We published the season's final issue of Fantasy Index Weekly last week. But there are still four teams playing, and fantasy playoff leagues that will require teams to start players in those games. So over the rest of this week, we'll take a look at the final four teams, and their fantasy prospects. First up, the road team in the NFC game, the Los Angeles Rams.
OVERVIEW: The Rams are 3.5-point underdogs, with the over-under of 57 suggesting a 30-27 game. These teams faced each other in New Orleans back in Week 9, and the game was even higher scoring, a 45-35 Saints win. But that type of game looks unlikely. The Rams were playing at a higher level then, averaging 35 points in their first 11 games. In their last six, they've averaged only 28. New Orleans, meanwhile, has been playing much better on defense. In its first eight (including the Rams game), this defense allowed 28 points per game. In its last eight (setting aside a meaningless Week 17 game), New Orleans has allowed just 15 points per game. Only Pittsburgh made it up over 20. The Rams just scored 30 against a better Dallas defense, but that was at home. With this game on the road, and based on how these teams have played for the past half season, it looks far more likely that the Rams finish in the mid-20s this time around.
QUARTERBACK: Jared Goff should be slotted 4th among the quarterbacks playing this weekend. He's the least accomplished of the four (two have won Super Bowls, while the third just threw 50 TDs and should be a shoo-in MVP), of course, but more importantly, he's been playing the worst. Looking at his past six games, you might wonder how exactly the Rams made it to this game at all.
|GOFF'S LAST SIX GAMES|
It's unfair, of course, to only look at Goff's last six games. In his first 11, he averaged 322 passing yards, and had 27 TDs -- nearly 2.5 per game. Half of his last six games were against good or great defenses (Bears, Cardinals, Cowboys), and the Rams won four of those games. But the bottom line is that he either struggled or took a back seat to the ground game in virtually all of those games. That includes last week playoff win, where he threw for just 186 yards, with no touchdowns.
Now the Rams are at New Orleans, and almost certainly Goff will be required to do more. The Saints ranked 2nd in run defense during the season, and allowed only 49 yards last week, but were 31st against the pass, allowing 289 yards per game. Goff also put up big numbers in the Week 9 game (after the Rams fell way behind), throwing for 391 yards and 3 TDs. But the Saints have got things dialed in since then. In their last nine, only Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger reached 270 yards against New Orleans. Only Roethlisberger threw more than 2 TDs -- 13 total TD passes in the last nine against the Saints defense. The Eagles put together a couple of good drives early on Sunday, but then the Saints shut them down.
Many will notice that Goff statistically has one of the weekend's two most favorable matchups (based on the season-long numbers), but only slightly -- all four defenses are vulnerable to the pass. None ranked higher than 19th in yards allowed, and all four gave up 29-31 TD passes. Of the teams still playing, only Kansas City had a better pass rush during the season than New Orleans (49 sacks). We're putting Goff down for 270 yards and 1-2 TDs, with about an even chance of only 1. He's not a running threat. Only the threat of poor weather in Kansas City (it will definitely be cold) gives Goff a shot of perhaps out-performing one of the AFC quarterbacks.
RUNNING BACK: The Saints ranked 2nd in run defense during the season, although the Rams will almost certainly lead with the ground game anyway. Dallas ranked 5th in that regard, but Todd Gurley (115 yards, TD) and C.J. Anderson (123, 2) put up huge numbers last week anyway. This one's on the road, and when the Rams played here during the season, Gurley rushed for just 68 yards, with 1 TD. But he averaged 5.2 per attempt; the game was a track meet where the Rams fell behind 35-14 and abandoned the run. Ultimately, we're thinking the Rams have a tougher time this week than last, on the road against a superior run defense. But they're running it awfully well right now -- 269, 155 and 273 rushing yards, with 7 TDs in their last three -- so unrealistic to think New Orleans shuts them down as well as they have a lot of opponents (which aren't as good running it). The Saints played 10 of 17 games against teams ranked outside the top 20 in rushing offense. New Orleans just lost their big defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins, and he’s one of their key run defenders – should soften them some between the tackles.
It's a one-two punch of Gurley and Anderson now. Gurley's the more talented player and more likely to be involved in the passing game, but Anderson might get a similar number of carries. Anderson was the more effective of the two against Dallas, consistently knocking people backwards; he didn’t play quite as much but got 7 more carries. The Rams were playing from ahead for a lot of that one (up 23-7 in the third quarter), and that's less likely to be the case this week. Anderson isn’t much of a pass catcher, so if Los Angeles gets into a position where it has to pass a lot more, than Gurley will be out there for the vast majority of down. On our board, we’re figuring for now that Gurley will get about twice as many touches. The Saints allowed 12 rushing scores during the season, and 5 TD receptions by running backs (then-backup Malcolm Brown caught one in the Week 9 meeting). Gurley definitely the better bet, but Anderson also has a value (three of the four teams still playing should have multiple viable running backs).
WIDE RECEIVER: The Rams will probably have the lowest passing numbers of the weekend, which filters down to the receivers. On behalf of those players, the Rams don't send a lot of passes to their tight ends, and they don't flood the field with lots of different wideouts. Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds should account for the vast majority of the production – no other wideout played more than 2 snaps against Dallas, and that trio caught 11 of Goff’s 15 completions. Once Cooper Kupp landed on IR, Woods averaged 65 yards per game, with 4 TDs, while Cooks was a step back at 58 and 2. Reynolds averaged 51 yards in those same six games, with 4 TDs. Cooks started out with the Saints, of course, and he was also the best of these players in the earlier meeting (6 for 114 with a touchdown). Woods and Kupp each caught 5 balls for 71-89 yards that day. Goff probably won’t throw for 391 yards again, but those are the percentages to look for from these players.
With touchdowns, two-thirds of the 30 scoring passes against the Saints went to wide receivers (20), but only slightly over half of the 32 touchdowns the Rams threw went to the position (18). None of the team’s wideouts caught more than 6; Kupp was the best scorer, with 6 TDs in basically seven games. If Goff makes it up to 2 TDs (and we’re not sure he will), probably no more than 1 will go to one of these wideouts.
TIGHT END: Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett will split time, and probably neither will make a big impact. During the season, each averaged 18-20 yards, with 3 TDs for Everett and 2 for Higbee. Four of their scores came in a two-game stretch against Seattle and Kansas City. Both went over 40 yards in the previous game in New Orleans, at least. They combined for only 2 catches (both by Higbee) at Dallas. The Saints allowed 5 TDs to tight ends, 4 of which came in the last four weeks of the season. But those were teams (Bucs and Panthers) that throw to the position more often. Zach Ertz (5 for 50) had a modest game by his standards last week.
KICKER: Greg Zuerlein had a big year, but not a great matchup for him. The Saints allowed a league-low 17 field goals and 5.2 kicking points per game during the season. None last week against Philadelphia, either. It will be difficult for the Rams to settle for field goals in this matchup.
DEFENSE: The Rams ranked in the top 5 in both interceptions (18) and fumble recoveries (12) during the season. They were 15th in sacks (41). But they’ll be hard-pressed to get much of anything off Drew Brees. He was sacked only 17 times and turned it over 6 times (5 interceptions, 1 lost fumble). The Rams recovered a fumble in the earlier meeting, but didn’t have any sacks or interceptions in that one. JoJo Natson had a long punt return during the season but otherwise hasn’t been a difference-maker (the only defensive score against the Saints all season was way back in Week 1).
Player projections are below; at the end of the week, after all four teams have been analyzed, we'll see how the rankings shake out.
|LOS ANGELES PLAYER PROJECTIONS|