ATLANTA FALCONS @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
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Thursday 8:25Pm (ET) | Get Tickets
Spread: O/U 51 Falcons -3
Its a clash between 1st and worst on Thursday in New Orleans, as the 1-4 Saints welcome the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons in an NFC South matchup. After a disastrous start to the 2015 campaign, the Saints are running out of time if they expect to make any noise in a division that they’ve already lost to two teams, while the Falcons are flying high after sweeping the NFC East through four of their first five games.
Saints QB Drew Brees has played on Thursday night eight times in his career, and holds a 4-4 record. His record against the NFC South is an impressive 36-22, and he enjoyed most of his games against the Falcons. His record stands at 13-6 against the Birds, with 35 touchdowns to 21 interceptions, and an average of 23.00 fantasy points per game. He currently sits at QB21 in standard scoring, and while it should be remembered that he did miss a game against the Panthers, he is only averaging 16.7 fantasy points per game. Dan Quinn’s much improved Falcons are currently only allowing 14.17 fantasy points per game to opposition signal callers, good for 8th fewest this season.
Mark Ingram is the Saints leading rusher on the season with 261 yards (@3.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He has 232 career rushing yards against the Falcons, his 4th most against any team in his NFL career, with 4 rushing scores. An underrated receiver out of the backfield, he is catching 92% of his targets so far this season, the 5th most of any running back with at least 10 targets. His receiving work is cut into by the presence of CJ Spiller, who has only 9 rushing attempts this season but has 11 catches from 12 targets for 132 yards. The Falcons have been very generous to running backs so far in 2015, allowing the second most fantasy points to them.
The Saints passing game is not what it once was, after trading away tight end Jimmy Graham in the off season. Veteran Marques Colston, who has 1174 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns against the Falcons in his career, has just 200 yards in 2015 (52 wide receivers have more than this), and his yards per reception mark of 11.1 is tied for 76th. But he apparently suffered a separated shoulder against the Eagles on Sunday. A first round selection in 2014, Brandin Cooks is the Saints most targeted wideout, with his 40 looks realising 25 receptions for 322 yards and score, but in terms of yards the Saints are most indebted this season to Willie Snead. The former UDFA out of Ball State has seen at least 6 six targets in four consecutive games, with 11 coming against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. He has 381 yards on 22 catches, with a single touchdown. Led by Desmond Trufant, the Falcons secondary has helped restrict opposition wide receivers to just 18.74 fantasy points per game, the 5th fewest in the NFL.
Despite capturing the love and admiration of many during the off season, tight end Josh Hill has not emerged as the stud many expected him to become. He has just eight targets so far this season, with 12 year veteran Ben Watson seeing more playing time. Watson has 15 catches from his 19 targets, but his low average depth of target mark of 7.7 yards is the 30th amongst tight ends. The Falcons are a middle of the road 15th in terms of FPG to tight ends, but its hard to see either of these two becoming huge parts of the Saints offensive gameplan.
For so long expected to be the catalyst of the Falcons offense, Matt Ryan is currently QB12 in standard scoring. He has just 6 touchdowns through five games (with four picks), although he is currently on pace for 134 yards rushing, which would be the third highest mark of his career. Ryan has enjoyed himself on Thursday nights, winning four of his five games. Like Brees, he holds a winning record within the division, with a 23-18 mark, but while his matches against the Saints have seen him amass 20 touchdowns to just 7 picks and an average of 23.00 FPG, he is just 5-8 in these contests. New Orleans have allowed the third most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in 2015, and through five games they have just two interceptions. Both of these came against the Eagles on Sunday, but Sam Bradford was still able to complete 71.1% of his passes for 333 yards and two scores.
Only five players have more fantasy points than Falcons running back Devonta Freeman in 2015, and all of those five are quarterbacks. Freeman has 405 rushing yards (tied for second), 240 receiving yards (second most amongst running backs) and an astonishing EIGHT rushing touchdowns. These figures are all the more remarkable considering he has played just 67% of the Falcons offensive snaps. Rookie Tevin Coleman, who started the season as the lead back, is slowly making his way back from injury. He played 9 snaps against Washington on Sunday, rushing twice for just three yards. Only eight teams are allowing more fantasy points per game to running backs than the Saints, who gave up 18.00 fantasy points to DeMarco Murray and a further 15.60 to Ryan Mathews last Sunday.
Julio Jones is the undisputed king of the Falcons receiving corps. Through five weeks, he has been targeted 58 times (second most amongst wide receivers), caught 43 passes (most) for 543 yards (second) with four receiving touchdowns (tied for third). He has 40 career receptions against the Saints, his most against any opponent, with his 559 receiving yards against them good for second. He only has two scores against them. He has been hampered by a nagging hamstring injury however. After a monster 18 targets against Dallas in week 3, Jones has seen a combined 15 looks in his last two outing. Dan Quinn is bullish about Jones playing on Thursday, however, despite Adam Schefter tweeting about the Falcon’s uncertainty over his availability. In reserve, the Falcons have seasoned veteran Roddy White, who has 1260 yards and eight scores against New Orleans in the past, and Leonard Hankerson, an offseason acquisition formerly of Washington. Both are a long way behind X receiver Jones, with White seeking assurances from his coach about his role in the side after just eight receptions all season, and Hankerson the owner of more dropped passes than any other wide receiver this season (5). The Saints have restricted opposition wide receivers to just 20.08 fantasy points per game this season, and if Julio sits out its hard to imagine this total being challenged by Roddy and Lenny.
When it comes to defending the tight end, many are quick to point to Oakland as the poster boys of ineptitude. However, no team has allowed more receiving yards to tight ends this season than the 436 allowed by New Orleans. In days past, Tony Gonzalez would gladly have feasted on such generosity. Those days are long gone however. Jacob Tamme has 16 catches on the year, with eight of them coming on Sunday against Washington for 94 yards. Little owned in fantasy circles, he could be an intriguing streaming option this week.
FANTASY – IN MY OPINION
Despite his less than explosive numbers, Matt Ryan is still an every week starter in fantasy. Chances are you drafted Drew Brees as your QB1, and in a game where I expect the Saints to trail he should get plenty of chances to air it out. Freeman’s current production is probably unsustainable, but you’d be foolish to leave the train while it still has some coal in the furnace. Despite the fact that the Saints could go against the ground game, Ingram is still a safe start in this one. It would be nice if the Saints remembered he can catch the ball too…Julio is a must start, even if at less than 100%. Doing most of his damage close to the line of scrimmage (his average depth of target is on 8.7 yards), even without explosive plays he offers a safety valve to Ryan. Its very hard to trust any Saints receivers, or other Falcons, but Snead could make for an intriguing flex play if he continues to show he is worthy of Brees trust. As for tight end, the Saints are not a team that one looks to for help at this position, while Tamme offers long shot value at best. If Julio is limited due to his injury however, Tamme could be the kind “What the Hell” play that wins you your week six matchup.