NFL Conference Championship Fantasy WR Breakdown: Michael Thomas Is a Postseason Production Machine
Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13).
We are just two games away from the Super Bowl, and this weekend the four best teams in football will compete to see who will advance to the big game.
Although the slate consists of only two contests, they both seem likely to excite. The Saints-Rams game kicks off on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET; Chiefs-Patriots, 6:40 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at the wide receiver who stands out the most in the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Michael Thomas: New Orleans Saints (-3.0) vs. Los Angeles Rams, 56.5 Over/Under
- DraftKings: $8,200
- FanDuel: $8,800
UPDATE (Jan. 20): Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (calf) and tight end Ben Watson (illness) are out.
Last week, one of my favorite NFL props was Thomas at +800 to lead the slate in receiving yards. With 171 yards on 16 targets, he didn’t disappoint. On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we talked about Thomas as the slate’s top option, and it’s not hard to see why we’re enthusiastic.
With 321 receptions, Thomas is the No. 1 receiver in league history through his first three seasons. Even though this season he was 11th in targets with 147, he finished first in receptions with 125 thanks to his position-best 85% catch rate. Unsurprisingly, Thomas led all players this season with six games of 10-plus receptions.
By our numbers, the Saints are undervalued in this game, which has one of the highest postseason over/unders of all time.
With 1,405 yards receiving, 1,135 air yards and 470 yards after the catch, Thomas is the primary playmaker in the passing game, and the Saints could air it out this week in a shootout. This is a rematch of the epic Week 9 contest that saw 80 total points, and rematches between non-divisional opponents have trended to the over.
Lots of points could be scored in New Orleans. It’s not for nothing that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is called the Coors Field of fantasy football: It’s the NFL’s most fantasy-friendly venue: The Superdome has an A-graded 59-42-2 over/under record with Drew Brees at quarterback, good for a 14.2% return on investment for over bettors since 2006, when Brees joined the Saints (per Bet Labs).
On top of that, over the past 16 seasons, domed postseason games have a 28-9 over/under record (for comparison: Outdoor postseason games are 53-70-4).
The Saints have a slate-high implied Vegas total of 30 points: They have a real chance to finish the week as the highest-scoring team on the slate, given that they scored 45 points against the Rams earlier this season. And in the playoffs, home favorite wide receivers tend to outperform expectations.
But in general it probably doesn’t matter too much to Thomas where he plays: He has been a fairly splits-agnostic player throughout his career.
- Home: 14.8 FanDuel points, 61.5% Consistency Rating
- Away: 14.6 FanDuel points, 65.2% Consistency Rating
Regardless of where he plays, Thomas has been productive and consistent on a salary-adjusted basis, and that’s likely to be the case this week: He leads all wide receivers in our Models with his median and ceiling projections, and he’s the top receiver for the No. 1 team in The Action Network NFL Power Rankings.
But Thomas does carry some concerns with him. Referee Bill Vinovich has a 37-47-1 over/under record: This could be a high-scoring game, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if it went under, like last week’s 20-14 game. More importantly, Thomas has been far less productive since the return of running back Mark Ingram (suspension) in Week 5.
His Ingram-based splits for the season are telling:
- Without Ingram (Weeks 1-4): 19.9 FanDuel points, 11 targets, 10.5 receptions, 111.3 yards receiving and 0.75 touchdowns
- With Ingram (Weeks 5-19): 15.6 FanDuel points, 9.2 targets, 7.3 receptions, 87 yards receiving and 0.54 touchdowns
These splits make sense. In Weeks 1-4, the Saints had the league’s eighth-highest pass rate at 63.2%. Since then, they’ve had fourth-highest run rate at 47.4%. With fewer targets to go around, Thomas has predictably seen lower usage rates and been less productive.
Conference Championship Positional Breakdowns
Be sure to read the other divisional round positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.