Week 16 starts on Christmas day with the Vikings visiting the Saints in a 51 total game with the Saints favored by a touchdown. The biggest news here is that Drew Brees made it back earlier than expected from his rib injury last week, sending Taysom Hill back to trick play relevance only, and Michael Thomas has been placed on injured reserve to let him heal up for the playoffs.
On the Vikings’ side, the backfield is the Dalvin Cook show, as always. Cook has seen total opportunity counts (carries + targets) of 41, 26, and 29 in the past three games and will be in for a similar workload here. The primary backup running back (Ameer Abdullah in Weeks 13/14, Alexander Mattison in Week 15) saw three, five, and two opportunities in those games. As significant road underdogs against the NFL’s second-best run defense by DVOA, the backup Vikings running back is an awfully thin play (you would probably need an injury to Cook AND for it to happen quite early in the game for the backup to put up a relevant score). Fullback CJ Ham joins the ranks of “super thin MME plays” as well with his 10 targets on the season. Cook has a really strong floor and ceiling in any matchup based on his talent and massive usage, but at $12,000 he’s going to need a lot of things to go right for him to work out. That said, he’s a sharp tournament play because he’s likely to be relatively lower owned on a slate in which people should flock to Kamara, the QBs, and the Vikings receivers.
Speaking of Vikings receivers, one of the best things about Minnesota is their incredibly narrow distribution of volume. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson play just about every snap and see a huge share of Kirk Cousins’ pass attempts. Both are strong plays here despite a tough matchup. Thielen has the (slightly) better matchup, though Jefferson has been seeing more volume in the last couple of games. They’re pretty much a coin toss to me and I would be extremely surprised if at least one of them did not end up in the optimal lineup (it would likely take a weird game flow; either the Saints absolutely stomping on Minnesota, or the Vikings pulling off the surprise win with all of the scoring going through Cook). At tight end, Irv Smith and Tyler Conklin go 1-2 with Kyle Rudolph out. Smith is the favorite to lead in snaps and targets, though (sadly for me) he dropped a touchdown last week while Conklin caught one. Conklin comes in meaningfully cheaper, which to me offsets Irv’s slightly higher volume projection; I like Conklin better by just a smidge. Chad Beebe is an MME punt play who would surprise us if he saw more than two to three targets.
On the New Orleans side, we get the “Alvin Kamara without Michael Thomas” scenario that has been such a key decision point on so many slates this year. While on full slates you can make a game theory argument to fade Kamara in situations like this, it’s much harder in Showdown, where Kamara should project very closely to Cook but with a safer floor. I do expect Kamara to be significantly higher owned than Cook, though, which makes an argument for going overweight Cook and underweight Kamara in tournaments. This is the classic “do I want to go all-in on the best play on the slate or do I want to take the game theory approach and be underweight and hope for the outlier outcome” decision point that we face so often in Showdown. Behind Kamara, Latavius Murray is one of the most game-script dependent players on the slate; if the Saints do indeed play from ahead, he should be on the field a lot, as the Saints won’t likely give Kamara 15+ carries. If the Saints play from behind, Latavius will disappear. With just two games over 10.5 Draftkings points on the season, Latavius is overpriced at $4,800 and, in my mind, belongs primarily in Saints onslaught builds.
In the passing game, we have an absolute mess with Michael Thomas out and Tre’Quan Smith forced to leave last week’s game early before not practicing on Tuesday. Emmanuel Sanders will operate as the “WR1” (I use quotes because, really, Kamara is the WR1 and the favorite to lead the team in targets). Manny is overpriced at $8,800; in the same role last week he saw just five targets, and while his realistic projection is more like seven, he’s priced right around Thielen and Jefferson, who are clearly much stronger plays. If Smith plays, he’s kind of in the “eh, he’s fine” territory at $6,400; viable in tournaments, not a cash play to me. I’d prefer him slightly to Sanders for the significant discount at what I would think is a pretty similar projection. Behind these two guys we have a smattering of the random dudes who always seem to play for the Saints: Juwan Johnson seems to have the largest role, while some guy named Lil’Jordan Humphrey stepped in for Smith in the second half last week, and TommyLee Lewis also got a tiny bit of run. Johnson saw four targets last week and failed to catch any of them, and has caught just two of eight targets on the season; if his role stays secure, he’s a reasonable value option who should be on the field a lot (even if Smith plays). Humphrey, however, actually caught the football twice (on four targets), so it’s possible he would flip into the larger share of work at Johnson’s expense. I don’t see any information on this that would lead us to any sort of certainty, and would treat it as a volatile situation. Lewis is an MME punt play.
At tight end, Jared Cook should benefit from Brees’s return; he was off to a solid start to the season with four touchdowns early on before Brees went down. Adam Trautman seems to have usurped Josh Hill for the TE2 role and can be included in MME pools. As always with the Saints, they’re a team that spreads the ball around a lot, especially in the red zone; don’t be shocked if we see a surprise Josh Hill touchdown (which would likely not be enough to put him in the optimal lineup.
The way this game is likeliest to play out is the Saints should play from ahead for most of it. The Vikings are a good team, but the Saints with Drew Brees back are significantly better (assuming Brees is healthy; he didn’t look great in his first game back, but that’s common, and now he’s had another full week to get back into the swing of things). The trick here is that the Saints’ volume is so much more spread around that they could win the game but still have a 4-2 Vikings stack be the optimal lineup. Some other ways the game could play out:
The Vikings have enough talent to upset anyone, especially if Brees is still hurting and plays like he did last week against the Chiefs. Dalvin put up a strong performance against the Bucs’ impenetrable run defense, and we could see a similar scenario here at relatively low ownership.
Alternatively, the Saints defense is quietly one of the better units in the NFL, and we’ve seen plenty of “bad Kirk Cousins” games over the years. The volume distribution makes it tough to believe in 5-1 Saints onslaught lineups, which is what will make them come in at very low ownership (or even 4-2 Saints lineups will be, I’d expect, less common than they “should” be).
My cash game pool consists of Kamara, the quarterbacks, Thielen, Jefferson, the kickers, Conklin (if Rudolph is out) and I might be willing to include Humphrey or Juwan there if Smith misses (I’d be more likely to do this if we got some clarity on the role between the two of them). This is, at least to me, a tough slate in cash; it’s not really plausible to build a lineup with both QBs and RBs, Thielen/Jefferson are coin flips, and there aren’t currently any really strong value plays.
In tournaments my favorite captains are Cook, Thielen, Jefferson, and Kamara; I might also dabble in some of the cheaper Saints receiving options.
SOME GROUPS TO CONSIDER:
At most 1 kicker and at most 1 defense as (almost) always
Pair captain pass catchers with their QBs (or consider boosting the QB if using a captain receiver if you don’t want 100% exposure to this pairing – discussed in further detail in the 2020 update to my Advanced Showdowns course)
If using an RB captain, apply a negative correlation to the opposing defense and kicker (you can see how to do so in my FantasyLabs tutorial video)
At most 1 of Juwan Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (and Lewis, if you’re including him in your MME pool)
At least 1 of Cook, Thielen, and Jefferson
If using Latavius Murray, no more than 3 Vikings
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