The New Orleans Saints: a team of perennial fantasy football powerhouses. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers: a young team that has begun to step into the fantasy football spotlight over the past few weeks.
When the two meet up at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday, a vast majority of fantasy football players will be tuning in to check on at least one or two of their prized starters.
Statistically, this is matchup of two teams that tend to rank very high or very low in some key categories. What that means for fantasy owners is that both squads have the potential to put up some big-time numbers in Week Seven. With two defenses that have, to this point, given up a significant amount of passing totals, the main fantasy football question becomes: Is there any player in this game not worth starting?
1. A Pair of Aerial Attacks
When it comes to the passing games of these two teams, it is hard to justify keeping any of the primary players on your bench. Only five players in the NFL have thrown for more yards than New Orleans QB Drew Brees this year and, of course, all five of those have played six games while Brees is coming off a bye week. In the yards-per-game category, Brees is on top of his nearest challenger by more than 35 yards, and his 14 touchdowns rank him second in the NFL.
The more frustrating decision for owners of Saints players is at receiver. New Orleans rolls out a number of intriguing players, but that can actually make for some inconsistent week-to-week numbers. WR Marques Colston has been the most reliable target in the Saints' passing attack (other than Brees, of course), with 28 catches, 88 yards per game and four scores. However, even he has turned in a few underwhelming games this season, topping out at just seven fantasy points in each his first three games. TE Jimmy Graham will apparently not play this week, and WR Lance Moore, struggling somewhat with injury, has been inconsistent as well.
On the other hand, Tampa Bay's defense has already snared eight interceptions…that's probably not enough to make you bench Brees, but it might give you pause when loading up on his various receivers.
On the Buccaneer side of the ball, we see some similar opportunities for the Raymond James Stadium cannons to fire. Josh Freeman has begun to open up his passing game, breaking 300 yards passing last week for the first time this season. His numbers against Kansas City were good enough to make him the third-highest scoring fantasy quarterback in the NFL that week.
In the last two games, both WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams have broken 10 fantasy points per game. In the Week Four matchup against the Washington Redskins, the pair combined for 215 yards and a score. The duo struck again in Week Six against the Chiefs, when Vincent Jackson gained 66 yards, scoring on two of his four receptions. Williams recorded his best game of the season with 113 yards and a score.
With solid improvement week by week, the Buccaneers' air attack is something to keep an eye on in this matchup. The Saints are allowing a league-high 456 yards per game on defense, while giving up more than 30 points per game, the third highest number in the NFL.
2. IDP Strength at Safety
The football may be in the air quite a bit on Sunday, and that also means potential gains for a quartet of defensive backs. Both teams come into the game with a big-name player at free and strong safety, with all four scoring well in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy leagues.
When Tampa has the ball, Saints safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins will be tasked with cleaning up the long plays for which Tampa is quickly becoming known. Of wide receivers with 10 or more receptions this year, both Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson make the top five in yards per catch, with 22.1 and 18.5 yards per catch respectively. Another Tampa Bay receiver, Tiquan Underwood, is also averaging 19 yards per reception this season, though only on six catches.
Ironically, the Bucs' running game could help out Harper and Jenkins owners. If Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount can break some second-level runs, as they did last week, the Saints safeties could pile up some additional tackles. Harper ranks ninth among NFL strong safeties in total tackles, also adding an interception. Jenkins is the NFL's eighth-ranked tackler at free safety with 37 total stops.
The Buccaneers answer with two respected safeties of their own in Ronde Barber and Mark Barron. Barron's 35 tackles make him fourth among NFL rookies, and first among rookie defensive backs. And more statistically impressive, 28 of those tackles have been of the solo variety. He has also forced a fumble, and he hauled in his first interception in Week Six.
Ronde Barber also intercepted a pass last week, returning it 78 yards for a touchdown. You can also add a deflected kick to his Week Six stat line. Both safeties will be tested against a Saints' offense that leads the NFL in passing yards per game.
3. Did David Thomas Just Become Relevant
Tight end David Thomas has just two catches for 11 yards this season, though that puts him on pace to top his five grabs from last year. Thomas actually topped 30 catches for the Saints in both 2009 and 2010, but has been rendered mostly irrelevant (fantasy-wise) by the arrival of Jimmy Graham.
Well, Graham didn't make the trip to Tampa with the Saints on Saturday, so Thomas moves up to first-string on the Saints' depth chart. Some Buc fans might remember Thomas having a big day in Raymond James Stadium in 2009, with 66 yards and a touchdown in a New Orleans victory. With Graham out, would it be worth a shot to pick up Thomas and insert him into your starting lineup?
Probably not. Statistically, the Bucs' defense has given up some big numbers this year, but most of that came in two huge halves by Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III. Overall, the Bucs have been very effective against tight ends, ranking in the top ten of fantasy points allowed by that position, defensively.
The Bucs' linebacker and safety core has held opposing tight ends to just 3.6 catches and 44.8 yards per game. Only one tight end has scored against them so far this season. This statistic gets even more impressive when you look at the tight ends they have been asked to cover: NFC East powerhouses Jason Witten, Fred Davis and Martellus Bennett, plus Carolina's Greg Olsen. The latter two are both currently in the top 12 for tight end fantasy points.
Thomas could be a sneaky fantasy play, but it's probably not worth rolling those dice.