Thursday night NFL lineup submissions are different than any other type of DFS lineup submission for several reasons. First of all, we don’t have complete information on the other games that will play over the weekend. Who is injured and who is starting is often just a good estimate at this point. Due to this uncertainty it makes the players from the Thursday night game more appealing than those on Sunday. However, 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.
However, 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 definitioniis of all DFS terms.
This Thursday night brings us a divisional show down between the four-win Chargers and six-win Raiders. The Chargers have been a major disappointment this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The oddsmakers think that trend will continue as they have listed the Raiders as six-point favorites with a very solid game total of 47. This gives the Raiders an implied total of 26.5, which is one of the better team totals on the board. This is especially true for a team that is only averaging 22.8 points for the season.
Last week I mentioned that this is the time of the season that you need to start worrying about which teams will be motivated and what their motivation will be. With both teams out of the playoff hunt there is little motivation for either team. There is a chance that we could see lightly used players targeted heavily, or we could see one team completely tank. Most likely for a Week 16 game this would be the traveling Chargers, which could make their already leaky defense look even worse than it has all season. I like the Raiders to continue the downward trend of the Chargers and win this one going away 31-20
As I mentioned in the intro, the Chargers defense has been atrocious this year, and it has really been from both sides of the ball. In the passing game they are allowing 7.1 yards per pass attempt, which is 10% worse than the league average. This should give Derek Carr ($7,400) a chance to continue his encouraging sophomore season. Carr has thrown two or more touchdowns in all but three games on the season and has failed to reach this total only once since Week 7. That same Week 7 game was against the Chargers, where he torched them for 289 yards and 3 TDs on only 31 pass attempts. Carr isn’t my favorite quarterback this week, but he doesn’t make a bad cash game play. He should certainly be on your GPP radar. Obviously when selecting GPP rosters we have to worry about ownership rates and Thursday night games cause us issues there. This Thursday night being Christmas Eve I think that issue may be magnified. So for the most part I will stay away from Carr, but it is a risky proposition as I could see him putting up great value and be heavily owned.
If Carr is able to put up a lot of points he is likely to get them by going to either rookie sensation Amari Cooper ($7,300) or Michael Crabtree ($6,500), who has had a solid bounce back season. The problem is both receivers are splitting the targets pretty equally as Crabtree is only slightly ahead of Cooper over the last five weeks 46 to 41 and has a similar discrepancy for the year. But Cooper makes the bigger plays and has the higher upside as shown by their yards per catch of which Cooper sits at 15.3 vs 11.2 for Crabtree. If I am picking between the two I would choose Cooper for my GPP rosters.
On the other side of the ball the Chargers will try to keep pace with the Raiders just like they have tried all year long. Trailing more often this season than he has in his career, Phillip Rivers ($7,600) has put up some of the most gaudy fantasy numbers of his career and is averaging over 300 yards per game for the first time. Unfortunately it is taking him a lot more pass attempts to get there as he is only averaging 7.4 yards per attempt, and he has thrown for zero touchdowns in three of his last five games. Of course in the other two games he threw for four and three touchdowns, respectively. Rivers still has the upside for a big gamem and if this becomes a game the Chargers fall behind in they could be flinging it around again. Rivers isn’t as good of a value play as Carr but given their ownership rates I would tend to lean towards Rivers in a GPP.
The big beneficiary to Rivers should be Antonio Gates ($6,200) and the running backs, who I will talk about in a minute. Gates figures to have a huge game as the Raiders have been terrible against the tight end all year long. If you look at Austin Lee’s outstanding normalized strength of schedule, you can see that the Raiders give up about 30% more points than expected to the tight end. With Ladarius Green ($4,800) barely involved anymore at this point in the year Gates should take advantage. Malcom Floyd ($5,500) and Dontrelle Inman ($5,400) aren’t in my game plan for the week.
The Chargers running backs should be the other beneficiaries of the Rivers passing game. Danny Woodhead ($5,900) exploded onto the scene last weekend scoring four touchdowns which nearly doubled his season total and won his owners a lot of money. He did that on only 14 touches for 60 yards. The Raiders have been tough against the run in recent weeks allowing only 283 yards on the ground over the last five weeks. Add in the fact that the Chargers run game has been so poor all year -- averaging only 3.5 yards per attempt -- they may completely abandon the run game. This would likely benefit Woodhead some more as he gets the majority of his touches on catches anyway. But don’t forget that Donald Brown ($4,900) is not bad in the passing game himself. Between the two Woodhead has the most value, but like Carr he will be more heavily owned making Brown an interesting GPP option. If you need the cash savings Woodhead would make for a solid cash game play as his floor should be pretty high.
The Chargers run defense has been even worse than their passing defense, allowing 4.7 yards per attempt -- 15% worse than league average. Throw in the positive expected game script and things quickly fall into place for a favorable Latavius Murray ($6,100) game script. The problem for Murray is that he has really been tanking over the last five games, as he is averaging only 55 yards on 3.0 yards per attempt with two total touchdowns. Even if his yards per carry go up enough in the matchup and he gains some extra carries, I question if he has enough left in the tank to hit GPP value. He is a fairly safe cash game play with a high floor but there are more exciting GPP options this week but he will likely stay off all my teams.