SAINTS // FALCONS OVERVIEW
In 2016, these teams played to game totals of 77 and 70 points; but with each defense improving last season, these teams combined for 37 and 36 points. With this being a division game, and with an aggressive Over/Under that will draw plenty of DFS attention, those numbers from last season are worth highlighting — not as something that tells us that this game will be low-scoring, but simply as something that reminds us this matchup carries a much broader range of outcomes than the Vegas totals will imply.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints’ approach from the first meeting between these two teams can be thrown out of the window, as Alvin Kamara was able to play only six snaps, and the Saints attacked with Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas. When these teams met a few weeks later, however, a healthy Kamara saw 12 carries and nine targets. With Kamara leading this backfield for the early portions of this season (77.3% snap rate last week), against a Falcons defense that pushes everything toward the running back (14 catches for Christian McCaffrey last week in this matchup), it makes sense for us to expect the Saints to lean heavily on Kamara. He has continued to look like an iffy fit between the tackles, but a legitimate 10 to 14 targets is a realistic expectation here for the Saints’ space back; and while the Falcons have speed, and they tackle well, the floor created by this work is tremendous on PPR sites, and Kamara’s unmatched ability with the ball in his hands gives him plenty of upside as well.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE
While the Saints leaned on the run (25 total carries between Ingram and Kamara) and passes to the running backs (12 targets between the two) in Kamara’s healthy game last year, Michael Thomas saw only five targets in that spot — good for one of only two games all season with under eight targets for Thomas in 2017. Given the way Thomas features in this offense, that is obviously best considered to be fluky. He had 14 targets in the earlier matchup between these teams last year, and in spite of the difficult draw on the outside against Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, he posted a 10-117-1 line. Thomas has lined up in the slot on 25% of his routes this season, where he will draw burnable Brian Poole as well. With Kamara operating as the lead back right now, this has profiled as a pass-heavy offense, as New Orleans ranks second in the NFL in pass play rate, after ranking 20th last season.
Behind Kamara and Thomas, this passing attack is somewhat thin (Thomas’ aDOT is a modest 7.2, but he has vacuumed up 35.1% of this team’s air yards so far), though they have been passing enough for Ted Ginn to see target counts of six and seven to begin the year. Atlanta is strong against the deep pass, but Ginn has the speed to pop off in any matchup.
Ben Watson has nine total targets through two games and draws a difficult matchup against De’Vondre Campbell. Big-play threat and eventual Ted Ginn replacement Tre’Quan Smith stepped into 22 snaps last week with 13 pass routes run, and he deserves a mention — but he has yet to top one target in a game, and is still nothing more than an extreme dart throw at the moment.
FALCONS PASS OFFENSE
In each of the two games between these teams last season, Julio Jones drew 11 targets while mostly being trailed by 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore. Julio turned the first game into a 5-98-0 line, and he turned the second game into a 7-149-0 line. The 149 yards are a good reminder of Julio’s upside, while the 12 catches on 22 targets are a good reminder of what Lattimore can do against even an elite downfield threat. Another nine to 12 targets should be in line for Julio in this spot, with plenty of yardage upside even in a difficult matchup. After the Falcons were (finally) successful in the red zone last week, using Julio as a decoy, it is fair to wonder if his touchdown ceiling will remain lower than we want it to be once again this year.
Rookie Calvin Ridley was on the field for 55.6% of the team’s snaps last week, and he ran a pass route on 63.6% of Matt Ryan’s drop-backs. Ridley saw five targets, after seeing only two the week before.
Ridley’s rise is bad news for Mohamed Sanu, who dropped to two targets last week and has eight total looks on the season. With an aDOT of 6.5 and a tiny 7.6% share of the Falcons’ air yards so far this season, Sanu will need a touchdown (or maybe even two) in order to post a strong DFS score.
Austin Hooper is the fourth or fifth option in this passing attack, taking on a Saints defense that was the best in the NFL last year against the tight end position.
This is obviously unsustainable, but it’s a crazy stat nonetheless: Julio Jones leads the NFL in percentage share of team air yards…at 71.7% (next highest in the NFL is Odell Beckham, at 54.9%, and A.J. Green led the NFL last year at under 50%). With 71.7% of the total air yards for this team going to one guy, there isn’t much upside left for others.
FALCONS RUN OFFENSE
Tevin Coleman played a respectable 63.5% of the Falcons’ snaps last week, essentially stepping directly into the Devonta Freeman role — and a good, general way to assess your perception of Coleman this week is to ask yourself if you would roster Freeman at this price, in this spot.
In the first matchups between these teams last season, the Falcons tried to pound the ball on the ground — giving Freeman 24 carries (and giving Coleman nine), while feeding zero targets to either guy. After this approach yielded only 3.7 yards per carry, Atlanta shifted over to a pass-heavy approach a few weeks later, giving only 17 total carries to these two running backs while dividing up seven targets between the two of them. A reasonable expectation for Coleman in this spot is something similar to last week: 16 carries and three or four targets. At 12.0% to 12.8% of the salary cap on all three sites, he’s priced a bit high for this level of work — but as he showed in a tough matchup last week, he is talented enough to break off a long run or two.
Ito Smith will step into the “Tevin Coleman role” once again, soaking up around 35% of the running back snaps and touches. This yielded nine carries and one target last week, which is almost a perfect snapshot of a typical Coleman workload. He has some thin touchdown upside, but he’ll need to break off a long run in order to post usable yardage totals.
Thomas and Kamara are in strong consideration every week right now, as the two primary receiving weapons on one of the pass-heaviest offenses in the NFL, with Drew Brees under center. When taking price into consideration, however, I’ll likely have a difficult time getting too hyped up about either guy. Each has a monstrous floor, but I really want 25 FanDuel points or 30+ DraftKings/FantasyDraft points if paying this much for a player, and it’s likely that only one guy will reach that lofty level. Because these guys dominate red zone looks (four targets for Thomas inside the 10 this year; one target and six carries inside the 10 for Kamara), I’m guessing at least one of them posts a two-touchdown game; but I’m also guessing that whichever guy doesn’t post a two-touchdown game will end up around 16 to 18 FanDuel points and 20 to 23 DraftKings points. As such, I think you’ll have to “guess right” here in order to get the sort of game you need at this price. I would lean Kamara between the two, but it’s close.
Drew Brees is an interesting way to gain exposure to all the passing points on this pass-heavy team, and can be used without a stacking partner, given how expensive his two primary weapons are. Given the way this matchup played out both times last year, however (four total touchdowns for the Saints across two games), Brees won’t be in consideration for me in cash. Division games sometimes just introduce too many uncomfortable variables, with how well these teams know one another.
On the Falcons’ side, Julio is the only guy I have interest in through the air, though his floor remains low for the price. His upside is among the highest in the NFL, of course, but he’ll likely need a touchdown in order to post a must-have score.
Coleman is higher-priced than I want to go for a guy unlikely to top 20 touches, as his chances of posting a week-winning game are slim. But his chances of failing are also low, putting him in the same general range where I had him last week: 10 to 22 points on FanDuel, and 11 to 25 on DraftKings.