EAGLES // SAINTS OVERVIEW
While this is an exciting game in terms of name value, these two teams are in totally different places just past the halfway point of the season, with the Saints sitting atop the NFC at 8-1 with a tiebreaker in hand over the 9-1 Rams, while last year’s Super Bowl champion Eagles sit at a disappointing 4-5, with losses on their ledger to the Bucs, Titans, and Cowboys. Given that Philly plays in a division where the shaky 6-3 Redskins currently sit in first place, this is not a “must-win” for the Eagles, as their division will remain within reach even with a loss; but their task will get a whole lot more difficult if they don’t pull out a win here — creating what should be an aggressive, competitive atmosphere on both sides of the ball.
Each of these teams ranks bottom eight in pace of play, and these teams rank first and second in time of possession — setting up a situation in which there are essentially five fewer minutes in this game than either offense is used to (these two combine for a total time of possession on the year of 64:54). Each team is — unsurprisingly — good at controlling games, with the Eagles ranked fifth in plays per game and the Saints ranked ninth in plays per game. The Saints are also allowing the third fewest opponent plays per game.
This matchup has been awarded a massive Over/Under of 56.0 — an aggressive mark considering the Eagles have not had a game crack even 50 points this season, in spite of games against the Falcons, Bucs, Colts, Vikings, and Panthers. Five of the Saints’ nine games have cracked 56.0, so it will be on their offense to drive this score forward. The key for this game truly turning into a shootout will be the matchup between the Saints’ offense and the Eagles’ defense in the red zone, where each side ranks in the top five. If Philly’s defense holds up in the red zone enough times, this game could disappoint compared to expectations. If New Orleans is able to crack holes in the Eagles’ stout red zone defense, Philly certainly has the ability to respond.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
The Saints don’t do much well on pass defense, allowing the third highest catch rate in the league, with aDOT and YAC/R marks that are both worse than the league average. This has led to the Saints allowing the third highest yards per pass attempt, and their 19 passing touchdowns allowed is the eighth worst mark in the league. The Saints have allowed only four quarterbacks to pass for 300+ yards against them this year — but those four were “Tampa QB,” Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, and Jared Goff, while the five who fell shy of 300 yards were Tyrod Taylor, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton.
Carson Wentz is very clearly in the same category as those first four guys, with at least 278 passing yards in each of his last six games — and with four games in that stretch at 300+ yards. Wentz has thrown for at least two touchdown passes in six consecutive starts.
The surest bet in this passing attack has been Zach Ertz, who has shocking target counts on the year — with only two games below double-digits (a game with nine targets against the Giants and a game with six targets against the Jags), and with games of 13, 14, and 16 targets already under his belt. At an aDOT of only 7.6, this isn’t quite the same as someone like Julio seeing 10+ targets every week, but this still provides strong floor with plenty of upside. While it’s dangerous to worry too much about matchup with Ertz, it is worth adding that this is a matchup we have been avoiding all season. The Saints have allowed the third fewest receptions to the tight end position, and they have allowed only one tight end touchdown. They have not yet had a matchup like Ertz, but they did allow the fewest catches in the NFL to tight ends last year as well, creating enough matchup flags to bump down Ertz’ floor a bit more than normal. (His ceiling, of course, remains in place.)
The Saints have been far more generous to wide receivers, allowing the fourth most receptions, the most yards, and the most touchdowns to the position. This is a strong spot for Alshon Jeffery, who has target counts this year (taking away his game against Jalen Ramsey and the Jags) of 9 // 8 // 12 // 10 // 8. Alshon is not a big yardage guy (the last two times he topped 100 yards were Week 4 against Tennessee…and a September 2016 game when he was still on the Bears), so there is more opportunity for him to disappoint in this spot than there would be for other top receivers — but he has 10 red zone targets and four red zone touchdowns in spite of missing the first three games of the year, and something like a 6-70-0 line is a pretty safe “floor” projection even if he doesn’t pop off.
It is going to be difficult to get a read behind these two, as Jordan Matthews surprisingly played 38 snaps last week, to 18 for Golden Tate. It is likely that we see this number at least flip-flop this week, which will leave us guessing how the Eagles plan to divide work between Tate and Nelson Agholor.
Last week, Agholor played 42 of his 55 snaps in the slot, so it is fair to expect him to continue occupying a large slot role — which should be enough for him to remain in the five to seven target range he has settled into over the last month. This role has not yielded much upside, with only one touchdown on the season and only three games north of 50 yards, but he does provide bargain bin access to a quality passing attack against the Saints.
We cannot expect a monster volume game from Wentz on an offense that slows down the pace and typically controls the clock — in a game against a New Orleans team that also slows down the pace and typically controls the clock — but something like five to seven targets is also a fair range for Tate, with obvious upside for more. There is also a chance he eats into Agholor’s looks and makes a push for double digits.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
New Orleans has been tremendous against the run — allowing the fifth fewest yards per carry and the fewest rushing yards in the league. Philly, on the other hand, has been fairly ineffective on the ground — ranking 23rd in yards per carry and 22nd in rushing yards on the year. Last week, this team continued to feature a three-way timeshare, with Wendell Smallwood playing 21 snaps, Corey Clement playing 18 snaps, and Josh Adams playing 19 snaps. Smallwood had five touches, Clement had six, and Adams had seven. It would take a sudden spike in workload or some incredible efficiency for any of these guys to be worth a roster spot at the running back position.
On a per-pass basis, Philly has not been a unit to attack this year, as they have forced the fifth lowest aDOT in the league, with a roughly league-average catch rate and YAC/R rate allowed — leading to the ninth lowest yards allowed per pass attempt. Philly’s 12 passing touchdowns allowed are the third fewest in the league. But with teams continuing to avoid the Eagles’ run defense (fewest run plays faced in the league for the second consecutive season), the Eagles have still managed to allow the third most receptions and the sixth most yards to wide receivers.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints attack here, as this team has plunged all the way down to 30th in pass play rate, with only the Seahawks and Titans throwing the ball less frequently on the year. The Eagles have not been great against the run, allowing 4.7 yards per carry (10th most in the league), so there is a chance the Saints choose to buck the league-wide trend and stick to their run-leaning ways.
On the surface, the safest way to play this backfield would be to lean on Alvin Kamara and his pass-catching role against an Eagles team that has allowed the fourth most catches and the ninth most receiving yards to backs, but before we go there, we need to revisit the workload distribution between Kamara and Ingram:
I’ve seen people treating last week’s game against the Bengals like a spot where “Ingram saw increased snaps because of the blowout nature of the game,” but he played 31 snaps to 34 for Kamara, pushing their season-long, game-by-game snap distribution to this:
Kamara — 31 // 39 // 38 // 41 // 34
Ingram — 36 // 35 // 23 // 34 // 31
Kamara has 67 carries and 24 targets in this stretch. Ingram has 63 carries and 13 targets. Each guy is seeing work near the goal line — but in keeping with the overall distribution, Kamara has the slight edge in that area as well. If the Saints decide to go pass-heavy, we likely see a little more of Kamara (or at the least, he likely gains a little more value than Ingram gains in that setup).
The great news for DFS is that regardless of whether the Saints stick to their run-leaning ways in this spot or instead turn to a more pass-heavy approach, Michael Thomas will be the first guy involved through the air. As noted ad nauseum in this space: Thomas — with his aDOT of only 7.6 — is going to have a tougher time than guys like Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and even Odell Beckham of going for 100+ yards; but given his historic efficiency this year (89.7% catch rate) and his massive red zone role (his 20 targets in the red zone rank second in the league), he has plenty of opportunity to hit for a big game. Depending on how the Saints choose to attack in this spot, Thomas could see as few as eight targets or as many as 12 to 14. I’ll have my money on him landing on the lower end of that range, but there are certainly cases to be made on the other side.
This passing attack grows thin behind Thomas and the running backs, as Keith Kirkwood saw more targets (two) in his first game off the practice squad than Tre’Quan Smith saw last week (zero), while Ben Watson played only 29 snaps and now has recent target counts of 0 // 4 // 2. This game may land on the lower end of the volume range for New Orleans, but we at least know pretty clearly where that volume is going, as Thomas, Kamara, and Ingram will touch the ball far more often than any other players.
Carson Wentz has finished with 37 or fewer pass attempts in 14 of his last 18 regular season games, and this is a spot in which play volume should suffer a bit for the game as a whole, creating a scenario in which we need to keep volume projections in check for available targets on this team. If Philly gives their standard four to five targets to running backs, there may be about 30 looks to go around among Ertz, Agholor, Tate, and Alshon. I’ll guess about eight or nine targets for Ertz in a tougher-than-normal matchup, seven or eight for Alshon, and six to eight for each of Agholor and Tate (with potential for Dallas Goedert or even Jordan Matthews to steal two or three looks from this group). This won’t make any of these pass catchers “must plays” for me (especially with all the uncertainty that surrounds these projections, given how little we know about the way the Eagles plan to use Tate) — but this will certainly be enough action for at least a couple of these players to find some upside. Obviously, I’ll have strong interest in Wentz as well.
On the Saints’ side of the ball: I see this as more of a “four touchdown game” than the “five to six touchdown game” this team is capable of posting, as the Eagles have just been too good in the red zone for me to build rosters expecting this team to pop off for a truly monster score. With that said: we have a good idea of where those four touchdowns are going — with Thomas and Kamara likely to soak up at least three, with potential to combine for all four. Ingram is the player likeliest to spoil that two-man party, with a slim, outside chance of Drew Brees and Sean Payton dialing up one of their Josh Hill or “other non-fantasy-relevant” touchdowns. I like Thomas, but there are at least three high-priced receivers I like more. With Thomas carrying the highest price tag on all three sites, I’ll be surprised if he ends up on my Main Build, and I’ll likely end up with limited exposure in any multi-entry play I undertake. I also probably feel better about the volume on Saquon and even Zeke than I do on Kamara — though this one will be closer for me, with McCaffrey and Melvin also in the mix. As for Ingram: I’ll have to see where he stacks up against other plays in his price range when I read through the NFL Edge myself and begin building my Player Grid, but I imagine he’ll be an upside piece I will be considering. Finally: given how little the Eagles should be able to do on the ground, I like Wentz a bit more than Brees — but I would be perfectly happy to find either guy on my Main Roster this week.