Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Eagles are dealing with injuries entering the year, but they have arguably the NFL’s best fronts on both sides of the ball, and Carson Wentz doesn’t have to play 16 games for them to easily be the class of this division. Thanks in part to Alshon Jeffery’s injury, Nelson Agholor finishes as a top-30 fantasy wide receiver, while Mike Wallace, who got 8.5 YPT over two years with Joe Flacco, isn’t far behind. Jay Ajayi thrives as feature back in an aggressive offense behind a dominant O-line and is 2018’s fantasy MVP…Michael Gallup scores the most fantasy points among receivers on Dallas, but only Ezekiel Elliott holds much value outside of 2QB leagues, as Jason Garrett is finally fired.
It doesn’t take long for Adrian Peterson to go down, and Washington’s backfield remains a frustrating mess for fantasy owners throughout the year. Jordan Reed struggles through injuries yet again, while Alex Smith’s regression hits in a big way in a new system. Jamison Crowder proves to be the only fantasy WR worth owning in Washington…The Giants are loaded at the skill positions and ostensibly made a big coaching upgrade, but they are relying on a 37-year-old quarterback whose YPA has dropped three consecutive seasons, bottoming out at a career-low 6.1 last season. It’s especially worrisome given the context (league average has been going up over this span), and the fact Eli Manning will be another year older this season, so Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley are risky picks at their lofty draft prices.
Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Packers have a pair of strong tackles and a draft class that appears to have immediately improved their defense, but it all comes down to Aaron Rodgers’ health with Green Bay. The bet here is he stays upright, helping overcome Mike McCarthy and leading the Pack to the NFC’s No. 1 seed. If Jordy Nelson’s disappearing act last year had everything to do with poor QB play and not declining skill, then what Davante Adams did (led the NFC in receiving TDs despite missing two games) was even more impressive. Adams is 25 years old, has the game’s best player throwing to him, and the Packers have questionable weapons otherwise (Nelson is gone. Randall Cobb may be traded or cut. Jimmy Graham will help in the red-zone, but his YPT last year was the fifth-worst mark by a tight end over the last decade), so Adams has massive upside and shouldn’t be drafted behind Keenan Allen (whose career-high in TDs is eight set back when he was a rookie in 2013).
The Vikings added Kirk Cousins to a loaded roster, so Minnesota is rightfully one of the favorites to come out of the NFC. Stefon Diggs goes nuts and easily finishes with more fantasy value than Adam Thielen, while Latavius Murray cuts into Dalvin Cook’s value more than the latter’s owners would like. Kyle Rudolph is overvalued…Detroit needed to make a coaching change, but it’s questionable Matt Patricia was the right replacement. Fantasy owners are rightfully excited about Kenny Golladay, but Marvin Jones is the Lions’ receiver who outproduces his ADP the most…The Bears have a solid defense (even better now the blockbuster trade for Khalil Mack), young skill position players and an exciting new coach, so Chicago’s future appears bright, although most of that depends on Mitchell Trubisky’s development. Jordan Howard thrives running out of shotgun more and is the better fantasy pick than Joe Mixon, while Trey Burton ends the year a top-five tight end.
New Orleans Saints 11-5
Atlanta Falcons 10-6 (Wild Card)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10
Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Saints’ draft made it clear they are going for it during the later stages of Drew Brees’ career, and it’s safe to expect more TD passes this season after leading the NFL in YPA (while setting the NFL record in completion percentage) but tossing a modest 23 last year (Mark Ingram suspended the first month helps too), although the 39-year-old continues to throw downfield less and less. Alvin Kamara has a monster season, eclipsing 2,000 yards from scrimmage, while Ben Watson goes down as one of the best values at tight end. Michael Thomas more than doubles last year’s TD total, while Tre’Quan Smith ultimately ends up the team’s WR2.
The Falcons have an underrated defense that held the Rams and Eagles to just 14.0 ppg on the road in the playoffs, and their offense should be better in year two of Steve Sarkisian’s system. Julio Jones scores double-digit touchdowns, while Tevin Coleman is a real difference maker in fantasy leagues after Devonta Freeman goes down…Carolina lost guard Andrew Norwell and brought in new OC Norv Turner (and the rest of his family) during free agency, which seems like an odd (he’s never coached a mobile QB) and dated (he hasn’t had an offense ranked better than 16th in DVOA since 2011, h/t Bill Barnwell) fit. The Panthers won 11 games last year but had a modest point differential (+36) and now face a second-place schedule. Despite some legit concerns, Christian McCaffrey has been one of preseason’s biggest ADP risers.
Jameis Winston became just the third rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards (when he was just 21) and got 8.7 YPA in the second half last year, while Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Ronald Jones and O.J. Howard (who had the highest Passer Rating among tight ends when targeted last year) form an exciting and young group of weapons. But Winston is suspended the first three games, Dirk Koetter is a major hindrance at coach, and this division is extremely tough. Peyton Barber holds off Jones all season, while Evans finishes outside the top-10 wide receivers.
San Francisco 49ers 10-6
Los Angeles Rams 10-6
Arizona Cardinals 6-10
Seattle Seahawks 6-10
Comments/Fantasy predictions: The 49ers have a tough early season schedule, but it eases up later, and big things should be in store for Jimmy Garoppolo during year two in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Last season, San Francisco went from 21st in the NFL in yards-per-game (321.7) and 28th in points-per-game (17.0) before Jimmy G took over to first (410.0 ypg) and second (28.8 ppg) afterward, all while he was cramming to learn a complex new offense. Garoppolo got 8.8 YPA last season (9.9 on first downs!) and now has better cast, so he’s a dark horse MVP candidate. You could have drafted Jerick McKinnon with confidence but can now turn your attention to Alfred Morris and Matt Breida. Marquise Goodwin and George Kittle are solid options at their respective positions. With an offensive line and defense filled with former first rounders (including budding stars DeForest Buckner and Reuben Foster) and a strong QB/coach combo, the Niners reach the playoffs sooner than expected.
The Rams had a busy offseason, and they are legit threats to win the Super Bowl, but some regression should be expected this year (they also stayed incredibly healthy last season, and things like Jared Goff throwing eight touchdowns behind the line of scrimmage seem unsustainable), and the NFC is incredibly loaded. Todd Gurley, who had 33 percent of his carries come against defenses that ranked top-six in YPC last season, proves worthy of being the top pick in drafts with a monstrous campaign, but Brandin Cooks is a bust.
David Johnson goes 1,000/1,000, while Mike Glennon is forced into action despite Arizona entering the season ostensibly deep at quarterback. Larry Fitzgerald is a player to avoid at his cost, while Ricky Seals-Jones is a sleeper to target. The Seahawks have a decimated defense with a compromised Doug Baldwin as the team’s No. 1 offensive weapon, so while that makes Tyler Lockett an excellent target in fantasy leagues, it also makes Seattle one of my favorite Under (8 wins) bets this year.