Rams at Saints (-3.5) 57
- Out after tearing his Achilles during the Eagles game. Rankins has been an important part of this elite New Orleans rush defense, but even when he has been off the field their ability to stop the run has remained. Without Rankins run success rates only increase marginally from 42.9 percent to 45.5 percent and yard per carry allowed is only minimally affected rising from 3.42 to 3.76.
- After suffering a broken hand in week 17, Peat underwent surgery during wild-card bye. While his effectiveness is sure to be hindered somewhat Peat is in line to play after no reported setbacks after playing 100 percent of the snaps versus the Eagles.
- Ruled out with appendicitis.
- Ruled out with a calf injury
- After practicing only on a limited basis in preparation to face the Cowboys last week, Gurley has been removed from the injury report ahead of this week’s showdown in the dome.
- Brees carved up the Rams pass defense during their last meeting to the tune of 346 passing yards, four touchdowns and 34.4 DK points (his third-highest DK point total of the season). Home in the dome Brees has been an entirely different quarterback, averaging 321.6 passing yards (vs. 217.6 on the road) with 21 of his 32 passing touchdowns on the season and 9.54 yards per attempt (vs. 6.88 on the road). Brees has thrown for two or more touchdowns in five of six career home playoff games as well as surpassing 300 passing yards in each of his last three. Brees is the only quarterback on the slate that can go toe to toe with Mahomes regarding ceiling this week.
- Goff and Brees might be polar opposites in many ways, but much like the Saints signal caller Goff has been a significantly different quarterback on the road this year. Goff has a 22 to three touchdown to interception ratio at home versus 10 to nine on the road while also seeing his passer rating dip from 114.2 at home to 80.9 on the road. Since losing Cooper Kupp to a season-ending injury, Goff has not been the same. Outside of outlier, four touchdown explosion games, in his five other starts without Kupp Goff has a touchdown to interception ratio of two to six. Goff has surpassed 220 passing yards in two of seven games since Kupp’s injury. Matt Ryan and Big Ben’s performances of exceeding 375 passing yards and two touchdowns give hope to those willing to roll out Goff with the thought that the Saints are able to force the Rams to pass by containing the Rams ground game.
- Kamara will be among the highest owned players on the slate and for good reason, as he racked up 116 total yards and three touchdowns the last time these two teams met. Also in that game, Kamara tied his season high in rushing attempts (19) and had only his third game with 80 or more rushing yards. While the Rams were able to contain Zeke last week, the Saints are a more significant challenge boasting the second best run blocking line in the NFL behind only the Rams in adjusted line yards. When teams have been able to keep pace with the Rams their run defense has been one to target all season, ranking 28th in DVOA versus the run allowing the eighth most rushing yards in the NFL. The Rams are capable of turning in a subpar offensive performance and still post 20 points this week. With that being the case in games in which the Saints have allowed 20 or more points, Kamara has dominated the touch count over Ingram (73 to 52) and the red zone work (13 touches to Ingram’s 8).
- With every game especially in smaller slates, it’s important to tell yourself a story of how game script and flow can play out. Any scenario that factors in the Saints blowing out or distancing themselves from the Rams on the scoreboard should be involving Mark Ingram. In three of the four games that Ingram had 16 or more touches, the Saints won by 24 or more points. In those three games, Ingram also scored five of his seven touchdowns on the season. Mark Ingram is definitely in play in MME and provides a nice correlation stack with the Saints DST.
- A fully healthy Todd Gurley would be near must play on simply volume and touchdown equity alone this week despite drawing the Saints elite rush defense who are third in rush DVOA. The loss of Rankins as highlighted above is a small ding for this defense but as the splits show New Orleans has remained tough against opposing backs even without Rankins. Gurley has been removed from the injury report and while on the surface that inspires confidence regarding his knee his usage last week does not. Last weeks game versus Dallas is the only game under McVay’s tenure (including blowout games) in which Gurley has been active and played less than 59 percent of the snaps or been out-touched by another Ram’s running back (last week CJA 23 touches to Gurley’s 18). The Saints have been susceptible to opposing running backs in the passing game (28th in DVOA vs. running backs via the pass), but Gurley’s pass game role has evaporated over the back half of the season. Outside of the Eagles game in Week 15, Gurley has only one other game since Week 9 with more than five targets. With a Super Bowl berth hanging in the balance Gurley is sure to play above 50 percent of the snaps and log 15 or more touches, but considering Anderson’s play and the matchup the ceiling for Gurley is more than likely capped.
- CJ Anderson’s workload definitely shocked many with his continued 20 plus touch workload despite Gurley being active. During the last matchup between these two teams, Gurley had success behind his elite line running for 5.23 yards per carry but being held to 13 rushing attempts limited his stat line. The Rams lost the time of possession battle last time versus the Saints. If McVay seeks to dominate time of possession as they did versus Dallas (36 minutes vs. Dallas 23 minutes) to keep the Saints high powered off the field Anderson could pile up another 15 plus touches this week with some red zone work. With Gurley now off the injury report, Anderson’s ownership will remain low, so he is definitely in play in GPPs and Saints/Rams game stacks.
- Last week Drew Brees employed the same type of game plan that allowed Michael Thomas to explode previously versus the Rams and crush Marcus Peter’s musings of being an elite corner. Brees peppered Thomas with targets in both contests, daring the defense to stop them, and neither secondary had an answer to slow the duo down. Thomas has been at his best under the bright lights on the playoff stage averaging nine receptions 129 yards receiving and a touchdown in three career games. The big factor this week on papers is the return of Aqib Talib and how this affects Thomas. Talib plays primarily at left cornerback (89.9 percent of his snaps) and rarely shadows or travels with opposing top wide receivers. Thomas has lined up on that side of the field only 28.1 percent of the season. Payton will continue to move Thomas around the formation with a fair amount of that time spent in the slot. Nickell Robey-Coleman is a matchup the Saints and Thomas can attack in the slot. With Keith Kirkwood off the field Thomas’s slot percentage increases from 18.1 percent to 23.7 percent. With Talib back, the Rams have played primarily zone coverage in which Coleman has allowed a 73 percent catch rate and a 91.8 opposing quarterback rating. Look for Thomas to be looked to early and often by Brees and for Thomas to continue his playoff excellence and smash this week.
- Ted Ginn was one monster play away from changing the entire narrative on last week’s performance versus the Eagles. Brees took a shot deep on the first play from scrimmage to a sprinting Ginn who had a few steps on the defensive back. The pass was grossly underthrown and picked, so instead of Ginn finishing with 100 plus receiving yards and a touchdown on seven targets the box score reads three receptions for 44 yards. Ginn was targeted four times on the games opening two drives which were filled with Brees misfires. After those drives, Brees quickly got tunnel vision for Michael Thomas and rarely looked elsewhere because the Eagles didn’t force him to. Ginn ran a route on 77.5 percent of the Saints passing plays last week so don’t let his 52 percent snap count fool anyone. Ginn will see Marcus Peters his fair share in this game. This season Peters has been burnt to a crisp by go routes allowing a 66.7 catch rate, four of his six touchdowns allowed in coverage, and a 109.7 rating. The reason this is notable is that the go route has been among Ginn’s top three routes in each of the last two seasons accounting for 14 percent of targets over that span. This week Ginn will be given the opportunity to become the latest wide receiver to take Peters to double move dance school.
- With Kirkwood out, Tre’Quan Smith becomes nearly an every-down player for the Saints passing attack. In the six games in which Smith has played 70 percent or more of the snaps, he has averaged 5.1 targets 3.6 receptions 60 yards and scored four touchdowns. Those numbers include four games of less than 50 yards receiving, but two blowup games of 100 plus yards receiving. Smith carries a 15 percent deep target share this season against a Rams defense that is ranked 22nd in DVOA vs. passes 16 yards or farther. Smith makes for an excellent dart throw or pivot off Ginn in GPPs if his ownership creeps up by Sunday.
- Robert Woods carries arguably the highest floor on the slate out of anyone without the last name of Edelman. Woods has only one game this season with less than 60 yards receiving and only three games all year with less than five receptions. Woods and Edelman are utilized in similar fashions as the high volume safety valves for their quarterbacks. This is perfectly illustrated for Woods with 50.7 percent of his targets with an aDot of fewer than 10 yards. Woods was not targeted in the red zone during the last time these two teams played but look for that to change. With Kupp out Woods red zone target share has increased from 11.2 percent to 14.3 percent which much can be attributed to him assuming Kupp’s role in the slot (32.9 percent slot with Kupp / 62.1 percent without Kupp). Woods can eat P.J. Williams alive this week. Williams has played in man and zone coverage 72.2 percent of the time this year allowing five touchdowns total and a 110.8 or worse opposing passer rating in both. Woods is a tremendous high floor play to pair with higher variance ceiling plays on this slate.
- Brandin Cooks is bypassing Bourbon Street this week instead choosing to catch a cab to the game at the corner of revenge game boulevard and narrative street. In Cooks last game versus his old team, he posted 26.4 DK points with 114 receiving yards and a touchdown. With 26.8 percent of Cooks target share arising from an aDot of 15 yards or higher, he makes for a valuable weapon for Goff to utilize versus a Saints secondary that ranks dead last in DVOA versus deep passes this season. Cooks will see Marshon Lattimore for the majority of this game who has played well during stretches this season, but definitely not the shutdown corner level of 2017. Lattimore has also shown the ability to be beaten deep with half of his touchdowns allowed this year versus go routes.
- Josh Reynolds role and snap counts have varied dramatically over the last three games with the Rams opting in some weeks to go with more 12 personnel. Reynolds only has one game in the previous three weeks with more than four targets, and that includes last weeks game in which Reynolds played 87 percent of the snaps. At Reynolds price point this week there are other options with higher ceilings and more projectable roles in their offenses, ie. Sammy Watkins for $200 cheaper.
Josh Hill / Dan Arnold
- With Watson ruled out, Dan Arnold, who was a healthy scratch last week, should be active. Air Yards Arnold has shown the ability to make plays down the field this year but with no more than 12 routes run in any game this year and only one red zone target on the season, he is better referred to as Dart Throw Arnold this week. Josh Hill will also be a name tossed about this week as like Arnold he will see a snap count bump and is min priced, but Hill has been more blocker than receiver this year with seven games of 0 points and only one with more than 30 yards receiving.
Tyler Higbee / Gerald Everett
- Gerald Everett was the hot punt tight end option de jour last week with his usage giving hope. Walking into last weeks game, Everett had seen six or more targets in three of his past four games with three red zone looks. Everett has come crashing back to earth like a wayward comet with back to back goose eggs in the box score. Everett still ran more routes than Tyler Higbee (14 to 9) but finished with fewer snaps and targets. The Saints defense has shut down elite tight ends like Zach Ertz at will all season, and their top five ranking versus tight ends in DVOA backs it up. If Goff takes to the air this week look for him to do so not into the teeth of this defense.
- After the Rams game, the Saints picked up their defensive play with only two opposing teams (PIT, ATL) scoring above 14 points in their final eight games. The Saints have been more adept at forcing interceptions at home (1.1 per gm at home vs. 0.6 per gm on the road) this season. If their rush defense holds up to their previous splits without Rankins and the Saints force the Rams to go pass heavy the secondary could be in line for a multi-interception game despite their paltry 22nd ranking in DVOA versus the pass. The Saints much like the Chiefs boast an electric returner in Alvin Kamara. With only $600 in salary on DK separating the top and bottom defenses this week paying up for the added bump of a possible special teams touchdown makes a lot of sense.
- The Rams defense has been forcing pressure at a nearly identical rate on the road vs. at home. While the Rams boast a talented pass rush, they are going up against a New Orleans line that ranks third in pass blocking and adjusted sack rate allowed. Even when Donald and company break through the line, it might not matter much against Drew Brees who boasts the second highest completion percentage among quarterbacks when pressured. The primary factor that can help the Rams in hold the Saints potent passing attack is Aqib Talib who did not play during their first meeting. When Talib is on the field pass success rates from 53 percent to 45.4 percent and yards per attempt dip from 8.9 to 7.2.
Derek also writes for Gridiron Experts, Fantasy Data, & is a co-author of the 2019 Fantasy Football Black Book. Weekly guest on Sirius Fantasy Sports Radio and expert consensus ranker at FantasyPros. Born in Louisiana he is a diehard Saints fan. Derek now resides Fort Worth, Texas with his beautiful, football loving wife and three kids.