Saints at Falcons, Game Environment // Matchups ::
On Thanksgiving night (while my family is, for some reason, watching the remake of Miracle on 34th Street for the 28th time), the Saints will be looking to exact revenge on the Falcons for their surprising Week 10 home loss. As a division game, this is an “anything can happen” spot; though with the Falcons generally succeeding on defense from assignment-strong play rather than from talent, it would take quite a miracle for them to hold down the precision-based Saints attack for a second time in a month. On a slate this small, there are other ways to play things, but we’ll head into this matchup expecting that Vegas is correct in pegging the Saints with an implied total of 27.75.
Note: “If Julio Misses” thoughts can be found in the Wide Receiver section at the bottom of this writeup.
While it’s a bit early in the year for this, it’s probably worth coming out and noting that the Saints are one of the few teams in football that is somewhat obvious in their interest in “records.” As if you needed a reason to consider Michael Thomas to be one of the most solid options on this slate: he needs to average “only” eight catches per game down the stretch to set the new single-season record for catches (passing Marvin Harrison’s mark of 143). While winning is obviously the primary focus for this Saints team, Thomas is the engine behind those wins, and his usage has been as locked-in as any player’s in football. In his five games with Drew Brees under center, he has topped 100 yards five times while catching 10+ passes in four (eight catches in the other) and scoring three touchdowns. What he’s doing this year isn’t flashy, as it’s just precision-based, short and intermediate throws to a guy with an incredible ability to give his quarterback space to throw — but with the volume cooperating, it is that same lack of flash that is giving him such a high floor to go with his ceiling.
Behind Mike, this passing attack (outside of tight end and running back) dries up quickly, with Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith combining for eight total catches across their last four games. The Saints are getting their money’s worth out of Michael Thomas.
The Saints are also getting their money’s worth out of Jared Cook lately, with target counts of 10 // 2 // 8 since his return to the field. Cook has 74+ yards in each of those higher-target games — though given that this is an ugly tight end slate (extremely ugly if Austin Hooper misses), it’s also interesting to note that Tampa is almost as bad against tight ends as the Cardinals, and that was the matchup in which his two-target game came. There is plenty of upside on Cook, but he’s never exactly been known for locked-in floor.
On the flip side of that: Alvin Kamara has been absolutely incapable of popping off for ceiling throughout most of this season (incredibly, he has 50 or fewer receiving yards in six consecutive games, in spite of seeing catch totals in that stretch of 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 10 // 9). Kamara has been the ultimate floor option without providing ceiling — but while this has made him a strong fade on the Main Slate for all but one game this year, he’s a game flow independent back on a small slate with limited options at the position. Given where Kamara and Thomas are both priced, they’ll likely need a true shootout to hit together; but if the touchdowns all flow through one guy, that one guy could leave the other in the dust in terms of providing paths to first place in a tourney.
The viability of Kamara on this slate is especially enhanced by the presence of Bears // Lions earlier and the Atlanta backfield in this one. If Devonta Freeman is able to make it back for this game, he’ll be at slight risk of being eased back in, though a quick flip through his game logs shows the sort of floor he has been providing in most games this year in his multi-usage role (just over four receptions per game). He would still be running behind a bad offensive line, but his pass game role and potential for touchdowns would keep him in the mix.
It seems likelier, however, that Devonta will miss another game and the Falcons will be left with an ugly, split backfield that leaves you simply throwing up a prayer if you go here. Brian Hill is now averaging 2.8 yards per carry, while Qadree Ollison is averaging 2.6.
While this split backfield has been without value, this passing attack has become more concentrated with Mohamed Sanu traded, Austin Hooper missing in action, and Devonta Freeman no longer around to soak up outlet targets, with the biggest beneficiary so far having been Calvin Ridley, who has gone for 8 // 14 targets in his last two games after having gone for 8+ in only two other games this season. Ridley’s 14 targets came with Matt Ryan throwing 46 times, while his eight targets came with Ryan throwing 31 times — good for an impressive 28.6% target share. Touchdowns have boosted Ridley’s scores, and will thus boost attention on him, but he’s in the thick of the mix.
Russell Gage has also been in the thick of the mix lately, with target counts of 9 // 5 // 4 // 10 in his last four games — finally popping off last week for an 8-78-0 line. The best way to view Gage is through the lens of Mohamed Sanu, as he has largely taken over the role/responsibilities that Sanu left behind.
The best way to view Julio Jones, meanwhile, is as an inconsistent high-priced piece who can break any slate he’s in. Last week, DJ Moore hit New Orleans in the absence of Marshon Lattimore, but two weeks ago the Saints checked Mike Evans, and three weeks ago Julio went only 3-79-0 on nine targets against them with Lattimore MIA. Lattimore is iffy once again (and if he plays: he lowers Julio’s chances of a price-considered smash, but paths will still exist, as he has been able to at least pick up respectable yardage in this matchup in the past), but the biggest obstacle to elite production for Julio is his usage, with only three games of double-digit looks this year (only one in his last nine) and a disappointing nine targets in the red zone (which he has converted into seven catches and three touchdowns). Julio does have seven or more targets in every game this year and nine or more in all but three, so consider him what he has been all year: a guy whose general production you wouldn’t take at his price if you could look at it without the name — but whose name can never be fully separated from the production, as he’s one of the rare players in the NFL who can post a score that puts everything else out of reach.
Slate Strategy ::
More often than not this year, the Bears have still been able to find a way to put up 55+ non-Trubisky DK/FDraft points most weeks, which creates a few interesting approaches for builds on this slate. The likeliest setup here has these points being spread out in such a way that everyone on the Bears is a bit of a price-considered disappointment, but there are also scenarios in which A) Allen Robinson fails, and one or even two others post a really nice price-considered score as a result, B) Robinson soaks up all the Upside work in the pass game and smashes while everyone else on this team disappoints, or C) Trubisky comes out hot and supports both Robinson and another player, and/or supports a pass catcher before David Montgomery seals off the win. Tight ends are pure darts in this offense right now, but David Montgomery // Tarik Cohen // Anthony Miller // Javon Wims (in roughly that order) are the likeliest bets to hit behind Robinson.
On the Lions side, it’s difficult to see Golladay paying off salary even if Driskel starts, while the rest will need touchdowns to float value (with likely disappointments if you don’t land on the touchdown). The best thing to say about this spot is that it will almost certainly be low-owned.
The field is likely sharp enough to know that Tre’Davious White presents a tough matchup for an opposing alpha receiver, which could lower Amari’s ownership to a point where he’s somewhat attractive as a leverage play in tourneys; though the likeliest scenario in this spot has Gallup and/or Cobb producing. Upside leans Gallup with an aDOT 2.4 yards deeper than Cobb’s and a more explosive skill set, though Cobb’s aDOT of 9.7 is a perfectly fine mark as well, and he has shown he’s in the mix. Also, of course, Zeke is very viable on a three game slate, with a razor-thin edge on Kamara as a home favorite running back who plays nearly 90% of the snaps.
All of Josh Allen, John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Devin Singletary are viable on this slate as well. It’s interesting that pricing doesn’t separate much between the Bills receivers and the Cowboys receivers on DK. Both offenses are concentrated, and Dallas is likelier to pop, but that doesn’t take away the fact that JB and Singletary have clear paths to a top three score at their position, while Beasley and Knox have an outside shot at mattering on a slate this size.
On paper, Michael Thomas is the top play on this slate from both a floor and ceiling standpoint, while Kamara and Cook are very strong on this slate as well. The rest of this offense is just hoping to guess right on a multi-touchdown performance (Latavius) or a long play or two (Ginn // Tre’Quan — with the two splitting pass routes roughly down the middle last week).
On the Falcons side, things get diluted if Hooper plays, but that would also open up the field a bit. Gage would seemingly be the player likeliest to see his volume take a hit, though Sanu and Hooper have hit together; I actually think it might be Ridley who dips the most with a Hooper return, as he has seemingly benefitted most directly off of Hooper’s absence. Both Gage and Ridley, of course, are very much in play if Hooper misses, while Julio will be a “risk-embracing ceiling piece” as the player among the four highest-priced (minus Amari on FanDuel) with the highest likelihood of a relative dud, but with more than enough upside to break the slate if he hits.
If Multi-Entering ::
If multi-entering this slate with a single-entry mindset, my recommendation would be to pick a few key spots to fade, and to build around the various scenarios elsewhere. For example: you could fade the Lions 100% and choose one or two moderately popular players/spots to fade entirely; you could choose to bet 100% (or close to 100%) on a player like Michael Thomas; and then you could mix and match from there — positioning yourself for a monster day if your key bets (fades + core plays) hit.
If Single-Entering ::
If single-entering (or just looking for more “Player Grid”-type thoughts), here’s how I would rank players myself. This isn’t necessarily “the order in which I think they’ll score” so much as it’s a ranking of who has the best shot at topping the slate.
The top four could be rearranged in any order and I wouldn’t have an argument. Ryan and Allen have the lowest floors of the top four (I flipped their positions multiple times as well; Ryan is likelier to hit for a ceiling game, but the ceiling Allen can reach if he hits is higher than the ceiling Ryan can hit). Trubisky is viable as well for me. I’ll probably avoid Driskel myself, but anything is viable on a three-game slate.
Running back ::
Pollard // Mckissic // Atlanta is somewhere near bottom. The top two are in their own category, followed by Singletary on his own. Then Montgomery on his own. Followed by two final tiers: Latavius // Tarik || Bo // Gore.
Tuesday night note :: Devonta Freeman now appears on track to play. If he plays his full 70% of snaps, he slots in just in front of or behind Singletary. Montgomery actually has a better shot at a multi-touchdown game, but if he misses, he’s likely to miss much harder than Freeman. Freeman will also likely take a couple targets away from wideouts, though not enough to put a major dent in expectations there. Hooper returning would be expected to create a bigger shift for Falcons pass catchers.
Wide receivers ::
There are lots of good options here, with Thomas // Dallas // Atlanta on the same slate, and with Buffalo boasting a solid, concentrated attack as well. Chicago is capable of producing tourney-winning scores, and even the Lions can have a case made, with a pair of elite receivers.
Thomas has the highest floor and ceiling on this slate, while the following players (in this order, for me) have legitimate shots at the top score on the slate :: Julio // Gallup // Ridley // A-Rob // JB // Amari. Everything after Julio could be rearranged in any order, and as we know, Julio is no pure lock to hit — even if his ceiling is the highest. Cobb comes next for me, followed by Gage // Beasley // Anthony Miller, followed by Wims and the two elite pieces on the Lions. There are dart throws behind all these.
Wednesday night note :: Julio now looks truly iffy to go. Julio is almost always playing through an injury of one sort or another, but this one sounds more legitimate than most, and there is a strong case to be made for leaving several rosters open to take advantage of the 9ish targets that will be left behind if Julio misses. If Julio is out, bump Ridley over Gallup on the list above, while Gage, Freeman, and Christian Blake would all see a boost as well. There is a chance Justin Hardy sees more run, but Blake played 37 snaps last week to 15 for Hardy with Julio in and out of the game, and at this point in a lost season, why not see what you have in a player like Blake if you’re the Falcons? Blake had only two catches last week, but he saw nine targets. He’s likely to be popular as a “sneaky play” if news comes out early that Julio will miss, and he’s certainly no lock; but he would certainly become interesting. Julio Out would also increase the chances of Ryan disappointing, while the ceiling, of course, would still remain intact (even with a few of the paths to him hitting that ceiling getting closed off).
Tight ends ::
There are very few strong options here. Cook is head and shoulders above the rest if Hooper is out (while Hooper is a tick ahead of Cook if he plays). Next up for me would be Knox for the matchup, Cowboys for crossing fingers on one hand, and all others for crossing fingers on both hands.
Bears // Cowboys are the top plays, with the Bears as the preferred option as the more aggressive defense. Saints are a strong defense next, then the other three are speculative “hope things break your way” options on this slate.
Xandamere’s Bonus Showdown Notes! ::
- Side note that I remember this matchup from last Thanksgiving and it disappointed massively (in New Orleans!). While the most likely outcome is a high scoring game, one game samples can be really vicious.
- The big news here is, of course, Julio. His status is really more impactful on the full slate because you need to plan around what to do if he’s out, whereas in the showdown you’ll know, but obviously Ridley becomes the alpha receiver. Russell Gage is just $4,600 (he’s $4,500 on main slate, which means he is significantly cheaper in the showdown; yet another pricing leverage point). We would also get another super cheap starting receiver if Julio misses, as Christian Blake would probably be on the perimeter with Ridley after he out-snapped Justin Hardy 37/15 last week. (See notes at the bottom of the Bears // Lions game for Xandamere’s thoughts on how to handle these pricing leverage spots.)
- The news on Julio as I write this is that he’s unsure how his shoulder will hold up to contact. That’s…kind of scary, because it means that he could easily start the game and not finish it (especially if the Falcons fall behind early!).
- The Falcons really haven’t used their other tight ends much at all since Hooper got hurt. Jaeden Graham and Luke Stocker have gotten a total of 5 targets between them since Hooper’s injury.
- In good news for Atlanta, Devonta Freeman is back and expected to resume his regular role. He’s way, way cheaper than most starting running backs we see in showdowns. He’s cheaper than Scarbrough despite having a good pass game role. He’s even cheaper than Latavius Murray! This is another pricing leverage point where Freeman is way cheaper in the showdown than he is on the main slate ($6,200 on showdown versus $5,100 on main slate; on main slate he’s priced around guys like Montgomery and Cohen, who are $8k+ in their showdown).
- Tre’Quan Smith has outsnapped Ted Ginn three weeks in a row. The volume has tilted Ginn’s way, and it hasn’t really been much volume for either of them. Ginn’s the better play here but not by much.