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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Week 4 New Orleans Saints vs. Detroit Lions

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Star receiver Michael Thomas stood up for Urban Meyer amid the latest report that the former Jaguars coach had no idea who Aaron Donald was during the Rams game

The Saints are on a two-game skid and searching for answers as they head to Detroit to face a Lions squad riding high off a last-second field goal to secure a victory in Week 3. Will the return of star receiver Michael Thomas be enough to get New Orleans back in the win column? For the 2020 NFL season, Matt Savoca will be providing his weekly NFL Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown column, going through every single game and offensive and defensive matchup, every week of the season. For your viewing convenience, we have broken up the matchups breakdown into several single columns, each one covering a single game. You can find links to every game right here. We have 12 games on tap for Week 4 NFL DFS and NFL Fantasy Football, so let’s dive in into the NFL DFS picks. The entire matchups article will be available in podcast form, every Friday afternoon on the Awesemo Podcast Network. Let’s get into the Saints-Lions fantasy football matchup for your NFL DFS lineups.

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New Orleans Saints (29.75) at Detroit Lions (25.75) – 1 p.m. ET

New Orleans Passing Game

The offense might not be the reason the team is 1-2, but the Saints’ Drew Brees has not put up his typical gaudy numbers so far this season. Brees ranks 22nd in average dropbacks per game, 19th in passing yards per game and ninth in touchdowns per game. Even in advanced efficiency metrics, where Brees typically shines, he’s still middle of the pack, ranking 14th in true drive success rate and 21st in EPA per play, good for 18th in quarterback composite efficiency. Sure, some of it can be explained by the two-week absence of All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who’s trending towards playing in Week 4 against the Lions, but these numbers remain a signal of concern for the 41-year-old quarterback (Update: Thomas will need another week to heal. He’s been ruled out for week 4.)

With Thomas back in the lineup, however, the Saints may present a much more of a problem for the Lions, who rank 29th in PFF’s team coverage rating and just allowed Kyler Murray to pass for 270 yards and two touchdowns and an additional 22 yards on the ground. Thomas, even in his first game back in action after a high ankle sprain, should be the unquestioned leader in the passing game from the moment he suits up. Last year’s reception leader didn’t have a spectacular Week 1, but we should expect Thomas’ usage numbers to begin to creep toward his 2019 totals, where he commanded a 5% larger weighted opportunity share than any other receiver in the NFL a season ago. He’ll likely spend time being shadowed by Detroit’s standout rookie Jeff Okudah, who has had an up-and-down rookie year thus far, earning second-lowest coverage grade on the Detroit defense, but he looked quite more competent against Arizona in Week 3, picking off Murray on a spectacular diving catch as one of three Lions takeaways. Assuming he will play, Thomas is locked in as a top-three wide receiver option on the main slate.

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Alvin Kamara is the team’s (and the running back position’s) leader in true weighted opportunity share. He leads the league in high-value opportunities (targets plus rushes inside the 10), and proved that he doesn’t need to be anywhere close to the goal line to be a touchdown threat. He’s turning each air yard beyond the line of scrimmage he receiving into approximately 4 yards receiving, a spectacular receiver air conversion ratio (RACR). He undoubtedly remains a top-two receiving option for the Saints. Beyond Kamara and Thomas, the Saints will continue to sprinkle in four other auxiliary weapons: Jared Cook (11th among tight ends, 60th overall in true weighted opportunity share), Tre’Quan Smith (71st among receivers), Emmanuel Sanders (77th) and Deonte Harris (128th). Cook left the Saints’ Sunday night loss against Green Bay and did not return. He’s yet to practice this week, which could lead to more opportunities for the previously mentioned Smith, Sanders and Harris, but it could also open up looks for New Orleans’ two part-time tight ends, Josh Hill and rookie Adam Trautman, and for hybrid asset Taysom Hill, though he’s yet to catch more than one pass in a game this season.

New Orleans Running Game

Kamara and Latavius Murray are virtually tied in rush attempts through three weeks, with Kamara earning 31 on the ground to Murray’s 30. However, Kamara has tied or outpaced Murray in each of the last two games in rush yardage, and he is the only Saints player to score a rushing touchdown thus far (he’s scored three). This is all before considering Kamara’s extensive receiving work (see above). He’s the top back in fantasy football at the moment, and it’s not particularly close. Even as the second-highest-priced running back on the board, Kamara presents a slight value based on Awesemo’s projections, as he grades out as the top back on the slate.


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Detroit Passing Game

The Lions might be the least-hyped aggressive team in the entire NFL. The Lions are tied for the league lead in air yards per second and right at league average in true neutral early-down pass rate, indicating they’re throwing often in drive series and throwing deep on those early down attempts as week. This is fantastic news for fantasy gamers, as it signals the Lions as one of the most trustable teams to create game environments conducive to fantasy football production. That certainly should not change this week against New Orleans, as Matthew Stafford will likely need to keep pace with a Saints offense that, despite a losing record, has not struggled at all to put up points against both the Raiders in Week 2 and the Packers in Week 3. The Saints’ coverage unit isn’t nearly the same caliber as the Packers’. In fact, the most comparable unit to New Orleans’ is Detroit’s. Each team’s defense has the exact same team coverage grade, and in overall defensive grades, they’re just six percentage points apart.

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The Saints are dealing with a midweek injury to top cornerback Marshon Lattimore. This could be a game-altering injury if Lattimore is forced to miss, as it will open up looks for Kenny Golladay. Golladay made his 2020 debut in Week 3 after missing time with a hamstring injury and produced admirably with seven targets, six receptions for 57 yards (which led the team) and a touchdown. He’s back as the unquestioned target and air yards leader for the Lions’ uptempo offense.

With Golladay back in his rightful spot as the top receiving option, that allows auxiliary weapons T.J. Hockenson (who ranks fifthamong tight ends in true weighted opportunity share) and Marvin Jones (40th among wide receivers in targets) to play their rightful “2A” and “2B” roles, with Danny Amendola (90th in true target share) continuing to run routes underneath. At full strength, Stafford should also see an increase in efficiency from his current marks as well. He currently ranks 21st in quarterback composite efficiency. One area of concern, however, is the lack of production from Marvin Jones. Previously considered a near-equal to Golladay (at least in terms of usage on the Detroit offense), Jones has yet to record a game with more than four catches or more than 55 yards (Golladay produced more than that in his first game back). It may just be variance, but it could also be a sign of decline for Jones, 30, who will have a tough matchup himself against Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins (assuming Lattimore plays). Jenkins ranks 19th in PlayerProfiler’s coverage rating. (Update: Both Lattimore and Jenkins have been ruled out, leaving the Saints without their top two cornerbacks. This drastically changes the outlook for Stafford and his top-3 receiving weapons, who enter week 4 as healthy as they’ve been all season. This game is trending towards fireworks)

Detroit Rushing Game

The Lions rush totals through three weeks: Adrian Peterson 43, Kerryon Johnson 18, D’Andre Swift 18, Stafford 2. Peterson is the only back to record more than 32 yards rushing in a game this season (he has weeks of 75 and 93 rush yards already), making him the unquestioned backfield leader. New Orleans has vastly improved their run defense overall, currently ranking 10th in PFF’s rush defense unit grade, which spells trouble for Peterson or opens up the possibility that Detroit simply opens things up on offense and passes more often. If that scenario occurs, Swift would be an intriguing option. Despite ho-hum usage overall for the 2020 second-round pick, he’s buoyed by strong work in the receiving game (his 12 targets are triple the looks of any other back on the squad). But he’s still tough to trust in fantasy lineups, even at only the 44th-highest salary among running backs this week. At his price, Swift is considered a value based on Awesemo’s weekly projections.

Prediction: Saints 31, Lions 21

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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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