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 definitions of all DFS terms.
Thursday night game script
This week the Baltimore Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. The Ravens are currently a three-point favorite with a game total set at 43.5 points. In case you missed it the Ravens are favored in this game, despite having zero wins, because Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a sprained MCL and bone bruise on his knee last week. If I have learned anything about injuries over the last few years it's that injuries to quarterbacks have huge ripple effects throughout the team. This isn’t the case with many other positions on the field. This week it will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh adapts -- after the injury last week, the Steelers had trouble moving the ball. Michael Vick ($6,700) completed five of his six attempts for 38 yards and rushed twice for -2 yards.
Vick is getting older and slower but the Steelers still have two big playmakers in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. In Bell’s first game back from injury he totaled 132 yards with 62 coming on the ground and 70 through the air. Antonio Brown wasn’t hurt upon Bell’s return and Roethlisberger’s injury as he still totaled 108 yards on 11 receptions. These offensive weapons and the Ravens porous defense that is surrendering 28 points and 375 yards per game should allow the Steelers to stay close in an interdivision game at home. I think the Ravens come out on top in a must win game but it will be fun to watch.
From a DFS perspective, this game would have been a lot more interesting if Roethlisberger had been playing rather than Vick. The Steelers are one of my favorite teams to load up on, but even with Vick they have some appeal to me. That said Vick himself isn’t very enticing to me. He should be able to take advantage of the passing threats he has in Bell and Brown, but there are a couple of big strikes against him. First of all, he was never a great precision passer, which is what a lot of Brown’s game relies on. He is also not nearly as quick as he once was. So in years' past when a play broke down you could count on Vick racking up yards on the ground he isn’t going to be so successful in doing so this week. Finally, even if you wanted to play him in a GPP his ownership levels are expected to be too high to warrant consideration. Overall, he is a pretty easy fade to me.
Even if Vick isn’t a play for me, I am still going to consider Antonio Brown ($8,900). He isn’t quite the play that I would normally have him at in this game, he’s a borderline cash game play for me, but Brown is in a league of his own in getting separation from his defender. Other than Rob Gronkowski there isn’t another player in the game that I am more in awe of each week than Brown. If Vick can be semi accurate with his throws don’t be surprised to see Brown continue his string of games over five catches and 50 yards. But also don’t be surprised if that steak comes to an end. Darrius Heyward-Bey ($5,100), Markus Wheaton ($5,000), and Heath Miller ($5,500) are off limits to me.
On the other side of the ball Joe Flacco ($8,000) also takes a hit with Roethlisberger’s injury as he is free to go into a more conservative passing attack. Flacco is at his best when he is trying to keep up with the other team’s high scoring offense or mounting a comeback. If the game is a bit softer he tends to play down to the competition. You won’t see Flacco in any of my lineups this week.
The Raven you may see is the ageless wonder Steve Smith ($7,300). Coming off an amazing 17-target, 13-catch game that netted him 186 yards. So far this season Smith has been targeted on 40 of Flacco’s pass attempts with the next-highest wide receiver/tight end all the down at 13 by Crockett Gilmore ($5,300). With a performance that has been so dominating this year a fair question is will he be able to keep it up? The most likely answer over the long run is no but given the lack of other targets and how willing Flacco is to go to Smith right now I wouldn’t take a risk on it this week, especially as his ownership rates will be really high. Play Smith confidently as a cash game play and if you feel worrisome about his chances fade him in your GPPs as he will likely be over owned. As for the rest of the Ravens passing game. Move on to someone else.
It was great to see Le’Veon Bell ($8,900) back into the mix last week after missing the first two weeks of the season to suspension. Historically, adding a running quarterback to your offense opens up holes for your running game as the defense will have to spy the quarterback more closely. But, as mentioned, Vick isn’t the same running quarterback he used to be. That said Bell doesn’t need a huge hole to run through he is just that good. The Steelers know it as well giving Bell nearly all the carries in his first gaem back. The Ravens are stingy to run on, but so are the Rams and look how that turned out. Bell will also be highly owned so plug him into your cash games and look for some savings elsewhere. No need to worry about DeAngelo Williams ($6,000) as he quickly took a back seat to Bell, netting only two yards on a single carry despite his good start to the season.
When the Ravens have the ball, Justin Forsett ($6,700) will continue to get the ball, but he is going to have a tough time against the Steelers run defense who have allowed only 262 yards on the ground all season. With other Lorenzo Taliaferro ($5,200) stealing carries it’s going to be tough for Forsett to reach value. I am off Forsett for this game.
Defense and special teams
You can consider the Ravens ($4,300) defense if you think Vick will simply implode this week but I don’t really see a need to do so with some of the other defenses that will be available later in the week.