Two division rivals facing very different stakes will compete on Thursday night. The New Orleans Saints are looking to capitalize on their 8-2 record while the 2-8 Atlanta Falcons will be guaranteed a losing record if they can't secure a win. The Saints beat the Falcons 23-17 in Week 1, at home. Can Brees lead the Saints to his sixth regular season win in the Georgia Dome? Can Matt Ryan overcome the absence of Julio Jones? Will the Falcons running game ever gain momentum? How does all of this affect your fantasy team?
As per usual, we're here to discuss the fantasy implications of Thursday Night Football.
Drew Brees: He's currently averaging top-three fantasy numbers at his position. He'll be facing an Atlanta defense that is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. It isn't as if anyone was going to bench Brees this week, but the match up should make owners feel all the more confident in his potential for Week 12.
Running backs: Darren Sproles is banged up a bit but will likely play on Thursday. The emergence of Pierre Thomas has downgraded Sproles to more of a flex option in both standard and PPR leagues. Thomas has a bit more upside as a flex and can be considered an RB2 in PPR formats. Atlanta just allowed 167 yards and three touchdowns to Bobby Rainey in Week 11, which bodes well for Sproles and Thomas.
Wide receivers: After nearly a four-game stretch of disappointing production, Marques Colston has resurfaced as a legitimate weapon on the Saints offense. He's totaled 12 receptions, 187 yards, and a touchdown over the past two weeks. He's one of the better WR3 options against a generous Falcons defense. If any other receiver steps up on Thursday, it will likely be Lance Moore or Kenny Stills. The problem is that there's no telling which receiver will show up. Both are considered a WR4 despite the upside their match up presents.
Tight ends: Jimmy Graham's plantar fascia injury seems to have affected his fantasy production over the past two weeks. The stud tight end hasn't found the end zone since Week 9 and is due for a rebound performance. Despite his recent struggles, he'll continue to be one of the better TE1 options out there.
Defense/ Special teams: The Falcons have allowed a lot of points to fantasy defenses over the past month. Of course, they've faced some tough defenses in the process. Carolina, Arizona, and Tampa Bay were among the top defenses the week they faced the Falcons. New Orleans has been average, at best, from a fantasy perspective. However, they should be considered a top-ten start against Atlanta.
Matt Ryan: Over the past four weeks, Ryan hasn't even averaged top-20 fantasy numbers. As a result, he's been downgraded to more of a QB2 option moving forward. The running game has been underwhelming, they continue to face difficult defenses, and the loss of Julio Jones dropped Ryan's stock considerably. The last time Ryan faced the Saints, he threw for 304 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He's thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions through four weeks. Ryan will likely need to throw in order to keep up with the Saints offense, but he's an extremely shaky start on Thursday.
Running backs: Since returning from injury, Steven Jackson has averaged 27 yards per game. He hasn't found the end zone and, as a result, hasn't been a fantasy option. He'll continue to be a desperate flex play for owners against the Saints. Jacquizz Rodgers isn't faring much better. He hasn't eclipsed 40 rushing yards since Week 5, and now he's dealing with an ankle injury of some sort. Antone Smith ran for 88 yards and touchdown in Week 11, but he was only given two carries. There simply isn't an identifiable option in the Falcons backfield at the moment. It would be best to avoid starting anyone until some consistency emerges.
Wide receivers: The return of Roddy White hasn't been an immediate success for fantasy owners, but he's trending upward. He'll likely be seeing a lot of cornerback Keenan Lewis on Thursday. He shouldn't be considered more than a WR3 for the week. White's presence hasn't slowed down receiver Harry Douglas. Douglas is coming off a strong Week 11 showing of 134 yards and a touchdown. He'll continue to see plenty of targets and has considerable upside in PPR formats. Like White, Douglas can be valued as a WR3 in standard scoring formats with a bit more upside.
Tight ends: Tony Gonzalez has wandered a bit from the fountain of youth that made him such a great fantasy option in 2012, but he's still getting the job done. The Saints have been tough on tight ends, but Gonzalez did manage to find the end zone against them in Week 1. He'll continue to see a healthy amount of targets, so consider him a low-end TE1.
Defense/ Special teams: The Saints have given up the third fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses this season. The Falcons are one of the worst defenses in fantasy football. There is simply no reason to be starting them.