Fantasy Football

Lineup Calls: Falcons-Saints

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

There’s no tip-toeing into the final week of the fantasy regular season. It’s almost as if the scheduling gods wanted to offer an early holiday gift to fantasy owners by pitting the high-octane Saints and Falcons against one another for our prime time viewing enjoyment.

The oddsmakers in Nevada set the point total at 55 ½, clearly anticipating a repeat performance from Week 10. The Saints earned a hard-fought 31-27 victory in that contest to hand the Falcons’ their only loss of the season. New Orleans staved off a fourth-quarter comeback effort by Matt Ryan in that contest, and both quarterbacks lined the box scores with big numbers.

I believe that the number says it all. Fantasy owners are going to be treated to a high-scoring opener for Week 13, much like they were during the Thanksgiving Day games. I don’t have to sell many of the players in this game entry. You know that both teams put up points, so any talk of defensive prowess can be put to the side.

Let’s celebrate a game replete with fantasy potential. I’ll get things started in New Orleans.

The San Francisco defense claimed its latest victim in Week 12, producing back-to-back interceptions for touchdowns against Drew Brees in the 31-17 road victory. Overall, Brees presented a tremendous effort for fantasy owners with 267 yards and three touchdown passes while absorbing five sacks. He’s accounted for multiple touchdowns in every game this season (31 passing and one rushing touchdown).

Brees completed 21-of-32 attempts for 298 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in Week 10. Both Asante Samuel (arm) and Dunta Robinson (head) sustained injuries in Week 12 against the Buccaneers and may not be available for Thursday night.

Fantasy owners didn’t know how to react when the clock struck zero against the 49ers. Jimmy Graham was limited to four receptions and 33 receiving yards in the loss. His four-game scoring streak ended, and his yardage total was actually improvement over his Week 11 production (29).

Breathe. Graham goes back to work against the New Orleans secondary that he shredded in Week 10. He caught 7-of-8 targets for 146 yards with two touchdowns in that contest. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined, there’s no better option on the board at the position.

Wide receiver Marques Colston has hardly moved the needle in the yardage column lately, but he has scored in six of the Saints’ past eight games (eight total). Colston has recorded 73 receiving yards or fewer in six consecutive games since Saints’ Week 6 Bye, including his 26-yard effort in Week 10 against the Falcons (he did catch a touchdown pass). The aforementioned injury issues in the Atlanta secondary help boost Colston’s value for Week 13. He’s tied for the NFL lead with 18 red zone targets.

Lance Moore warrants late-WR2 or WR3 consideration this week in what could be a wide-open affair. He caught seven passes (nine targets) for 91 yards in the first meeting. Moore’s logged at least 61 receiving yards in four of the past six weeks. He recorded two touchdowns in Week 11 against Oakland (53 receiving yards). Moore owns the 23rd slot in my preliminary Week 13 rankings.

The Saints spread the ball around in the backfield, thereby making any player except Darren Sproles a difficult play. However, I’m offering Mark Ingram as a high-RB3 (30) this week. I believe that the Saints will commit to running the ball to keep the Atlanta offense off the field and to present Brees with wide-open opportunities downfield. Ingram averaged 13 touches in that three-game winning streak, producing at least 67 total yards in each game with one touchdown.

Sproles returned to action in Week 12 and produced seven receptions (nine targets) for 65 yards. He’s been targeted at least seven times in six different games. He’s high up the board at No. 19 in my early-week running back rankings.

Let’s flip over to the explosive Atlanta offense.

How much do I need to sell you on the primary members of the Atlanta passing attack?

The Saints have allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season (3,445 yards and 22 touchdowns).

Matt Ryan’s production has slowed down of late, as the Cowboys, Cardinals and Buccaneers limited the first-half fantasy MVP candidate to a single touchdown pass with seven turnovers (six interceptions, five of which came against the Cardinals). Mixed into this run of duds was a 298-yard, three-touchdown (one interception) performance against the Saints in Week 10. I fear vulturism from the tailbacks in the red zone, but Ryan is going to stretch the field against this secondary. He’s No. 3 on my quarterback sheet for Week 13.

Julio Jones looked like his injury was well in the rearview mirror against the Buccaneers in Week 12. Jones caught six of his nine targets for 147 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown sprint. He caught 4-of-5 targets in Week 10 for 75 yards against the Saints. Jones sits at the lofty No. 2 slot on my WR board this week.

Would you believe that Roddy White hasn’t scored since Week 4? White saw his three-game streak of 100-yard games ended against the Buccaneers in Week 12. He was limited to 57 receiving yards on five receptions (seven targets). White will log another high-target game (he’s averaged nine per game) in a high-scoring contest. He caught seven passes for 114 yards against New Orleans in Week 10.

Tony Gonzalez dominated the Saints in the first meeting, producing 11 receptions in 15 targets for 122 yards with two touchdowns. Alas, he dropped a fourth-down pass during the comeback effort. I digress. Fantasy owners in standard leagues have been disappointed by Gonzalez’s weekly production since Week 5 with the exception of that Week 10 against New Orleans. He’s caught three or more passes in every game, but last week’s output of 62 yards was only the second time he eclipsed 42 receiving yards since Week 5. Still, given the dearth of consistent, productive options at the position, Gonzalez remains a top-3 performer for Week 13. The Saints have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to tight ends (five touchdowns overall, two of which were caught by Gonzalez).

The time has come for fantasy owners to ponder Jacquizz Rodgers as a back-end RB2 or Flex play following his explosive turn against the Buccaneers in Week 12. Rodgers amassed 79 total yards on 12 touches (10 carries for 49 yards), including a touchdown sprint. Remember, Rodgers’ touchdown run came from five yards out, so he also pilfered a red zone touch from Turner. He’s posted a double-digit touch count in back-to-back weeks and has averaged 5.5 yards per touch this season. I expect Rodgers to play a big role in the passing game. Opposing running backs have piled up 59 receptions for 593 yards this season (Rodgers had four receptions for 33 yards in the first meeting).

As for Michael Turner, he’s averaged 3.1 yards per carry or worse in five of the Falcons’ past six games. He’s scored in three of his past four games and will continue to see work in goal-line situations. However, Turner has rushed for more than 60 yards only four times this season and has not topped 20 rushing yards in two of his past three games. Turner earned 15 rushing yards on 13 carries in the first meeting. That says it all.

I finish with the kickers. We’re not touching either of these defenses.

The Saints have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to kickers, including 19 field goals and 34 PATs. As a result, Matt Bryant is a top-3 option.

Garrett Hartley is a middling K1 option, having produced at least a field goal’s worth of PATs in all but one game this season. There’s no threat of Hartley getting shut out, though he’s only converted multiple field goals in two games. In Week 13, that security might make Hartley worthy of a play this week.

Tagged: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Tony Gonzalez, Drew Brees, Matt Bryant, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Lance Moore, Marques Colston, Matt Ryan, Garrett Hartley, Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers

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