Thursday Night Football
New Orleans @ Atlanta
Team Totals: Saints 26, Falcons 25
Saints-Falcons offers shootout potential with Week 14’s highest total (51.0) in a battle of teams that rank first (NO) and fourth (ATL) in yards per play beneath Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium dome. The premier matchup on New Orleans’ side goes to Alvin Kamara against a Falcons defense that has yielded a league-high 78 running back receptions; Kamara ranks third at his position in catches (60) and first in red-zone targets (13). Kamara has a touchdown in six straight games and 100-plus total yards in five straight. If Mark Ingram (toe) is inactive or limited, Kamara could be in line for his biggest workload of the year. His highest to-date touch count is 17 (Week 10). … Atlanta has played stout run defense for an extended stretch, limiting enemy backs to a 122/422/3.46/3 rushing line in its last six games. The Saints’ running game has proved itself matchup proof, however, and Mark Ingram has out-touched Kamara 109 to 83 during the rookie’s blistering six-game run. Always a good bet for touchdowns, Ingram leads the NFL in carries inside the five-yard line (12) and will be a must-play RB1 if he’s active on Thursday night. … New Orleans’ No. 3 back is UDFA rookie Trey Edmunds, a 6-foot-1, 223-pound power runner with 4.48 speed who has some similarities to former Saint Chris Ivory as a prospect who lacked pre-draft buzz due to a long history of college injuries. … Although Drew Brees has settled in as a floor play whose ceiling is curbed by New Orleans’ run-game devotion, his Week 14 matchup is appealing against a Falcons defense that has permitted top-12 fantasy scores to five of its last seven quarterbacks faced. Brees’ outlook is enhanced by the possibility this game becomes a back-and-forth affair. I think he is a must-start in season-long leagues.
Brees’ target distribution since the Saints’ Week 5 bye: Michael Thomas 74; Kamara 46; Ted Ginn 41; Ingram 31; Brandon Coleman 17; Willie Snead 9; Josh Hill 8. … Desmond Trufant’s (concussion) return hurts Ginn more than Thomas; Trufant is a stationary left cornerback, where Ginn runs a team-high 42% of his routes. Thomas runs 70% of his routes elsewhere, and will see more of smallish RCB Robert Alford (5’10/188) and banged-up slot corner Brian Poole, who missed last Sunday’s loss to the Vikings with a back injury. 31% of Thomas’ catches have come in the slot this year. … As usual, Ginn is a low-floor, big-play-dependent WR4/flex option whose matchup may not be as favorable as it appears against a Falcons defense allowing a league-low 27 completions of 20-plus yards. … With Coby Fleener (concussions) on I.R., Hill is a long-shot streamer against the Falcons, who gave up 7/59/0 to Jason Witten in Week 10, 7/58/1 to Jimmy Graham in Week 11, 4/58/0 to Bucs tight ends in Week 12, and 4/36/1 to Kyle Rudolph in Week 13. Hill logged a season-high 67% snap rate in last week’s win over Carolina and has set season highs in routes run (25, 19) in consecutive games. Unfortunately, his target counts were 0 and 2 in those contests.
As he has been for the vast majority of his non-2016 career, Matt Ryan is best approached as a high-floor but low-ceiling play regardless of opponent with zero fantasy finishes above QB8 on the year but top-14 results in five of his last seven starts. With that said, this game’s shootout possibilities, domed environment, and New Orleans’ allowance of top-eight quarterback results in three straight weeks make Ryan more appealing in Week 14 than most. Ryan should have big-play opportunities against a Saints defense that has allowed the NFL’s fourth-most completions of 20-plus yards (44). … Devonta Freeman (concussion) returned in last week’s loss to the Vikings to share Atlanta’s backfield with Tevin Coleman. Despite severely outgaining him on the ground (74 to 22), Freeman managed 13 touches on 74% of the snaps to Coleman’s 11 touches at a 38% playing-time clip. Both backs have plus draws against a Saints defense yielding a crisp 4.26 yards per carry and the NFL’s ninth-most receiving yards (581) to running backs. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s volume-limiting RBBC renders Freeman an RB2 and Coleman a mere flex option.
Ryan’s target distribution in the Falcons’ last seven games: Julio Jones 70; Mohamed Sanu 45; Austin Hooper 30; Taylor Gabriel 17; Freeman and Coleman 13. … Hurt by Cooper Kupp (8/116/0), Sammy Watkins (4/82/1), Josh Doctson (4/81/0), Jamison Crowder (7/72/0), Devin Funchess (4/60/1), Ryan Grant (3/59/1), and Josh Reynolds (4/37/1) in the last three weeks, the Saints no longer pose a pass-defense matchup to fear for wide receivers. Regardless of rookie CB Marshon Lattimore’s (ankle) availability, this is a week to bet on Julio rather than against him coming off last week’s Xavier Rhodes-induced dud. … The Saints showed their slot-coverage shakiness against Crowder and Kupp. Sanu runs 66% of his routes in the slot and has 60-plus yards and/or a touchdown in seven of his last ten games. He’s an upside WR3 play against the Saints. … Hooper is a touchdown-or-bust streamer whose outlook is enhanced by this game’s high-scoring potential but diminished by a difficult draw. The Saints have allowed the NFL’s second-fewest yards (468) to tight ends, notably stymieing Kyle Rudolph (3/26/1), Julius Thomas (2/29/0), Charles Clay (2/13/0), Cameron Brate (1/9/0), and Eric Ebron (1/9/0).
Score Prediction: Falcons 27, Saints 24