This article is part of our Game Spotlight series.
Tampa Bay (5-7) vs. New Orleans (10-2), 1:00
Open: 58 O/U, NO -7.5
Live: 54.5 O/U, NO -9.5
Nothing can be simple. What should have been a free-space game on a slate otherwise littered with potentially destabilizing oddities becomes complicated due to weather, which while not prohibitively bad could still prove bad enough to chop away at whatever edge this game might otherwise offer. The wind forecast has improved a bit as of Saturday, though – the site NFLWeather.com projects 10-to-12 MPH winds for the first three quarters before dropping even lower toward the end of the game, whereas even as of Friday I believe the wind was expected to be more in the 15-to-20 MPH range. Of course, these improved forecasts could easily get wiped out by the time kickoff arrives, so the situation still remains fluid. There is a projected "light rain" chance at around 50 percent otherwise.
Even if the weather turns a bit for the worse, the matchup should be fine for a New Orleans offense that functions on a foundation of short and intermediate passing. Wind or rain would be bad for deep threat Tre'quan Smith, but it would probably take truly bad weather to disrupt the role of Michael Thomas, whose average depth of target of 8.0 yards makes it easy for Drew Brees to be on target. Even after two slow weeks, Thomas still boasts an absurd catch rate of 86.7. Perhaps there is some more regression awaiting that figure, but it's hard to see why it'd happen in this game specifically. Thomas caught 16-of-17 targets for 180 yards and a touchdown against Tampa in Week 1. I don't think you need to feel tempted by Keith Kirkwood on a full slate, but he's the third receiver in this offense right now and has touchdowns in consecutive weeks, as well as 11 targets over the last three (Smith missed one of those, however). Dan Arnold may be the most explosive tight end option for the Saints, but he's only playing around 15 snaps right now as Ben Watson logs around 20 and blocker Josh Hill does about 30-45.
Alvin Kamara will probably be a chalky option in cash games and tournaments both, especially at $8100 on DraftKings. The reasoning is sound – Kamara is the clear lead back for New Orleans, including around the goal line, and the Tampa defense has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs, including 4.7 yards per carry and 7.4 yards per target. So long as the Saints control the script of the game, and particularly if the weather is deterring the downfield passing game, then there could be room for Kamara and Mark Ingram both to provide useful DFS returns. It's been two slow weeks for Ingram with just 94 yards and no touchdowns from scrimmage, but he tends to trend upward the less competitive the opponent.
Peyton Barber has strengthened his hold of the lead rushing role for Tampa Bay, and if the weather is problematic then it might leave the Buccaneers more dependent on him than usual. That would not necessarily be a good thing, however. Although he has 52 carries over and a touchdown in three consecutive games, Barber is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry on the year, and the Saints run defense is one of the toughest. They're allowing only 3.2 yards per carry to running backs, and although it doesn't matter much since Barber rarely contributes as a pass catcher, only 6.3 yards per target. In Week 1 he ran for 69 yards on 19 carries against New Orleans. Jacquizz Rodgers should see more than 20 snaps in this game, but there's just not much reason to think he can put a dent in the Saints defense.
The fate of this game probably depends on Jameis Winston more than anyone else. If he plays badly, the Saints can run out the clock early and generally divert usage from Kamara/Thomas and toward Ingram while smothering Brees' volume. It would of course also threaten to tank the production of Winston's pass catchers, also. If Winston plays well, though, we already saw Mike Evans beat Marshon Lattimore once this year, Chris Godwin would project for an advantage over Eli Apple, and Adam Humphries would project well against New Orleans' relatively vulnerable slot coverage. It would also provoke a feedback loop where the Saints play with more urgency, upping the tempo and from-scrimmage production. Winston is more of an underneath and intermediate quarterback, so the absence of DeSean Jackson (thumb) isn't a negative, and if the weather remains manageable his own tendencies should project fine. He can still implode anyway, but at least it should be for no foreseeable reason if he does. Cameron Brate has a tough matchup with a Saints defense allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends, allowing just one touchdown all year and barely over six yards per target at a 60.6 percent completion rate.
Kansas City (10-2) vs. Baltimore (7-5), 1:00
Open: 52.5 O/U, KC -8.5
Live: 51 O/U, KC -6.5
The Ravens say they're going with Lamar Jackson as starter, even with Joe Flacco back from his hip injury. I don't know whether to trust that. Even if we can trust John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg to stick with Jackson for every snap, they might still have an unstated short leash for the rookie in this road matchup with playoff implications. It would be an understandable policy, if so – Jackson has led Baltimore to a 3-0 record as starter but against three bad defenses and two at home – so it wouldn't be surprising if the stage is a bit too big for the 21-year-old rookie at Arrowhead, one of the toughest road environments. Jackson's upside would be enormous if he both gets all the snaps and keeps his composure. Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs offense provoke extreme usage for opposing quarterbacks, and with a certain amount of rushing usage Jackson becomes a threat to run wild. People unfamiliar with Jackson might not believe it, but if you keep giving him 15-plus carries per game, eventually 200 yards will happen. I wish Baltimore would scale back his rushing usage to be honest, or at least call more pass plays relative to his rushing usage, but in the meantime there's a chance that the most dangerous running quarterback ever will get a spike in his rushing opportunities against a Chiefs defense that allows the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. The risk is substantial, maybe bigger than any other quarterback on the slate, but the same is true of the upside. If Jackson keeps the chains moving, linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland are going to get tied in knots. Because I'm impulsive I'll probably need to make a couple tournament lineups with Jackson.
Regardless of whether it's Jackson or Flacco on the field, Gus Edwards projects for a strong claim of whatever rushing usage there is to go around in the Baltimore backfield. He has 305 yards and a touchdown on 61 carries over the last three weeks, and the Chiefs are otherwise not good at playing the run, conceding an embarrassing 5.2 yards per carry to running backs. If the script remains friendly for the running game, there's reason to believe Edwards can make the Chiefs pay for it. The problem is the script could very easily turn against Edwards, because the Ravens are significant road underdogs and Edwards does nothing as a pass catcher, seeing not a single target over his three-week reign. Kenneth Dixon's introduction to the offense makes Edwards' margin of error significantly thinner yet. If the script turns against Edwards it means it turns in the favor of Ty Montgomery, whose pass-catching role withstood Dixon's return last week, leading the Ravens with seven targets that resulted in five catches for 42 yards. Those Chiefs linebackers cannot run with him one bit, so I think Montgomery is a totally reasonable GPP punt, especially in DraftKings' PPR scoring.
Things don't look good for the Baltimore receivers with Jackson in the lineup. He simply isn't developed as a passer at this point, and it's best to presume a poor catch rate and per-target figure for his wideouts as a result. Michael Crabtree is the biggest name of the group but actually played the fewest snaps last week (35) while Willie Snead (66) led the way ahead of Chris Moore (51) and John Brown (43). One or more could do something useful, but both the opportunity and efficiency axes are highly concerning. Montgomery and tight end Mark Andrews may continue to be the leading pass catchers in this offense thanks to Montgomery's proximity and Andrews' big-target frame.
With the Chiefs things are complicated by the strength of the Baltimore defense, the release of Kareem Hunt, and absence of Sammy Watkins (foot). The firepower is lesser than what it was a few weeks ago, no doubt, and it's intimidating to face the same team that held Matt Ryan to 131 yards the week prior. The Ravens are allowing just 6.1 yards per pass for the year.
However. Mahomes goes primarily through Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Intimidating as the Ravens are, and innovative as their scheming might be, I don't see why those two players specifically would struggle against the Ravens' personnel. I think the Ravens' run-heavy tendencies under Jackson might deprive the Kansas City offense of usage to the point that it harms Mahomes' volume, but I think that would turn out to be more of a problem for Chris Conley and Spencer Ware than it would Hill and Kelce. Hill gets plenty of slot snaps, where he can burn Tavon Young, and if he's running outside I think Hill is good at losing the upright corners on Baltimore, a collection of players designed to stop 6-foot-3 conventional WR1s, not small, impossibly fast wideouts like Hill.
I think Spencer Ware will be touchdown-dependent in this setting, but anytime you have a lead runner in an offense this good you pretty much have to consider them a top-12ish option. Maybe he doesn't do much from scrimmage, but maybe both Jackson and Flacco implode and Kansas City runs it up with tee-off touchdown runs. Who knows. I can't argue against someone selecting the Chiefs' starting running back.
Oakland (2-10) vs. Pittsburgh (7-4-1)
Open: 51.5 O/U, PIT -11
Live: 51.5 O/U, PIT -10
I'm going to be brief with the Raiders, if that's okay. Derek Carr is not good, and he threatens to tank what's otherwise a good matchup for Jared Cook against a Steelers defense allowing just under eight yards per target to tight ends. Jordy Nelson and Marcell Ateman are not imposing outside, but one of them could do something if they get a fly route against Artie Burns. Seth Roberts is the slot receiver, if you're into that. The pass rush figures to be a problem for Carr, in any case.
Doug Martin projects poorly as the running specialist in a heavy underdog setting. Jalen Richard, therefore, could be quite busy. The shifty and explosive third-year back doesn't project for more than maybe six carries, but he should project for at least six targets as the Raiders try to slow the fierce Pittsburgh pass rush. I think he's a justifiable tournament play in PPR scoring, though I'll be staying away from all Raiders.
The Steelers side is interesting if only for the matchup against a Raiders defense that's almost certainly bad enough to offset Ben Roethlisberger's problematic road splits. I want a lot of tournament shares of Antonio Brown against this secondary, and Juju Smith-Schuster is a spectacular play, too. I have a suspicion that the ground game might not be there up to Pittsburgh's usual standards, and if so that would put Brown and JSS in position to see spiked usage in one of the most favorable settings possible.
Even though I'm concerned about the rushing output for the Steelers, that's not to say that I consider Jaylen Samuels bad chalk this week. Particularly at his backup-level prices, Samuels is an excellent play this week in cash games or tournaments both. My specific concern with him would be that he might not be that productive on the ground, because he just isn't as developed as most running backs in the NFL. Samuels split his college time between running back, receiver, and tight end, finishing his career with just 182 carries. But even if Samuels stalls a bit as a runner, his chances of scoring on the ground are good all the same, and as a pass catcher he's profoundly dangerous. Samuels isn't really a big-play threat, but he's just athletic enough to dice up the coverage for steady gains. Even if Stevan Ridley sees rush attempts to relieve Samuels at times, I don't see a reason to chase him with other cheap runners on the slate.
I think I prefer San Francisco's Jeff Wilson over Samuels when it comes to cheap running back plays this week. I like them both and intend to get shares of both, but Wilson played running back for his four years at North Texas, you know? Alfred Morris has been a scratch in recent weeks, so I don't consider him a threat to Wilson beyond the same carry poaching Samuels might have to tolerate with Ridley. Wilson should have easier access to carries all game, and his pass-catching projection is no worse than Samuels' after catching eight of nine targets for 73 yards against Seattle last week.