Bucs at Saints is a really interesting matchup, between the roller-coaster passing attack of the Buccaneers and the find-a-way-to-win Saints. Make no mistake about it: the Saints are the better all-around team; but given what the Bucs have been doing on defense (more on this in a moment), there is cause for overall optimism around this Bucs team as a whole — especially if this team can convince Good Jameis to show up more often than he has so far in his career.
On defense this year, the Bucs’ early-season success against the run has continued to prove to be anything but a fluke, with this team ranking first in DVOA against the run and first in yards allowed per carry in spite of having faced the 49ers, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Todd Gurley.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have not been bad against the pass (by basically any measure, they have been right around the league average) — but with how stout this team has been against the run, they are filtering opponents heavily to the air, with only one team allowing a higher opponent pass play rate than the Bucs this year.
Sean Payton is the coach likeliest to control this game — and the starting point for him will be finding ways to move the ball through the air against the Bucs with Teddy Bridgewater under center. So far, this has led to three things from Bridgewater:
1) The shortest average intended air yards in the league
2) Michael Thomas seeing a ridiculous 33.3% of this team’s targets
3) Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara seeing an additional 35.6% of targets (16 looks for Kamara; 15 for Cook)
This is a good spot, then, to also point out that the Bucs have allowed the fifth fewest receptions to running backs this season, on an insanely low 57.1% completion rate to running backs — the lowest in the league. (The majority of teams are currently allowing a completion rate of at least 75% on RB targets.) Payton could line up Kamara in the slot a bit to get the ball into his hands more easily (creating at least one slim path for a score from him that you’d regret missing out on), but the best way for the Saints to move the ball will be with Thomas and Cook.
With the matchup filtering action to the air for the Saints and the matchup further filtering targets in Thomas’ direction, another game of double-digit looks is a high-probability bet after seeing 13 // 7 // 9 so far with Bridgewater under center. With Thomas catching over 82% of his passes from Bridgewater and his price dropping, he’s actually an interesting tourney play. There are clear paths to something like a 9-100-1 line here, and if he scores two touchdowns he could be a sneaky slate-winner.
As for Cook: he has been awful so far in this offense and has shown no chemistry with Bridgewater, but the Bucs are a sneaky strong tight end matchup, with the second most targets allowed and the second most yards allowed in the league. It should be noted for tourneys that on DK and FDraft, Cook is priced right by Tyler Eifert (who is sure to be a sexy cheap play vs the Cardinals this week), and he has about the same target projection and a matchup that is almost as good.
On the Bucs’ side, the run game continues to be somewhat unattractive from a “floor” perspective, even with Ronald Jones starting to show some real juice on the NFL field, as Jones and Peyton Barber have combined for eight total receptions. With this, you absolutely need touchdowns in order for either play to be worthwhile (with Jones clearly preferred, though with this backfield still slightly in the “unpredictable” territory after the flip-flop Arians pulled in Week 2). A matchup against the Saints is shaking out as somewhere between “difficult” and “average” on the ground, creating a low floor on this backfield to go with whatever touchdown-driven upside is there.
In four games against the Dennis Allen DC // Marshon Lattimore shadow matchup, Evans has posted the following stat lines ::
>> 1-13-0 (six targets)
>> 5-55-0 (13 targets)
>> 7-147-1 (seven targets)
>> 4-86-0 (six targets)
(For whatever it is worth, that third game came with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.)
Lattimore has struggled on the season, allowing 24 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns on 34 targets (only three wide receivers in the entire NFL have more than 380 receiving yards). Though one thing that I feel tends to go overlooked in this matchup is that Evans has one of the more limited and player-specific route trees in the NFL. So for example: Lattimore was beat primarily short by Amari Cooper and Tyler Lockett this year, and he was hammered over the middle in his matchup against DeAndre Hopkins. Lockett and Nuk still hit him downfield a couple times, but that wasn’t where most of their big action came. But Evans is typically used pretty exclusively on out-breaking routes and downfield shots. It’s not crazy to play this as a tougher matchup for Evans than it is for other wideouts (in the same way that A.J. Green has called Joe Haden the toughest matchup in the NFL — a matchup Green has regularly lost — while plenty of other wideouts are able to find ways to succeed against him), and to “fear but not chase” that third game in his stat line.
In three games as a featured- to somewhat-featured piece on the Bucs’ offense against the Saints, Godwin has posted the following stat lines ::
>> 3-41-1 (with Fitz and Evans taking over)
>> 1-13-0 (on 10 targets!)
Per Sports Info Solutions, New Orleans has allowed the second most PPR points this year to wide receivers lined up in the slot (hat tip to TJ Hernandez), while Godwin has a 51.3% slot rate on the year (and the only reason it isn’t higher is because the Bucs run so much 12 personnel). If you decide to approach this game saying that Evans has unique trouble with Lattimore again, then there are two ways you could approach Godwin:
Firstly, you could expect a Godwin smash as the Bucs begin filtering targets in his direction once again.
Secondly, you could expect Jameis Winston to struggle vs the Saints after struggling in general in starts vs Dennis Allen and the Saints pass rush, and could bet on “Jameis struggles” leaving Godwin overpriced and over-owned this week.
Finally :: that mention of 12 personnel brings up the Bucs tight ends, where Cameron Brate is always a touchdown threat, but where the piece likeliest to post the sort of score you’ll actually notice is O.J. Howard. I was apparently “part of the problem” this offseason in assuming that Arians would find a way to maximize one of the most talented tight ends in the game, but it’s still early enough in the year that you could make a tourney bet on things turning around for Howard, and on this being the week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m unlikely to feel comfortable betting on Michael Thomas in cash games with Teddy Bridgewater under center (we shouldn’t underestimate the potential for Jameis to struggle, which would allow the Saints to slow down the game and turn this into another lower-scoring affair), but I don’t mind the idea of betting on Sean Payton in a funnel matchup figuring out ways to get Thomas going toward a big individual game. He doesn’t have the same projection as the wide receivers on the other side of this game or as Nuk // Julio, but he is an interesting tourney pivot. I also like Cook as a viable tourney pivot off Eifert. Either could dud; either could pop for a big game; the likelihood of each is about the same with sneaky-similar matchups, and Cook should be far lower-owned.
Kamara is “pivot only,” as there are no ultra-clear paths to him outscoring at least three of the other four high-priced backs. (In order for him to be worth the risk, he has to outscore at least three of those four, but preferably all four.) And since ownership on a guy like Kamara doesn’t really drop dramatically regardless of matchup, he’s not a pivot I expect to make myself. His on-his-own talent can justify the play, but given the risks and what else is available, I don’t mind missing out on the lower-than-ownership-percentage likelihood that he hits for a slate-breaker.
With Evans, I’ll likely go underweight — knowing the risk (a ‘have to have it’ game), but recognizing that the risk of rostering him is much higher than the field will assume (especially as his misses can miss wide). It can be considered a +EV approach to fade him with so much high-priced goodness available in other spots this week, and to hope he hits a land-mine.
As for Godwin: there’s really nice upside; but there’s Bad Jameis risk. He’s definitely not a cash game play, but he’s highly attractive in tourneys. (Of course, a “Godwin bet” on a tourney roster likely bets on Jameis having a good game; which would also lead to more work for Michael Thomas. All three of these plays could work well together, as could Godwin // Thomas.)