Fantasy Football: 4 Bold Predictions for Week 1

Aidan McGrath
Aidan McGrath@ffaidanmcgrath
Fantasy Football: 4 Bold Predictions for Week 1

There's nothing quite like the NFL. Football is one of the most intense, exciting sports on the planet. The source of the now-ubiquitous saying "Any Given Sunday", the NFL is a place where even struggling teams can have a chance topple the best in the league. Anything can happen when you only play 17 regular season games a year.

That uncertainty is a huge driver behind the excitement the NFL generates each and every year. What's more fun than watching something totally unexpected unfold before your eyes? That's why this year, we'll be bringing you 4 Bold Predictions to watch for in each week of NFL action.

NFL Bold Predictions for Week 1

Bijan Robinson Will Be the Top-Scoring Fantasy Running Back

You may disagree with the Atlanta Falcons's decision to draft a running back with the eighth overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, but you'd have to be out of your mind to not be excited to watch Bijan Robinson take the field in Week 1. The former Texas Longhorns back was an electric playmaker in his three years of college ball, putting up 3,410 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns on 539 carries for a ridiculous 6.9 yards per carry average while simultaneously making plays in the passing game.

On the team level, the Falcons have fielded one of the strongest rushing attacks in the league over the last two seasons despite mostly relying on an aging Cordarrelle Patterson and 2022 fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier to handle the ball. In 2022, the Falcons finished with 2,718 rushing yards as a team (the third-most in the NFL). Of the league's top five rushing offenses last year -- including the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles -- only the Falcons didn't have a rushing quarterback to aid in their total ground production. The Falcons' running backs were just that productive.

When you mix a top-tier rushing attack with the most explosive playmaker to graduate from the college football ranks, what you get is fantasy football fireworks. That's exactly what we're expecting from Bijan Robinson this week, but he could leverage his situation to a finish as fantasy football's top-scoring running back in the season opener.

It's not easy at all to finish as the top-scoring player at any given position in fantasy football. Even at his current RB4 projection on numberFire, Robinson will still need to put up more points than players like Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb to take the RB1 title for the week, and that is certainly easier said than done.

Fortunately for Robinson, he and the Falcons will have what appears to be a pretty soft matchup against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 -- especially if Panthers stud Brian Burns continues his holdout into the season. The Panthers were an average defense last year even with Burns putting up the eighth-most sacks in the league in 2022, so his absence could open the floodgates for Atlanta -- and Robinson -- in Week 1.

Jamaal Williams Will Be a Top-12 Fantasy Running Back

The New Orleans Saints will be without Alvin Kamara (suspension) for the first three weeks of the 2023 season and could also be without third-round pick Kendre Miller for their season opener after the rookie suffered a hamstring injury in training camp. That means that free agent signing Jamaal Williams, who led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns a season ago, is set up to be the Saints' primary ball carrier against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.

Williams' 17 rushing touchdowns last year were primarily a product of the Detroit Lions's impressive offense and their strange knack for getting to the 1-yard line, but the former goal line back did showcase a bit more ability with the ball in his hands during his time with the Green Bay Packers than he did during his two-year stint with Detroit. He caught at least 25 passes in each of his four seasons in Green Bay despite playing alongside talented pass-catching back Aaron Jones and showcased an ability to be a three-down player when given the opportunity to do so there.

The Lions never fully committed to Williams as an every-down back, but the Saints could in their season opener. Even in a down year without Drew Brees at quarterback or Sean Payton calling the shots, Kamara still averaged 3.8 receptions per game last year -- the sixth-most of any running back in the NFL. And, in the two games that Kamara missed last year, the Saints still got the combination backfield of Mark Ingram, Latavius Murray, and Tony Jones Jr. four receptions in each of those games. Kamara has been one of the best pass-catchers of his generation of running backs, but it still looks like running backs catching passes is a core tenet of the Saints' offense, with or without Kamara.

The Saints are 3.5-point favorites, according to the FanDuel Sportsbook's NFL Odds, and could find themselves in positive game scripts against the Titans on Sunday. In other words, Williams could have a shockingly heavy workload in Week 1, which could lead to him putting up a surprising amount of fantasy points -- even as many as Derrick Henry on the opposite side of the field. Don't be too surprised when Williams finishes in the top 12 at the running back position in Week 1.

Rashod Bateman Will Lead All Ravens Pass-Catchers in Week 1 -- and Beyond

The Baltimore Ravens already have Mark Andrews. They drafted a talented young wideout in Zay Flowers in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. They even signed former superstar receiver Odell Beckham to round out their receiver group in 2023. But they might really have something special with Rashod Bateman, who is this author's pick to become their top dog in the passing game this season -- even over Andrews.

Bateman has been unfortunate with injuries since joining the league. The former first-round pick suffered a core muscle injury in the final days of training camp as a rookie, forcing him to miss the first half of his rookie year. He then had his sophomore campaign cut short by a broken foot -- but not before showcasing his special talents.

In his limited opportunities last year, Bateman posted an elite yards per route run mark of 2.38. That mark put him in line with true alpha fantasy football wideouts like CeeDee Lamb (2.38), Amon-Ra St. Brown (2.40) and Cooper Kupp (2.38). His total yardage per game was significantly skewed by former offensive coordinator Greg Roman's wide-receiver-hostile passing scheme, but new Ravens OC Todd Monken has run much more receiver-friendly offenses in the past. Readers unfamiliar with Monken's offenses can look to his final season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' play-caller, which resulted in fantasy WR1 performances for both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

The two best ways wide receivers can generate fantasy points are via volume and efficiency. When receivers can sustain strong efficiency while earning a ton of volume in their passing games, that's where we hit fantasy gold. Bateman is capable of achieving that this season. He operated as a chain-mover in his limited rookie season, converting 29 of his 46 receptions into first downs, and he was a strong big-play threat as a sophomore, averaging 19 yards per reception with his 13.4 aDOT. He's set for a breakout this season and will lead the Ravens' pass-catchers from the jump in Week 1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Will Be a Top-5 Scoring Offense

Was it just me, or did the Pittsburgh Steelers look a little different this preseason? Second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett looked especially on point, completing 13 of his 15 preseason pass attempts for an absurd 199 yards and 2 touchdowns, which earned him a perfect 158.3 passer rating for his efforts. Pickett was drilling down-field shots left and right, with receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens converting catches in highlight reel-worthy fashion.

After their starting unit's success this preseason, it was a little odd to see them expected for so few points in Week 1. Their tilt with the San Francisco 49ers has a total of 40.5 points according to the FanDuel Sportsbook's NFL odds, the third-lowest combined total of the week. The Steelers in particular are 2.5-point dogs in the game, meaning the betting markets expect them to score just 19 points in the contest.

A strong preseason performance doesn't necessarily mean a player will find success in the regular season, but we've seen plenty of quarterbacks take a significant leap forward in their second NFL seasons -- Trevor Lawrence pulled off an amazing second season just last year while Jared Goff redefined the second-year leap with his sophomore campaign with the Los Angeles Rams. It wouldn't be too surprising to see Pickett show signs of improvement this season, and the Steelers had already averaged 18.1 points per game in his healthy starts last year.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers appear to be at an impasse with star pass rusher Nick Bosa, who seems prepared to continue his holdout into the regular season. The team's lack of depth at edge rusher could be a problem without Bosa after the team lost both Charles Omenihu and Samson Ebukam (who ran the second- and third-most pass-rush sets for the team a year ago) in the offseason. The 49ers will be counting on 2022 first-round pick Drake Jackson to take a massive step forward on the edge after his disappointing rookie season, which earned him a mediocre 55.5 pass rush grade from PFF.

So while the Steelers' offense could be on the ascent, the 49ers' defense may not still be the stalwart unit we saw competing into the NFC Championship game back in January. The betting markets don't see the Steelers putting up many points at all in Week 1, but we're going bold and predicting them to be a top-five scoring offense in the first week of the 2023 NFL season.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.