The New Orleans Saints will take on the Carolina Panthers this Sunday looking to possibly grab the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a win and some help. But the Saints will have to earn a victory without basically any running backs. It was reported on Friday that Alvin Kamara tested positive for COVID-19, and New Orleans’ other RBs — Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Michael Burton — have been deemed high-risk close contacts. All of them are out for Week 17.
The Saints (11-4) were crowned division champs on Christmas as they took out the Vikings, 52-33. Of course, Kamara was the story of the game, if not the entire weekend. He became the player in NFL history to score six touchdowns in a game and just the second player to rush for six TDs. His 172 scrimmage yards was the icing on the fantasy cake. Kamara’s nose for the end zone left Drew Brees with 311 scoreless yards. He was also intercepted twice. Emmanuel Sanders operated as the No. 1 wideout with Michael Thomas injured and caught four passes for a team-high 83 receiving yards. Tight end Jared Cook recorded a season-high 82 yards on three catches. The Saints’ seventh touchdown was a one-yard plunge from Taysom Hill.
The Panthers (6-9) went on the road in Week 16 and upset Washington 20-13, keeping the Football Team from celebrating an NFC East title for at least one more week. Running back Mike Davis gained just 28 yards from scrimmage, but that was enough to get him over 1,000 for the season and he scored a one-yard TD. The Panthers’ other offensive touchdown went to WR Robby Anderson, who hauled in a 14-yard score from Teddy Bridgewater in the second quarter. Curtis Samuel was the Panthers’ offensive star as he gained 158 total yards on 12 touches — seven carries, five catches. Anderson and D.J. Moore both saw 10 targets from Bridgewater, but neither man cleared 40 yards. Anderson ended with a 7-39-1 line while Moore disappointed fantasy managers with a 5-37-0 outing. Bridgewater’s 197 passing yards were his fewest in four games. He committed two turnovers to go along with one TD.
Date: Sunday, Jan. 3
Time: 4:25 p.m.
Notable Statistical rankings (Football Outsiders)
Saints: #1 Overall — #7 offense, #3 defense, #6 special teams
Panthers: #18 Overall — #11 offense, #25 defense, #15 special teams
Fantasy football start/sit advice
Ty Montgomery, RB, $4,000
The Saints’ RB room is down to Montgomery and practice-squaders for this game. Taysom Hill will take some carries, too. But the expectation is Montgomery will lead this backfield, for whatever that’s worth. The bright side is he’ll face a Panthers defense that has permitted the seventh-most DraftKings points to RBs. J.D. McKissic tallied 23.2 PPR points against Carolina. In Week 15, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones piled up 27.8 PPR points. If you’re looking for an absolute longshot to use in GPPs, why not?
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, $5,500
The Saints no longer win chiefly because of a high-volume passing attack. It’s for the best as Drew Brees, playing at less than 100 percent, is showing every bit of his 41 years. But with Kamara out, New Orleans may need Brees to chuck it 35-plus times against the Panthers. Sanders is a worthwhile mid-price play who has scored at least 11 DraftKings points in each of the past three weeks. With Kamara, Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith inactive, Sanders is likely to be Brees’ top target.
Curtis Samuel, WR, $5,300
Samuel was the Panthers’ leading rusher (52 yards) and receiver (106 yards) in Week 16. He set season-highs in each category. This is far from the easiest matchup for the dual-threat talent, but he recorded 17.3 DraftKings points against the Saints in Week 7. It hasn’t been consistent, but Samuel has averaged 17.6 DraftKings points since that game. He should see some more carries this week with Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis likely inactive.
Rodney Smith, RB, $4,000
Here’s another basement-salary candidate at running back. Smith, a 24-year-old rookie, has rushed 31 times across six games. He has gained 116 yards on the ground this year and has caught seven passes over the past three weeks. He is in line to see the bulk of the workload in this backfield since Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis won’t play. It’s not an easy matchup on paper — the Saints have given up the second-fewest fantasy points to RBs — but New Orleans has been victimized for five rushing touchdowns by the position over its past three games. Smith, like Montgomery, is worth considering in daily fantasy if for no other reasons than his price and his assumed opportunity.