This matchup is a favorite of the DFS community — spiking ownership, generating discussions throughout the week, and making everyone wait until after the late games finish to count any of their winnings. And while the line in this game has dropped two points since it opened (which you can find in the Advanced Odds tool, under the Line History option), it still carries the second-highest Over/Under on the slate, and it is one of our clearest paths to the sort of back-and-forth shootout that can win the week on its own.
The most interesting place for us to start our exploration of this game is with Michael Thomas, as his midseason game agains the Rams last year (12-211-1 on 15 targets) was enough to keep high ownership on him at a high price the rest of the season, even as he topped 100 yards only once in his next eight games (and scored only one touchdown in his final six). In 48 regular season games, Thomas has topped 100 yards only 10 times (which climbs to 12 in 52 if you include playoffs), but three of those games (four including playoffs) went for 150+, which is essentially the hope if you are paying up for Thomas this week. (Touchdowns can boost your ceiling as well, of course — and Thomas can reach slate-winning upside with something like an 8-100-2 game; but as touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS, you don’t want to build your high-priced strategy around simply hoping for those.) So how likely is it that Thomas goes for 150+?
Part of the reason Thomas so thoroughly deconstructed the Rams in the regular season last year was A) the absence of Aqib Talib in that game, and B) the way Wade Phillips was using Marcus Peters — as more of a coverage corner than as a “play to his strengths” piece who should be allowed to keep eyes on the quarterback. As the Rams moved past that game last year, Phillips redesigned Peters’ role to fit his strengths; and with Talib back on the field in the AFC Championship game, Thomas managed only 4-36-0 (on seven targets) at the Superdome. Thomas’ role in this offense — in what is likely to turn into a high-scoring affair — keeps him in the conversation; but the risks should be noted as well.
We’ll get to the rest of the pass catchers in a moment, but the other main piece on the Saints is Alvin Kamara — who is pretty simple to break down this week against the “happy to give up yards on the ground between the 20s” run defense of the L.A. Rams. Kamara is going to be involved, and his pass game role and explosive ability give him a high floor in this spot, especially on DraftKings where his PPR skill set fits so nicely, and where his price is lower than we are used to seeing. As always, Kamara — who is massively unlikely to blow past 20 touches — is a slightly higher-risk play at his price, as he always needs efficiency to get things done, and he’s always at slim risk of some of the touchdown opportunities going to his complementary back. But his ceiling is high enough to keep him in the conversation in all formats, across all sites.
While the offense should flow through these two, there are “shootout” scenarios or “Thomas gets slowed down by Talib, and the Saints look elsewhere” scenarios in which one of the other Saints pass catchers could see enough volume to be more than just a dart throw. While I wouldn’t build around these scenarios in cash games (and won’t include them in my core), I do like Jared Cook as one of the more exciting overlooked plays on the slate. Cook has monster upside in this offense and will likely put up a few 20+ FanDuel, 25+ DraftKings scores this year — and while there is no guarantee this is a spot in which things click for him, it’s a bet worth considering in tourneys. Ted Ginn is the other higher-percentage bet here, as he would see at least five targets in most of the ways this game could play out, and there are some paths to him reaching for upside again.
The Rams — as one of the most straightforward offenses in the NFL — are easier to get a handle on here, as we can pretty much know what to expect from them at this point:
Todd Gurley is currently unsafe until we see his price drop or until we see his usage rise (which seems unlikely to happen anytime soon); but just because Malcolm Brown was on the field near the goal line last week does not mean Gurley won’t get his opportunities, and even on 17 to 20 touches he could find his way into the end zone three times. It’s early in the week, but Gurley’s current ownership projection sits at under 5% on both sites; and with a current touch projection only two or three digits below Kamara, that gap in ownership is larger than it should be.
The Rams are in a “likeliest scenario” here to push for four or more touchdowns, which keeps their wide receivers where they are almost every week: squarely in the conversation. In engaging in this “conversation,” however, one thing to always question is exactly how much upside you are really targeting with this team that spreads around both touches and touchdown opportunities fairly evenly (or rather, that is to say, how likely are the paths to upside you are targeting?). In 33 regular season games with Sean McVay as head coach of the Rams, this team has produced only 11 games in which one of their wide receivers has seen double-digit targets, and it has produced only six games in which one wideout has scored multiple touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks (and Sammy Watkins in 2017) all having a share of the two-touchdown games, and with all three of the Rams’ current receivers about equally likely to be the guy who goes for double-digit looks, this unit is almost always a “bet on floor, hope for upside” group at their prices, rather than being the optimal “bet on floor, bet on upside” type of option we would optimally like to target. Because of this, I tend to leave the Rams alone more often than the field — though there are plenty of cases you could make for trying isolate/chase the upside this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With so many viable paths to this game turning into a shootout, there are clear cases to be made for both Drew Brees and Jared Goff in tourneys — though with how easy it is for touchdowns to score on either of these teams through other means, each guy is completely unnecessary in cash.
Kamara’s touches are too low for him to be a by-the-book cash game play; but the chances of a dud are slim enough, and his upside is high enough, that I’d be comfortable rolling with him in all formats this week. (Obviously, he has smash potential in tourneys.) Latavius Murray should also be kept in mind in large-field play as a piece to sprinkle in, as his role in this offense can lead to a multi-touchdown game at what should be low ownership.
Gurley is a low-floor play with more ceiling than most are likely to give him credit for — making him interesting to think about with a percentage of large-field play. I’ll likely leave the Rams’ receivers alone myself, for the most part, but any of them could post 25+ FanDuel and 30+ DraftKings points if you want to chase yourself (especially if you think you have a way to isolate which of these receivers is likeliest to go off).
Finally, we clean up this game with guys like Cook (really interesting in tourneys), Ginn (less interesting as people may chase last week’s game a bit, and his boom/bust nature hasn’t changed — though the upside still remains), and the assorted pieces on the Saints that “could score or break off a big play if you get lucky and guess right.” I don’t expect to go to any plays from that final category myself, but Cook (and possibly a little bit of Ginn) will get at least some exposure from me as I look for overlooked ways to potentially grab points from this game this week.