The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to New Orleans for a matchup with the first-place Saints, a game whose outcome is likely critical to the Buccaneers' season. From a fantasy football standpoint, however, everybody could come out of this one as winners.
Drew Brees has his typical numbers, albeit a little lighter than usual on the touchdowns, and a flashy new running back duo to feed. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a healthier Jameis Winston and a couple other players who are fast becoming fantasy mainstays. As we noted in our look at the Bucs-Saints series history earlier in the week, the last five games between these two teams in New Orleans have featured an average of 52 combined points on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome scoreboard…which means the potential for a lot of fantasy points on your league's scoreboard.
If a shootout does occur, who's going to reap the benefits? Well, you're starting Mike Evans and you're starting Drew Brees and you can probably feel pretty good about Michael Thomas and Cam Brate, too. Let's look at some of the less obvious calls in our latest Three Burning Questions, which you'll find below, after we first review the advice from last week.
Accountability Section:** This season, each Fantasy Football Weekly article is going to include a review of the previous week's advice to see if it was actually helpful. Here's a recap of what we covered last week, along with self-assigned letter grades for each piece of advice:
Advice #1: Yes, you should strongly consider picking up O.J. Howard for your bench before someone else grabs him off the waiver wire, but no, you should probably not start him in Week Eight against Carolina.
Review: B. The advice about not starting him was sound, as Howard caught just two passes for 18 yards. My reasoning was that the Panthers had very good coverage linebackers and had done well against tight ends this year. That proved accurate, but in addition Tampa Bay's offense had its worst day of the season overall. It was fantasy duds all around for the Bucs in Week Eight. Still, I can't really get an "A" for this one because we don't yet know if the first half of that advice was good.
Advice #2: You should consider Doug Martin a good option in your Flex position if you're in a non-PPR league but you might want to assess the situation for a week or two before doing so in a PPR league.
Review: B-. Martin had 71 rushing yards and four receiving yards, without a touchdown. That's not great in a non-PPR league, but it probably wouldn't kill you either. However, that lone catch was the worry for PPR leagues and he indeed would not have been a start in one of those.
Advice #3: If you want to pick up a Buccaneer defender for your IDP slot, Lavonte David is the best choice.
Review: C. David has been a very good IDP start this year when he's been healthy, but that wasn't the case on Sunday. He had just three solo tackles and no other marks on the stat sheet, after getting a FF and a FR in each of the two previous games. I only refrained from slapping myself with a worse grade because there really wasn't a lot of choices that would have been better. Kwon Alexander would have done more with his 10 tackles (and two TFLs if those count in your league), but Chris Conte had the only takeaway and there were no sacks.
That's a reasonable week of advice, but nothing that was really high-impact. The Bucs and Saints look like they have a chance to put up a lot of combined fantasy points this week, so let's see if we can get in some more useful advice this week.
Three Burning Questions: Buccaneers at Saints
A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Saints.
- Let's address the elephant in the room: Should I be worried about Jameis Winston's shoulder? I have started him for much of the season but he didn't help me very much last week, to say the least.**
Yeah, that game was a fantasy bust all around, but particularly painful for Winston owners who had become used to 300-yard outings. And you really couldn't blame owners for sticking by the Bucs' quarterback after he played through the same shoulder injury to the tune of 384 yards and three touchdowns the week before in Buffalo.
The good news is that Winston has been throwing in practice throughout this week, unlike the previous two. From a preparation standpoint, he should go into this game as good as he's been since initially injuring his throwing shoulder in Arizona in Week Six.
So the question is how much stock you put in this most recent performance and if you think you're going to see more of the same until his shoulder is back to where it was before the injury. My take is that the shoulder was only one of the factors that led to Winston's stumble last week, and probably not even the biggest one. There was a lot of wind, a little more pressure than he'd been seeing in previous games and a few decisions he would like to have back. And Carolina simply has a very good defense that was on top of its game with Luke Kuechly back in the middle.
Prior to the Carolina game, Winston had thrown for over 300 yards in four of his last five outings, the only exception being his early exit in Arizona. He had thrown multiple touchdown passes in three of those four 300-yard games, as well. Winston was a top-10 fantasy quarterback scorer in Weeks Four, Five and Seven before last week's dip. He still has all of his weapons around him, although slot receiver Adam Humphries is a bit of a question mark for the upcoming game.
Meanwhile, the Saints' defense is definitely improved this year, but I think there is still an opportunity for Winston and several of his offensive teammates to have big fantasy days. New Orleans is still giving up a lot of yards but they're making up for it with takeaways and sacks. Winston has had good protection for much of the year and he's thrown zero interceptions in three of the six games he's finished. If the Bucs can avoid those two things, the offense will probably start humming again. Bucs-Saints games in New Orleans tend to be shootouts, and the Saints' defense has allowed more 20+-yard plays than all but four other teams.
If you're asking this question, then you don't have a Tom Brady or Carson Wentz-level fantasy quarterback on your roster. You're probably choosing between Winston and say, Philip Rivers or Derek Carr. Or you drafted Matt Ryan to be your starter and took Winston later, and have been getting disappointing results from Ryan. If you're in a situation like that, I would say start Winston this week and expect a fantasy rebound.
2. I have all three running backs in the Bucs-Saints game that someone would probably consider starting: Doug Martin, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. If you could only start one of those three, who would you choose?
That would be a good problem to have. Martin ran well last week without too much fantasy output (75 total yards, as noted above) and the Saints are giving up 120.3 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Ingram has been right on the cusp of the top 10 most productive fantasy backs this season in PPR leagues and he's facing a defense that is giving up 111.7 ground yards per week and has allowed seven rushing touchdowns. Those are the starters for the two teams, so they would seem like the safest bets.
But I'm going with Kamara. I think he's a player on the rise who should start to become a regular in fantasy lineups. Kamara's touches-plus-targets have risen steadily throughout the season; he got 3.5 carries per game through the first four but nine per game through the last three. A few weeks ago in Miami he was targeted 10 times – 10! – in the passing game and caught all 10 for 71 yards and a touchdown. He got seven more targets two weeks ago against the Packers. Kamara has one more reception, one more receiving touchdown and 67 more receiving yards than Ingram.
Ingram, of course, has made up the difference in the rushing attack, with more than double the handoffs and 221 more yards (464 to 243). Ingram has four rushing touchdowns to Kamara's two and might still be the first choice when New Orleans gets inside the 10. However, Ingram fumbled twice in the fourth quarter of last week's game, which no coach likes to see. I'm not suggesting that he's about to get benched because of it – it was the first time in his career he's lost two fumbles in one game – but if Kamara was already gaining ground, this could only add to that.
As for the Buccaneers' defense, it hasn't been terrible against opposing running backs in the passing game, but it hasn't been spectacular, either. Football Outsiders, which breaks down how defenses have fared against five different types of pass-catchers (#1 WRs, #2 WRs, Other WRs, TEs and RBs) has Tampa Bay ranked 25th against running backs, giving up about 50 yards per game.
Hopefully the final correct answer to this question is Martin and the Buccaneers' defense, coming off a strong week against Carolina, limits the damage caused by both Ingram and Kamara. But it won't be an easy task, and if any of the Bucs' tackling issues from previous weeks return, Kamara could be the one to take advantage.
3. Let's go back to the DeSean Jackson well one more time: Is this a week you would start him?
A look at the Saints' projected starters, according to the team's website.
I would, and I'm two-for-two on this particular piece of advice so far this season.
There are some players on the Bucs' offense that really don't need a weekly discussion in this space. If you own Mike Evans, you're starting him every game. That may now be true of Cameron Brate, and if you aren't doing that you should. Jackson, however, is worth the occasional analysis because, as we've said before, he has long been a boom-or-bust type of fantasy player (as opposed to his weekly value to his real team) because his numbers are usually dependent on touchdowns and really big plays.
Well, I told you to start Jackson at Minnesota in Week Three and he produced 84 yards and a touchdown. I then told you to do the same against the Patriots in Week Five and he cracked 100 yards for the first time as a Buccaneer. If nothing else, maybe this column is a good-luck charm for Jackson; I hope so, because I'm all in on the speedy receiver this week.
When the Saints played the Patriots and Packers this year, they had their rookie cornerback, Marshon Lattimore, shadow the opposition's top receiver, which they viewed at the time as Brandin Cooks for the Patriots and Davante Adams for the Packers. Cooks was limited to two catches for 37 yards but Chris Hogan went off for a 5-78-1 line. No Packers receivers did anything of (fantasy) value, as this was the first game after Aaron Rodgers' shoulder injury.
Don't be surprised if Evans gets that treatment from Lattimore and the Saints' defense. That doesn't mean the Saints will be able to contain Evans, but it would mean that Jackson would be paired up against former undrafted cornerback Ken Crawley, or if he goes into the slot on safety Kenny Vaccaro, who also plays nickel back.
I also think that Winston and Jackson are getting closer to unlocking their connection. Winston hit Jackson on a true deep ball behind the defense for the first time in Buffalo, only to have it erased by a penalty. This past Sunday, Jackson got deep again and Winston found him but the play was thwarted by some conspicuous (but unpenalized) contact by the defensive back.
So I'm calling it again. The first time I did so, Jackson got a touchdown; the second time he topped 100 yards. This time he does both.