Thursday Night Football
New Orleans @ Atlanta
Saints-Falcons has Week 12's second highest over-under at 53 points. This game will be played in the friendly confines of Atlanta's Georgia Dome, providing a relief for fantasy owners after last week's league-wide weather scare. Facing a pathetic Falcons defense that ranks 22nd against the pass and has allowed the third most passing touchdowns (21) in football, Drew Brees is fantasy's premier quarterback play this week. Atlanta is tied for 27th in sacks, and no defense in the NFL allows enemy signal callers to post a higher passer rating (105.8). ... Brees' target distribution since New Orleans' Week 7 bye: Jimmy Graham 31; Pierre Thomas 25; Marques Colston 22; Lance Moore 19; Darren Sproles 16; Kenny Stills 15; Robert Meachem 11; Ben Watson 7; Mark Ingram 6. ... Graham's box-score lines in his last five Falcons games: 4-45-1; 4-59; 7-146-2; 4-42-1; 7-82-1. I like my chances. ... The Saints use a four-wideout rotation of Stills, Colston, Moore, and Meachem that sometimes even expands to five with Nick Toon, which explains why statistical consistency has been so difficult to come by in Brees' receiver corps. Colston leads the group in receptions (12), yards (187) and touchdowns (1) since returning from a knee injury two games ago and is the best fantasy bet of the group. Colston is a solid WR3 play Thursday night. ... Stills is the second best gamble. He quietly leads New Orleans wide receivers in snaps since the Week 7 bye and has been demonstrating big-play ability since the preseason. In real games, rookie Stills is averaging 22.4 yards per catch with four touchdowns. He's a high-ceiling, if risky WR3.
Moore is now the Saints' No. 3 receiver, though he's really sixth in the pass-game pecking order behind Graham, Colston, Sproles, Thomas, and Stills. With just one game above 40 yards on the season, Moore can't be trusted in Week 12 fantasy lineups. ... Meachem can still take the top off of defenses, but has no shot at fantasy reliability as New Orleans' No. 4 wideout. ... Lead back Thomas is averaging 17.6 touches since Ingram returned from injury three games ago. Thomas is a quality flex option with a favorable matchup against the Falcons' No. 30 run defense. Atlanta is dishing out 4.64 yards per carry, the fifth most generous clip in football. They got trampled by Bucs in-season waiver claim Bobby Rainey for a 30-163-2 rushing line last week. ... Becoming "just another weapon" on a team filthy rich with them, Sproles has given fantasy owners headaches all year with unpredictable usage and production. In a projected high-scoring affair with a major passing-game role, Sproles is still worth firing up as a low-end RB2/flex in PPR. He's on pace for 77 receptions and 975 total yards. Sproles is less attractive in standard leagues because his touchdown and carry numbers are down from the past two seasons. .... Ingram followed up his garbage time-induced Week 10 blowup game against the Cowboys with seven touches for 29 scoreless yards in last week's win over San Francisco. Ingram will only have a realistic shot to pay fantasy dividends Thursday night if the Saints cream the Falcons, though even in that scenario there are no guarantees. Ultimately, I wouldn't feel comfortable starting him.
Wednesday Update: Sproles (knee/ankle) missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and is listed as questionable to face the Falcons. Saints beat writer Mike Triplett wrote after Wednesday's session that it's "difficult to predict" whether Sproles will be active. Despite the injuries, Sproles finished last week's game. If Sproles can't go -- and we won't know his availability until Thursday evening -- Thomas would receive the biggest fantasy bump. Colston could also be a bigger part of coach Sean Payton's game plan as another inside receiver who matches up with linebackers and safeties.
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Whereas the Saints' passing offense couldn't ask for a more attractive matchup, the Falcons have a tough one. New Orleans DC Rob Ryan's defense ranks No. 3 against the pass and has held enemy quarterbacks to an 11:10 TD-to-INT ratio. Despite somewhat limited pass-rush talent, the blitz-happy Saints are tied for sixth in sacks and allow the league's third lowest completion rate (56.6). Per PFF's Mike Clay, New Orleans is sending five-plus pass rushers on 31% of opposing pass plays. Sure to be under duress Thursday night, Matt Ryan has managed 97 completions on his last 161 attempts for 937 yards (5.82 YPA) and a 5:9 TD-to-INT ratio. Fantasy owners can try hanging their hats on this game developing into a shootout, but Ryan is a borderline QB1. ... Ryan's target distribution since Roddy White's Week 10 return to the lineup: Harry Douglas 17; White and Tony Gonzalez 13; Jacquizz Rodgers and Darius Johnson 9; Steven Jackson 7; Jason Snelling 4; Drew Davis 1. ... Keyed by emerging shutdown cornerback Keenan Lewis and Ryan's frequent bracket coverage, the Saints are smothering enemy top wideouts. Here are the stat lines of the last eight No. 1 receivers to face New Orleans: Brandon Marshall 4-30-1; Mike Wallace 3-24; Larry Fitzgerald 5-64; Vincent Jackson 5-77; Aaron Dobson 6-63; Stevie Johnson 7-72-1; David Nelson 1-19; Dez Bryant 1-44; Anquan Boldin 6-56-1. It's entirely possible Ryan simply won't deem White dangerous enough to bracket and double team, but this is hardly a gimme matchup for Atlanta's theoretical "No. 1." I'd still lean more toward starting White than not based on this game's high-scoring projection and the Saints' Week 11 loss of CB Jabari Greer to a year-ending knee injury.
Target monster Douglas is a safer, if lower-ceiling WR3 than White against the Saints. Averaging seven catches for 107 yards with two touchdowns over his last five games, Douglas is less likely to be the focus of Ryan's game plan than White or Gonzalez. ... Although Gonzo is never a bad bet for a red-zone score, his on-paper matchup isn't especially favorable. The Saints are allowing the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Gonzalez is a mid-range to low-end TE1. ... Coach Mike Smith spoke openly on Monday of increasing fourth-string tailback Antone Smith's role after Smith parlayed three Week 11 touches into 92 total yards and a touchdown during garbage time of last week's embarrassing loss to the Bucs. It's a potentially ominous sign for Jackson, who's managed a pathetic 115 scoreless yards on 44 runs (2.61 YPC) since returning from a hamstring tear four games ago. Fantasy owners of S-Jax can point to the fact that the Saints are allowing a league-most 4.87 yards per carry as reason to trot him out as a closed-eyes flex play. Jackson's game tape has been brutal this year, and the performance of his offensive line is even worse. The Falcons benched RG Peter Konz for getting pulverized by Bucs DT Gerald McCoy for a hat trick of Week 11 sacks. ... Rodgers figures to remain entrenched as Atlanta's change-of-pace back. Since S-Jax returned in Week 8, Quizz is averaging 7.5 touches for 38 scoreless yards per game.
Score Prediction: Saints 33, Falcons 23