SAINTS // BENGALS OVERVIEW
The clear game of the week from a DFS perspective, Saints at Bengals features two teams with high-scoring offenses, generous defenses, and playoff aspirations. The 7-1 Saints rank second in the NFL in points per game, while the 5-3 Bengals rank 10th. New Orleans has allowed the sixth most points per game, while Cincy has allowed the third most. Each defense ranks bottom four in drive success rate allowed and bottom 10 in red zone touchdown rate allowed. The Saints rank first in drive success rate on offense (the Bengals rank ninth), while Cincinnati ranks first in the league in red zone touchdown rate on offense, compared to sixth for the visiting Saints. The Bengals have forced the fewest punts per game, while the Saints have forced the second fewest. Unsurprisingly, no team in the NFL has punted less often than the Saints.
Vegas has gotten behind this game with an early-week Over/Under of 54.0, installing the Saints as 5.5 point favorites on the road. The Bengals have scored 30+ points in four of eight games, and have also allowed 30+ points four times. The Saints have incredibly scored 30+ points six times, while allowing 30+ three times.
This game may start slowly as the two teams feel each other out — but as this game moves along, the aggressiveness and scoring will likely pick up, leading to plenty of upside on both sides of the ball.
Cincinnati ranks 23rd in yards allowed per pass attempt, and only three teams in the NFL have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Bengals — with this team allowing an increase on the league-average aDOT of more than 9% and allowing an above-average catch rate along the way. So far this year, the Bengals have allowed Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Patrick Mahomes, and “Tampa QB” to top 300 passing yards, while Ryan Tannehill and Roethlisberger are the only quarterbacks who have failed to throw for multiple touchdown passes in this spot.
Working against Drew Brees is a run-leaning offense that — as much as people want to believe it’s not true — now ranks 24th in the NFL in pass play rate, one year after ranking 20th. Even in a back-and-forth affair against the Rams last week, New Orleans threw the ball on only 51.43% of their plays (this would rank 31st in the NFL on the full season), and they have thrown the ball on fewer than 50% of their plays since Mark Ingram returned. Somewhere around 30 to 32 pass attempts is once again Brees’ expected range. He topped 32 pass attempts in only three of his last 10 games in 2017 (and topped 36 pass attempts only once), while his 36 attempts last week were the first time he had topped 32 since Ingram’s suspension ended. We should keep in mind that this run-leaning approach led to Brees topping 300 yards only once in his final 10 games last season. Outside of a couple deep shots per game, this passing attack has primarily worked the short areas of the field this year — feeding a possession-like aDOT of 7.7 to Michael Thomas while peppering Alvin Kamara with 66 targets on the year. To sum up the last two paragraphs: Brees should have no trouble on a per-play basis, but he’ll need a broken play (or a couple deep connections) to pop off for big yardage. Your best bet for upside from Brees is a multi-score game.
Target counts on this offense since Ingram returned have looked like this:
Thomas showed last week what his upside can still look like in this offense — though it should be noted that the Bengals are not in the same class of offense as the Rams, and are unlikely to force the Saints to attack as aggressively as they did last week. Thomas saw three targets last week more than 15 yards downfield, while most games this year have featured him on one or zero such looks. Eight to 10 targets is a comfortable projection for him this week.
Kamara has encouragingly piled up 16.3 carries per game over his last three contests, to go with his average of five targets per game in this stretch. He is losing some red zone work to Ingram, but he is still seeing more than enough scoring opportunities to matter. Snap counts between Kamara and Ingram the last four weeks have looked like this:
Kamara — 31 // 39 // 38 // 41
Ingram — 36 // 35 // 23 // 34
Ingram, of course, is less involved in the pass game, but he has carry counts of 16 // 12 // 13 // 9. After tough matchups against Washington, Baltimore and Minnesota — followed by a shootout against the Rams that tilted in favor of Kamara — this is a sneaky-good spot for Ingram, against a Bengals run defense that ranks 30th in yards allowed per carry, with 10 running back touchdowns allowed on the year (seventh most in the NFL). Since returning, Ingram has six carries inside the 10-yard-line and four carries inside the five. A comfortable backfield breakdown here is something like 16 carries and five catches for Kamara, with a projection of 14 carries and two catches flowing Ingram’s way. Kamara is the higher-upside option with his big-play talent, but Ingram carries solid floor and ceiling himself, especially for his surprisingly low price.
BENGALS PASS OFFENSE
The big story on this side of the ball is A.J. Green and the 9.5 targets he will leave behind as he sticks to the sidelines with a toe injury. With John Ross set to return to the field this week, three-wide sets for the Bengals should feature Tyler Boyd, Ross, and Alex Erickson.
We’ll start our exploration of this passing attack in the same place where Andy Dalton is likely to start his progressions most plays: Tyler Boyd. Boyd has played 324 of his 429 snaps out of the slot this year (73.8%), while Marshon Lattimore has traveled into the slot only 5% of the time. This will leave Boyd on major coverage liability P.J. Williams, who ranks 136th in the NFL in receptions allowed per coverage snap, with a 72.1% completion rate allowed and five touchdowns given up in his direction (compared to only one interception). PFF has charted Williams with a quarterback rating allowed of 130.6 — and while the Saints will obviously aim to be aware of Boyd, doing what they can to make life difficult on him, the nature of the routes he runs will make it tough for the Saints to do much beyond just hoping Williams can hang with him. Boyd is already averaging 8.25 targets per game, and he should see a small bump for as long as Green is out. Expect Boyd to be one of the most popular plays on the slate, for good reason.
Most of the DFS attention outside of Boyd is likely to go to speedster Ross, who will try to take advantage of a matchup against a New Orleans defense that has allowed the sixth most pass plays of 20+ yards and the second most pass plays of 40+ yards. It should be noted, however, that Ross really cannot replace much of what Green provides to this offense, which could keep his targets lower than many will likely expect. In his healthy games this year, Ross has target counts of 2 // 4 // 7 // 2 // 1. He has hauled in only seven of his 16 targets, for 79 yards.
Erickson is the true wildcard, with recent snap counts (starting from Week 4) of 36 // 36 // 46 // 20 // 51. He has target counts during that stretch of 2 // 3 // 3 // 2 // 4, though he has connected on only eight of these 14 looks, for a paltry 44 yards.
This passing attack will round out with C.J. Uzomah, who has recent target counts of 2 // 7 // 2 // 4, and will be taking on a Saints defense that has quietly allowed the sixth fewest catches, the sixth fewest yards, and the third fewest touchdowns to the tight end position — with several above-average tight ends faced this year. The Saints have allowed a completion rate to tight ends of only 56.9%, compared to an eye-popping, “that can’t be right” completion rate of 72.4% allowed to wide receivers.
BENGALS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints’ defense is on the opposite end of the spectrum against the run, with the second fewest rushing yards allowed in the NFL to running backs, and with a league-best yards per carry allowed to running backs of only 3.1. The Saints have also been above-average against running backs out of the backfield, allowing the 12th fewest receiving yards to the position.
My first thought when I started thinking about this game — and about the fact that Green is going to miss — was that this set up well for Joe Mixon to help move the chains as a multi-use back (in addition to recent carry counts of 21 // 22 // 11 // 13 // 21, he has recent target counts of 1 // 4 // 7 // 5 // 4), but this is a challenging matchup all the way around for running backs, and Mixon should lose at least a few touches this week to Giovani Bernard, who is expected to return. We can likely pencil in Mixon for 20+ touches, which does carry immediate value; but with only one game all year north of 22 receiving yards — and with a tough matchup on the ground and Bernard back in the fold for at least a small role — there are some obvious Floor concerns to go with the usage-driven upside.
On the Bengals’ side of the ball, Boyd (unsurprisingly) pops off the page as one of the safest, highest-upside wide receiver plays on the slate — with the only clear justification for fading him in tourneys going something like this: “He’ll be massively owned, and the NFL is a crazy place where anything can happen.” I’ll have Boyd locked onto my Main Build early in the week, and I won’t be surprised if I choose to go overweight on him in tourneys.
Behind Boyd, Dalton carries some upside — though with all the scoring the Bengals have done (first in the NFL in red zone touchdown rate), they rank all the way down at 24th in yards per game, and their inability to stop opponents from putting together long, sustained drives has left them sitting at 27th in plays per game, one year after finishing 32nd. The Saints hold opponents to the seventh fewest opponent plays per game, so it could be difficult for Dalton to pop off for a truly big box score — especially without his top weapon on the field. He’s a bet-on-matchup Upside play, but his floor is lower than some other quarterbacks on the slate.
I’ll have thin interest in Ross and Erickson, but unless I find something on these guys deeper in the week than I am finding now, each feels like a thin play. While Ross is an obvious candidate for upside — given his speed and his downfield skill set — he’s also an obvious candidate for a high-owned dud. Optimally, we would avoid high-volatility players when they project to be highly owned (which I’m tentatively expecting from Ross, as it seems likely he will get talked up during the second half of the week) — knowing that this will invariably lead to profit over time.
On the Saints’ side, Thomas is a Floor play with touchdown-driven upside, while Brees is a bet-on-efficiency play. Neither is a guy I’ll be moving around salary to fit, but I would be happy to find either on my roster.
The best piece on the Saints appears to be their backfield, where we can pencil in Kamara for 20 to 22 touches while expecting 15 to 17 touches for Ingram. Talent gives Kamara slate-breaking upside, while expected usage gives Ingram a strong point-per-dollar floor to go with the upside that his multi-touchdown potential can generate. Ingram has scored in nine of his last 16 games, with multiple touchdowns in four of those contests.
With Dez Bryant likely to be on the field for a handful of snaps this week and the Saints spreading the ball behind Thomas, Kamara, and Ingram, it’s tough to bet on “floor” from other pieces on this attack, but you can always take a shot on upside in this offense, with Tre’Quan and Watson perfectly fine players to chase from a “could be solid” perspective.