2018 AFC Predictions: Fantasy forecasts, season preview and more

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AFC East

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  • New England Patriots 12-4

  • Miami Dolphins 6-10

  • New York Jets 5-11

  • Buffalo Bills 4-12

Comments/Fantasy predictions: Fresh off the best passing performance in Super Bowl history, Tom Brady turns in another top-three fantasy QB finish despite being 41 years old and not exactly loaded with weapons, as New England continues to benefit hugely from the NFL’s otherwise worst division. Rob Gronkowski misses a handful of games, while Chris Hogan and Rex Burkhead both finish top-15 at their positions.

Kenyan Drake, who had the highest YPC after contact (4.29) ever recorded last season, goes nuts and finishes with more fantasy value than Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy and Joe Mixon. Drake should be a second-round pick but is often available in rounds three or four…Kenny Stills has a big opportunity ahead of him with DeVante Parker being himself, but he struggled mightily in an expanded role last season, so Albert Wilson is the dark horse to lead Miami in receiving.

Robby Anderson ends the year as a top-15 wide receiver, going down as the most profitable player at the position, while Bilal Powell is another bargain in New York. Sam Darnold has his ups and downs, but the Jets find their quarterback of the future…Conversely, Josh Allen looks like a bust, although Buffalo’s awful offensive situation contributes. Age, workload and environment (or suspension) predictably lead to LeSean McCoy being one of this year’s biggest fantasy misses.

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AFC North

  • Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6

  • Cleveland Browns 6-10

  • Baltimore Ravens 6-10

  • Cincinnati Bengals 6-10

Comments/Fantasy predictions: One of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell suffers a serious injury, and James Conner is this year’s biggest fantasy difference maker if it’s the latter. Bell is the favorite to lead the NFL in touches, but his health (and holdout?) risk is very real. The Steelers defense misses Ryan Shazier, but it’s nice playing in the AFC these days. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a monster in the making and has top-five WR upside if Brown were to go down.

David Njoku gives owners a bigger profit than Jarvis Landry or Josh Gordon, while Carlos Hyde’s late-surging ADP is perplexing. The Browns are moving in the right direction, and his role as lead back has become clearer, but Hyde has both skill and health concerns. Baker Mayfield proves Cleveland made a franchise-altering decision when they drafted him first, as it doesn’t take long before it’s clear he’s going to be a major star in the league. Be very aggressive in dynasty leagues.

Joe Flacco loses his job to Lamar Jackson, who makes a fantasy impact down the stretch thanks to his legs. Draft John Brown, not Michael Crabtree, and bet the Under (8) on the Ravens this year…Tyler Kroft outscores Tyler Eifert, John Ross cashes his sleeper ticket, and Marvin Lewis remains coach for another year despite no playoff wins. Joe Mixon goes down as a bust.

AFC South

  • Jacksonville Jaguars 10-6

  • Houston Texans 10-6 (Wild Card)

  • Indianapolis Colts 7-9

  • Tennessee Titans 6-10

Comments/Fantasy predictions: Jacksonville held a double-digit lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in New England in the AFC Championship Game, as the Jags made a huge turnaround last season (their +149 point differential suggested they should’ve won even more than 10 games). Now football’s best defense returns most of its starters, made a big O-line signing and will go as far as Blake Bortles allows in 2018. Leonard Fournette, who recorded the two fastest speeds among ball carriers last season, got 15 pounds lighter during the offseason and is going to be the centerpiece of Jacksonville’s offense, is a top-three fantasy player and makes anyone who drafted Melvin Gordon ahead of him regret it. Keelan Cole is a top-30 wide receiver, while Dede Westbrook makes Donte Moncrief worthless even after the Marqise Lee injury.

Lamar Miller disappoints owners, but Deshaun Watson finishes as fantasy’s QB1 while DeAndre Hopkins usurps Antonio Brown as WR1. Will Fuller scores double-digit touchdowns, destroying his ADP, as Houston’s explosive playmakers overcome a poor offensive line to help win a wild card spot…Andrew Luck plays 16 games but isn’t a top-10 fantasy QB, while Indy’s backfield remains a mess to fantasy owners throughout. T.Y. Hilton has more fantasy value than Mike Evans, while Jack Doyle more than Jimmy Graham.

The Titans made the postseason last year (and won a playoff game) despite being outscored, and now they face a second-place schedule in a division with two legit playoff contenders (and the other getting Andrew Luck back), so they are one of my favorite Under (8) bets. Marcus Mariota, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year (including from a clean pocket) and may take time learning a new system under an OC who’s never called plays before, doesn’t bounce back as many fantasy owners envision, while Rishard Matthews is far more profitable than Corey Davis. Dion Lewis finished third in Juke Rate and had zero drops last year and is clearly the superior receiver to Derrick Henry, but he has more career fumbles (three) than games with 20 carries (two). Lewis averaged 6.3 games over the previous six years of his career before last season, so Henry finally gets a chance as Tennessee’s lead back, resulting in 10 touchdowns.

Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette is primed for a huge sophomore season (AP Photo).
Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette is primed for a huge sophomore season (AP Photo).

AFC West

  • Los Angeles Chargers 10-6

  • Denver Broncos 9-7 (Wild Card)

  • Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

  • Oakland Raiders 6-10

Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Chargers have already lost Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett to IR, as they continue to set the standard for dealing with injuries. The team still has enough talent to contend, but will ultimately find a way (coachingkickingbad luck?) to disappoint in spectacular fashion. Mike Williams has nice TD upside as a red-zone threat, but Tyrell Williams has much more experience and has become far cheaper at drafts leading to the season, making him the better pick.

The Broncos added Bradley Chubb to the makings of a still strong defense, and Case Keenum, who once again benefits from throwing to two very good receivers, should be a big upgrade at QB, so Denver surprises by winning a wild card spot (and give me their Over (7)). Royce Freeman joins Saquon Barkley as the rare rookie back who doesn’t disappoint in 2018, while Emmanuel Sanders is the better pick than Demaryius Thomas.

Tyreek Hill has been in the league three fewer years than Keenan Allen yet has scored just two fewer touchdowns, and now the former goes from having the league’s most risk-adverse passer to one who casually does this, yet Hill curiously always goes after Allen in drafts. Patrick Mahomes, taking over an offense that led the NFL in RPO% last year (and then added Sammy Watkins) and a role that produced fantasy’s QB4 last season and on a team with a crumbling defense, overcomes a tough schedule and finishes as a top-five fantasy QB.

The Raiders went from winning 12 games in 2016 to just six last season despite staying healthy and just had an offseason that wasn’t exactly ideal, but at least they have Jon Gruden. I already liked Oakland’s Under (8) before the Khalil Mack trade, so I love it now. The Raiders don’t produce much 2018 fantasy value aside for one major exception, as Amari Cooper overcomes a tough schedule, benefits from playing the slot more and goes crazy, finishing as a top-five WR. Cooper just recently turned 24 and has a strong pedigree, as he shines in an otherwise dark possible final year in Oakland.

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley

Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Ramsey

AFC Championship: Patriots over Jaguars

NFC Championship: Packers over Saints

Super Bowl: Packers over Patriots

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