Thursday night NFL lineup submissions are different from any other type of DFS lineup submission for several reasons. First, we don't have complete information on the other games that will play over the weekend. Who is injured and who is starting are often just good estimates at this point. This uncertainty makes the players from the Thursday night game more appealing than those on Sunday. But since the Thursday night game is nationally televised and is the only game on the players in this game tend to be more highly owned than we would expect given their expected output.
These high ownership levels cause a ripple effect in how we should attack the players in this game. When creating GPP lineups it is much more difficult to include these players in our lineups. This is because you should be taking a contrarian approach to GPPs and their high ownership levels don't allow you to do so. I wrote about why this is important in this article last year.
But if the players are owned more than what we would typically think we should break ties in favor of the highly owned players in cash games. This is because if the highly owned player has a big game you find yourself in a deficit right off the bat and could single handedly cost your lineup a win that week.
Based on these two key factors I will tend to recommend players from the Thursday night game for cash games more often than I will for GPPs which is in direct opposition of our normal strategy of diversifying in our GPPs. Because of these complexities the Thursday night game deserves a lot of our attention so each week I will be breaking the game down in detail. See this article for definitions of all DFS terms.
As we have Thursday only slates available this week I am going to focus on that slate instead of just the Thursday night game and walk you through my process of building a GPP team for this slate. As always the start of my lineup building process looks at figuring how the game scripts of the games may go and then building lineups from there.
Eagles at Lions
This Thursday we get a triple header and it actually brings some pretty exciting games. The first game of the day opens with the Eagles traveling to Detroit to take on the Lions. The lions have won two straight on the heels of great defensive performances and find themselves as small favorites over the Eagles. I am not ready to buy into the Lions just yet as they still have Jim Caldwell as their coach. But I am just as worried about the defense that Chip Kelly is running these days. I see the Lions winning this game 28-20 and could see the game going even higher than this. I am going to start my lineup by using a stack from this game as you will see below.
Panthers at Cowboys
The afternoon game pits the Cowboys against the Panthers and is the least interesting of the three games from a fantasy perspective. That is not what we would have been thinking before the season. But the Cowboys have slowed down the pace of the games drastically and the Panthers have one of the best defenses in the league. The odds makers see this as a Cowboys win in a relatively high scoring game for the week at 46 total points. I am not sure I see the game getting to that score and see the Panthers winning 17-10.
Bears and Packers
The Thursday night matchup should be the least competitive game of the week. The Packers have struggled the last few weeks but finally seemed to have righted the ship a bit last week with a win over the Vikings. But the Packers aren't the same dominating team we are used to seeing. Injuries have rattled their season and while they are likely to make the playoffs their hopes aren't nearly as high as they were in the preseason. Luckily for the Packers the Bears are in even worse shape and have had injuries to nearly all of their core skill positions. This week is no different with the one player that had yet to be out, Martellus Bennett, missing the game. I agree with the odds makers here and see the Packers winning this one big time 30-14.
The quarterbacks on this slate come down to Aaron Rodgers ($9,200) and Matthew Stafford ($7,200). Both quarterbacks have had fairly disappointing season and might be a bit under the radar compared to Cam Newton ($8,900) who is having a great season and is coming off a four TD game last week. There are several problems with Newton this week. First of all, his great performance has brought his price up. Secondly, there aren't great value plays on the small slate. Finally, the Cowboys are slowing the pace so far that they have only allowed 600 offensive plays to their opponents which is significantly below the league average of 646 through the first four games.
When it comes to picking between Stafford and Rodgers I like the idea of going with Stafford for those same cash savings. As you will see shortly it gives you the opportunity to play some of the potential game scripts I outlined above more accurately. I also think there is a higher risk that the Lions are going to have to keep up with Eagles as compared to the Packers who I see running a good chunk of the second half.
One of the main reasons why I like the idea of going with Stafford is the ability to pair him with some of the best wide receiver values on the board in Calvin Johnson ($8,200) and Golden Tate ($6,300). By stacking both of those with Stafford you set your team up for a deadly attack. The main reason the Eagles defense is so poor is the pace that they continue to play at as they have given their opponents 694 offensive plays this year. If we compare that to the 600 that we talked about with the Cowboys and we see the Eagles defense has essentially played an extra game and a half of snaps. In this case the benefit goes to the Lions receivers and I am willing to take a stance and go all in on them.
Finishing out your wide receivers there are a couple of routes to go. My favorites are Randall Cobb ($7,400), James Jones ($5,800), Dez Bryant ($8,300), and Jordan Matthews ($6,000). I like filling this spot last because there are only so many pieces to the puzzle that makes it work out perfectly since it is a small slate. My two favorite options are typically Cobb and Matthews. Matthews is nice because he allows you the opportunity to complete the game stack. If the Lions blow up like our super stack suggests then it is likely that the Eagles will have to pass a lot to keep the game competitive which would be a big boost for Matthews even if his season has been relatively disappointing. On the other hand both Cobb and Bryant are simply better players and Cobb fits my puzzle a lot better than Matthews. As such I typically end up leaning towards Cobb to fill this hole.
The tight end position is the easiest of all. Plug in Greg Olsen ($6,400) and move on. If you are looking for a position to be contrarian this could be it as Olsen will be super highly owned but I am likely to just plug in Olsen and try to beat the competition in other positions.
Running backs are very game-flow dependent. As such I think Darren McFadden ($8,100) represents the best value on the board as I expect the Cowboys to try to control the clock in order to pull out the win against the tough Panthers defense. Additionally, McFadden is the true work horse back on this slate whereas the rest of the backs have some risk around their carries or at least their goal-line carries. I am not plugging McFadden into all my lineups but he is going to be my lead back in this process.
When deciding between the rest of the backs it is a tough decision between DeMarco Murray ($7,700), Eddie Lacy ($6,500), and Jonathan Stewart ($7,100). Here I really prefer splitting my lineups up a bit. I am going to stay away from Murray for the most part as he has a game script clash with my Stafford stack. If the Lions build their lead as my stack would suggest it is likely that Murray doesn't see many carries in the second half as the Eagles are playing from behind.
There are two options you can take to decide the last spot. First of all, if you go with Cobb or James Jones as one of your receivers you can go with Stewart and hope to hit on all the TD or if you go with some of the other wide receivers you could go with Lacy.
Alternatively, you can simply go with my favorite choice which is Lacy. Lacy should have a favorable game script and pound the rock in the second half. This lead could also have already been built by touchdowns scored by Lacy himself or Cobb so I don't really see a big issue with using both Cobb and Lacy together. Additionally, I worry about the upside of Stewart as Newton tends to take a lot of the goal-line carries for himself.
Small slates like this Thanksgiving give you a fun way to practice building GPP lineups and really thinking through specific game scripts as you are very likely to need to call at least one of the three game scripts right on target.