcalf, his neck, prior to their respective drafts. Yet, both absolutely dominated the NFL Draft Combine and slipped to the second round, outside of the top-50 picks. Pickens’ 4.47 [40-yard dash] speed and 33″ vertical are physical attributes that give him a monstrous advantage, especially when lining up in the slot against opposing defenses.

Even with the Steelers’ firepower on offense, there is opportunity for the ball to be spread around. Pittsburgh ranks in the top three of offenses with three wide receiver sets on the field over the last two seasons. Matt Canada is the new offensive coordinator, after serving as the quarterbacks coach last year, and should continue that trend. Pickens is going to be a matchup nightmare. He should see enough of a target share to fulfill my bold prediction. He is currently going undrafted and is worth a late-round flier in any league size.

Govier’s Bold Prediction: Pat Freiermuth will lead the Steelers in receptions

The Big Ben era is finally over in the former steel city. I want to make Mitch Trubisky the centerpiece of this intense prediction, but I have to go with the second-year Penn State TE Patty Freiermuth! Dude is a stud who proved he was ready to rock right out the gate in 2021. 60 catches on 79 targets with 7 TD grabs from a QB way past his prime makes his output even more impressive to me.

For 2022 Freiermuth doesn’t have to sweat the presence of fellow Big Ten alum Zach Gentry as his backup. The Steelers are stocked with WR talents like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Georgia rookie George Pickens. After that though their depth falls off quite a bit. This is all great news for Freiermuth who should be on the field almost always as a red zone target and in between the 20s moving the chains for whoever the QB is for Pittsburgh. I think Trubisky is going to show the NFL how much he’s matured and how capable the Steelers are when it comes to development. Yet, even if Kenny Pickett gets the calls due to injury or poor QB play, Freiermuth stands to gain the same amount of opportunities no matter who is under center.

There are improvements needed in Friermuth’s game when it comes to blocking. It’s not just about being a quality blocker. It’s about staying on the field as much as possible in all situations to improve the chances for more production. In the red zone Freiermuth was outstanding in 2021 ranking 3rd among tight ends in red zone TDs with all 7 of his scores coming inside the 20. He showed how he can go up and snag that pigskin with a 50% contested catch rate. That was top 6 in the NFL! Draft Freiermuth as your number one TE with complete confidence.

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