Thursday Night Football
New Orleans @ Dallas
Team Totals: 30.5, Cowboys 22.5
Winners of three straight and now sitting atop the NFC East, 6-5 Dallas returns from its Thanksgiving victory over Washington to face one of the NFL’s most-underrated defenses. First-round RE Marcus Davenport (toe) returned in Week 12 to supplement a Saints team that has allowed 23 points or fewer in seven of its last eight games with the sole Week 9 exception of its 45-35 shootout win over the Rams. In Weeks 10-12, New Orleans’ pass rush caught fire to generate 13 combined sacks and 26 QB hits, concerning for Dak Prescott because the Cowboys’ offensive-line weakness is pass protection, and LT Tyron Smith (stingers) appears likely to miss his second straight game. Fill-in LT Cameron Fleming is a better run blocker than pass protector. Still a top-ten fantasy quarterback in four of his last six starts, Prescott’s Week 13 streamer appeal is tied to this game’s high-scoring potential inside JerryWorld with Dallas’ passing offense coming alive since the Amari Cooper trade. Dak has also rushed for a touchdown in five of his last six games. … For better or worse, Dak may have to do more heavylifting than usual due to New Orleans’ consistent stymieing of running games, holding nine of its last ten opponents below 100 rushing yards and most recently eliminating Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith for a 12/6/0 rushing line on Thanksgiving. Ezekiel Elliott is a fade-matchup, bet-on-volume-and-talent RB1 play with touch counts of 21 – 25 – 30 – 31 since Dallas’ Week 8 bye, averaging an otherworldly 160.8 yards from scrimmage per game. Zeke has already set career highs in targets (62) and receptions (47) with five games left to play.
Dak’s Weeks 9-12 target distribution: Amari Cooper 32; Elliott 26; Michael Gallup 20; Cole Beasley 14; Geoff Swaim 8; Rod Smith 5; Blake Jarwin and Allen Hurns 4. … Despite top CB Marshon Lattimore’s brilliance, the Saints have been burned for big games by perimeter WRs Mike Evans (7/147/1), Julio Jones twice (11/147/0, 5/96/0), Calvin Ridley twice (7/146/3, 8/93/1), DeSean Jackson (5/146/2), John Brown (7/134/1), Stefon Diggs (10/119/1), Brandin Cooks (6/114/1), Antonio Callaway (3/81/1), Chris Godwin (3/41/1), and John Ross (2/39/1). Prescott has been wildly efficient when throwing to Cooper, completing 22-of-32 targets (69%) for 349 yards (10.9 YPA) and three touchdowns. Cooper put on a Thanksgiving route-running clinic, a trait that can help keep him matchup proof. … Through 11 games as a Cowboy, Gallup has hit pay dirt once and cleared 55 yards once. … Beasley’s box-score results since the Cooper trade are 1/5/0 – 5/51/0 – 4/37/0 – 3/16/0. Beasley’s single-game DFS-slate appeal would be based on the possibility Lattimore prevents Cooper from getting open, funneling targets inside to Beasley against beatable Saints slot CB P.J. Williams. … In Geoff Swaim’s (wrist) Week 12 absence, Jarwin (25) ran the most routes among Cowboys tight ends with rookie Dalton Schultz (10) a distant second and Rico Gathers (3) third. The Saints allow the NFL’s third-fewest yards per game to tight ends (37.2).
Dueling stout run defenses enhance this game’s shootout potential by incentivizing both teams to lean on the pass. Dallas has held enemy backs to 3.46 yards per carry and just seven all-purpose touchdowns in 11 games, while Drew Brees has shown a safe floor with top-15 fantasy results in 9-of-11 starts. From a personnel standpoint with MLB Sean Lee (hamstring) sidelined, Dallas’ pass-defense strength is the perimeter play of plus-sized RCB Byron Jones and LCB Chidobe Awuzie, yet the Saints are built to attack the middle of the field with versatile running backs and Michael Thomas, who is targeted heavily in the slot. … The Cowboys allow 2.24 more yards per pass attempt with Lee off the field, mainly because it forces WLB Jaylon Smith to play in space and less downhill and/or as an edge rusher. Passes to Alvin Kamara would be the Saints’ most-obvious means of exploiting this mismatch. Kamara disappointingly drew just one target on Thanksgiving because Brees only threw 22 passes in a game where New Orleans scored quickly on short drives and beat Atlanta with its defense, sacking Matt Ryan six times and forcing four turnovers. … Mark Ingram’s touch counts are 14 – 16 – 10 – 16 – 16 – 13 since the Saints’ Week 5 bye, saving his big games for blowout wins and turning in RB2/flex value otherwise. Although Thursday night’s matchup and projected game script set up better for Kamara, Ingram remains a playable RB2 with a dependable role in the Saints’ high-octane attack.
Brees’ post-bye target distribution: Michael Thomas 48; Tre’Quan Smith 26; Kamara 22; Ben Watson 14; Ingram 12; Dan Arnold 15; Josh Hill 8; Keith Kirkwood 10; Austin Carr 6. … Although Thomas runs 67% of his routes outside, Brees targets him on an NFC-high 30% of his slot routes. Thomas ranks seventh in the NFL in yards gained in the slot (440) and leads the entire league in yards per route run in the slot (3.73). Victimized on Thanksgiving by Brees’ low passing volume, Thomas shouldn’t struggle to bounce back against Dallas’ soft slot coverage, where Golden Tate (8/132/2), Nelson Agholor (5/83/0), Tyler Lockett (4/77/1), Keke Coutee (6/51/1), Dede Westbrook (3/38/1), and Trey Quinn (5/26/1) have all produced above expectation. … This game doesn’t set up nearly as well for perimeter threat Smith, who missed Thanksgiving with a foot injury and may not yet be 100%. The Cowboys have allowed the NFL’s third-fewest completions of 20-plus yards (29). In Smith’s Week 12 absence, Kirkwood’s 17 routes run ranked second to Thomas’ 25 among Saints wide receivers. Tommylee Lewis (14) was No. 3 and Carr was No. 4 (8). … New Orleans’ tight end position remained a three-man rotation on Thanksgiving with Arnold running 11 pass routes, and Watson and Hill running 8 apiece. Brandon Marshall has yet to debut with New Orleans, and it’s still conceivable he’ll soon eat into the complementary pass catchers’ usage.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Cowboys 21