Monday Night Football
New Orleans @ Seattle
The Seahawks are suddenly minus 66% of their nickel sub-package following suspensions to slot corner Walter Thurmond III and RCB Brandon Browner. Seattle remains likely to play stout defense with elite safeties, All-World LCB Richard Sherman, and one of the league's deepest pass-rusher corps, but it's going to be hard to keep living up to their No. 2 ranking versus the pass. Especially against Drew Brees. Expect Brees to attack fill-in RCB Byron Maxwell, a usual special teamer, and substitute slot corner Jeremy Lane. X/slot receiver Marques Colston typically would've aligned across from the above defenders. I like Brees as a top-five QB1 even in this still-difficult matchup, and Colston's odds of delivering sound WR3 stats. ... Brees' target distribution since Colston returned from a knee injury three games ago: Jimmy Graham 23; Colston 22; Pierre Thomas 18; Darren Sproles 11; Kenny Stills 9; Lance Moore 8; Robert Meachem 6; Mark Ingram, Ben Watson, and Josh Hill 5. ... I've seen some thought around fantasy land that the Seahawks could assign Sherman to Graham in shadow coverage. Doing so would be a major deviation from how Pete Carroll has always called defense with the Seahawks. Sherman has been a stationary left cornerback, sometimes playing in the slot but never mirroring opposing top weapons. Hold your breath, but keep trotting out Graham as a difference-making TE1. The Seahawks allow the 14th most receptions to tight ends, and movable-chess-piece Graham plays enough snaps at X wideout and in the slot that he should have opportunities to man up against Maxwell and Lane.
Another reason for confidence in Graham is Carroll's tendency to play straightaway defense. The Seahawks rarely use bracket or double coverage to eliminate a select player on the other side of the ball. Following a Thursday night win over Atlanta, Graham is also coming off an extra long week to rest his foot. ... Despite Seattle's defensive losses, it'd be a major stretch to count on any Saints pass catcher not named Graham or Colston. The Seahawks don't give up long pass plays -- they're 32nd in 20-plus and 40-plus-yard completions allowed -- creating a matchup to avoid for deep threats Stills and Meachem. Passed on the depth chart by Stills and even Meachem in some games, Moore isn't playing many snaps or having enough balls thrown his way. ... The Seahawks are slightly more vulnerable on the ground than in the air. They're a middling 16th in run defense and permit 4.18 yards per carry, an average mark. The lone New Orleans back not giving fantasy owners headaches these days is Thomas, who has the appearance of a solid flex at CenturyLink Field. Sproles' health (ankle/knee) and usage have both been problematic. Ingram only sees extensive snaps when the Saints are blowing teams out. I'd feel reasonably good about starting Thomas on Monday night. I'd put Sproles on a wait-and-see week, and drop Ingram for a higher-upside stash.
There is some reason to believe this game has high-scoring potential with a 47.5-point over-under, Drew Brees' No. 3 offense on one side of the field, and Russell Wilson's top-four scoring offense on the other. Wilson has a 17:5 TD-to-INT ratio over his last nine games, with an 18th score on a scramble. On the season, only seven quarterbacks have scored more fantasy points. New Orleans poses a genuinely stiff test -- Rob Ryan's defense ranks third against the pass, tied for first in sacks, and has permitted the third fewest passing touchdowns (11) in football -- but Wilson has earned every-week QB1 treatment. His Week 13 ceiling will rise if the Saints can score on Seattle's defense, an increased possibility minus Browner and Thurmond. ... The Seahawks' most likely plan of attack remains a run-first approach that not only attacks the Saints' main defensive vulnerability, but keeps Brees off the field. New Orleans' No. 15 run defense is coughing up 4.81 yards per carry, the fourth most generous clip in football. Expect heavy doses of Marshawn Lynch, who before Sunday could've been argued as this week's No. 2 fantasy running back play behind only Adrian Peterson.
Percy Harvin's setback with his surgically repaired hip locks in Seattle's Week 13 three-wide set as Golden Tate at X receiver, Doug Baldwin in the slot, and Jermaine Kearse at Z. Baldwin is the best bet to lead the Seahawks in receptions on Monday night. It's worth noting that Falcons slot receiver Harry Douglas dropped nine receptions on New Orleans in their last game. Look for Baldwin to primarily run routes against Saints rookie slot defender Kenny Vaccaro. ... Here are the stat lines of the last ten "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, Roddy White 2-24. Most of them faced Saints top CB Keenan Lewis on the majority of snaps. The "No. 1 receiver" designation best applies to Tate at this point, because Lewis won't follow Baldwin into the slot. Lewis will match up with Tate and to a lesser extent jump-ball specialist Kearse. Tate is a WR3. Baldwin is a preferred WR3 in PPR leagues. Kearse is never a bad bet for a touchdown because he wins in contested situations. ... Wilson is less likely to have passing success targeting his tight end on Monday Night Football. The Saints are 30th in fantasy points allowed to Zach Miller's position, giving Seattle's in-line tight end an unfavorable matchup.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 24, Saints 21