Fantasy Football: Thursday Night Preview

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons 

By Matthew Beck (Twitter: @MatthewRBeck)

When previewing the league's primetime schedule prior to the start of the season, many football enthusiasts probably circled tonight's game as arguably the best matchup of the year between two teams that should be headed to the playoffs. That couldn't be any farther from the truth. The Falcons are sitting at 2-8  and are losers of four straight games following an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay in Week 11. Meanwhile, the Saints (8-2) are coming off of a come from behind win over San Francisco, which leaves then in the second seed among playoff teams. 

In the first matchup between these two teams, the Saints pulled out a win after a touchdown by Jimmy Graham late in the third quarter, followed by a Garrett Hartley 22-yard field goal to seal the deal with three minutes left in the game. This time, the game will be played in the Georgia Dome where the Falcons have recorded their only two wins of the season, but after what they showed us a week ago, it is hard to believe that home field advantage will play a role in tonight's contest. 


Drew Brees (NO)--Going up against one of the toughest defenses in the league, Brees finished Week 11 with his second-lowest fantasy point total of the season with 14 points in standard leagues. However, if you think he will repeat this production tonight, think again. The Falcons defense is terrible and are coming off a game in which they allowed 41 points to a one-win Buccaneers team and are ranked near the bottom of all counting defensive categories. On top of that, they have allowed at least two passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks in all but one game this season. Surprisingly, the Falcons have only allowed one 20-plus fantasy scoring quarterback over their last five games, but that probably because opposing teams are exploiting their 30th ranked run defense once they get an early lead. Considering this is a divisional game against their biggest rival, the Falcons should come out ready to play, although it probably won't matter with Drew Brees getting the ball to his big playmakers early and often in this contest. 

Matt Ryan (ATL)--The 2013 season has been a major disappointment for Ryan and his fantasy owners, entering Week 12 outside of the top 10 among fantasy quarterbacks. Last week's two-touchdown performance marked his first two-score game in four weeks, having scored over 20 fantasy points only three times through 10 games. The Saints are allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season, having allowed only four passing touchdowns over their last four games. Ryan does have a healthy Roddy White, Harry Douglas and probably Tony Gonzalez (questionable) to target in the passing game tonight, but based on the matchup, it isn't going to matter. Those who have to start him tonight, just hope for the best, now that we only have three weeks before the fantasy playoffs begin.

Running Backs

Pierre Thomas (NO)--Despite having only two games of double-digit fantasy points in standard leagues this season, Thomas has been a workhorse for the Saints this season. Tonight, he going up against the leagues 30th ranked run defense that has allowed five touchdowns over their last four games, while averaging just over 18 points per game to opposing running backs. The Saints are still going with a three-running back system, which limits Thomas' touches, but his Week 5 he has averaging just under 20 touches per game, landing him in the top 15 among fantasy running backs over that span. Both Thomas and Mark Ingram will benefit from an early lead from the Saints in this contest, and if that is the case (I think it will be), we should see his third double-digit fantasy point production of the season. 

Steven Jackson (ATL)--To say the 2012 season for Jackson is a disappointment would be an understatement. After moving to the Falcons from St. Louis, Jackson looked to be in line for a great season, being featured in one of the best offenses in the league. Well, that changed following an injury that held him out for four games, and now the Falcons are tied for last in the division. However, there is some hope for Jackson tonight, with the Saints allowing 114.0 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs on the season, and have now given up rushing scores in six of their last eight games. As long as the Falcons can keep this game somewhat close Jackson should continue to get the ball, but if this gets ugly, his carries will be cut in an effort to go punch for punch with one of the best offenses in the league. While I don't think he is a terrible play tonight, if you have a safer option it would be wise go that route, after what we saw from the Falcons last week. 

Darren Sproles (NO)--The Saints will have to make a tough decision on Sproles' status prior to kickoff after he failed to practice for the second straight day on Wednesday. Sproles is dealing with both knee and ankle injuries he sustained in last week's win over San Francisco, and considering the short-week, it would not be too much of a surprise if he was held out in an effort to get him healthy for the stretch run. Obviously if the coaches allow him to play he should be in your lineup, just have a backup plan ready to go in case his status takes a turn for the worst. 

Jacquizz Rodgers (ATL)--Although Rodgers leads the team in rushing this season (273 yards), he is far from a must-start in fantasy, especially with Steven Jackson back in the starting lineup. Since Jackson's return in Week 8, Rodgers has only 16 carries, which has resulted in nine fantasy points in standard scoring leagues. Outside of being the team's third-down running back, Rodgers just doesn't get on the field enough to make him a fantasy consideration, especially against one of the toughest run defenses in the league. 

Mark Ingram (NO)--With Darren Sproles questionable with multiple injuries, Ingram becomes a viable fantasy option if he the Saints change-of-pace running back is in fact ruled out for tonight's game. Ingram had a coming out party in Week 10 rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against the Cowboys, proving he isn't a total bust just yet. If this game gets out of hand, expect Ingram to be used to keep the clock running, which should result in fantasy success for those in deep league formats. 

Wide Receivers

Marques Colston (NO)--After falling off the face of the earth from Week 5 through Week 9, Colston returned to fantasy relevancy after a 16-point production off of seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. Colston's Week 10 touchdown was his first score since the last time he faced the Falcons, and based on what the team has been giving up this season, he has a good chance of finding the end zone again. Through 10 games, the Falcons have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, giving up at least one receiving touchdown in nine contests. He may not be the WR1 we have grown to plug-in and start every week like in the past, but he is still no less than a WR2, especially when he has a great matchup on the table. 

Harry Douglas (ATL)--After the injury to Julio Jones in Week 5, Douglas' fantasy value has increased significantly as he emerges as a legitimate wide receiver in the league. Since Week 7, Douglas has produced three double-digit fantasy scores, while recording 121 receiving yards or more in three of five games. This week he will face his toughest task to date, going up against a Saints defense that has limited opposing wide receivers to minimal production all season long. However, at this point if you own Douglas you have to start him no matter the matchup. Fantasy owners should hope that this one gets ugly fast so the Falcons have to pass the ball early to increase fantasy output. 

Lance Moore (NO)--After missing most of the first have of the season Moore has now been able to stay healthy for four games, but has not been able to be consistent enough to make him a solid starter in fantasy. Since his return, Moore has 13 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown, with nine of those catches coming in his first two games back. With Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston attracting most of the attention in the Saints passing game, it is hard to recommend using Moore this week or any week for that matter despite a good matchup.

Roddy White (ATL)--For the first time in 2013, White was able to find the end zone in Week 11 in garbage time to make the Falcons score at least respectable. He appears to be fully healed from an injury that held him out three games, after playing in two straight contests with no setbacks. This week he going up against a defense that has allowed minimal production to opposing wide receivers, allowing over 20 fantasy points to opposing wide receiving cores only three times this season, while giving up multiple touchdowns only once. If this game gets out of hand and the Falcons have to take to the air more than expected it will favor White, as we saw last week, but you just can't count on garbage time production. He may be back and fully healthy, just don't start him unless you have no other options on the table. 

Kenny Stills (NO)--In fantasy football there are players you can rely upon every week and then there are high-upside players that can either make you or break you. Stills has proved this season that he is a boom-or-bust type of player, which is great for guaranteed prize pool DFS contests, but not for season long fantasy players. While I think that Stills is going to one day emerge as a good fantasy option as he matures in the Saints offense, he just can't be trusted at this point, especially with fantasy playoffs right around the corner. 

Tight Ends

Jimmy Graham (NO)--After back-to-back two-touchdown performances, Graham has given owners sub-par production based on the norm over the last two games. He has been able to play through the pain on his foot, but there is some concern that maybe his snaps need to be limited even more if they want him to remain healthy enough for a playoff run. However, he remains a must-start fantasy option based on his red zone presence alone, which has resulted in six touchdowns this season, with one of those scores coming against the Falcons in Week 1. 

Tony Gonzalez (ATL)--It has been a very frustrating season for Gonzalez and his fantasy owners, and this week may be the worst of them all with him entering the game at questionable with a toe injury. As of right now it is looking like he will play, and if he does, he could be in for a good game. The Saints have been one of the better teams against opposing tight ends this season, but they have now allowed five or more receptions to the group in three of their last four games, and we know Matt Ryan will be looking his way early and often. If he plays, he has to be in starting lineups. 

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