FanDuel: Thursday Night Spotlight

Analyzes the game script for the Thursday night game. Examines factors to consider in setting Thursday night lineups, including injury considerations.

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.

Thursday night game script

There has been a lot going on in Boston since we last saw the Patriots as they picked off Russell Wilson in the end zone to win the Super Bowl. The offseason brought us more articles about Tom Brady’s cell phone than how many touchdown passes he will throw to Rob Gronkowski. Deflategate caused a bit of chaos to the Patriots typical offseason plans. Through the preseason the Patriots were forced to give a lot of snaps to Jimmy Garoppolo because they were unsure of Brady’s status. However, late last week judge Richard Berman decided to vacate Brady’s suspension because of the way the NFL handled the investigation and punishment.

After Brady was reinstated the Patriots were set as 7 point favorites with a total of 52 giving them the highest projected total of the week. This total makes the Patriots offense one of the best on the board despite the ownership concerns we typically have for Thursday night. These ownership rates will probably even be amplified this week given the long layoff since the last NFL game. Top that off with the assumption that the Steelers defense is expected to be one of the worst this year and you have a real dilemma. This makes the decision to play or fade the Patriots one of the biggest of the week.

On the Steelers side of the ball there is a lot going on as well. One reason the Patriots are expected to build a large lead is because the Steelers star running back Leveon Bell and emerging wide receiver Martavis Bryant will miss the game. Without Bell the Steelers will likely be forced to the air early and often. Their pass ratio will favor the pass even more if the game get out of hand, which is the most likely scenario. This puts the Steelers passing game in play.

Passing game

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady ($8,400) In addition to the high projected total there are going to be a lot of people taking a stroll down narrative street with Brady as many people think this year could be like 2007 where the Patriots offense set the league on fire as a revenge for Spygate. If there was ever a game to prove that right off the bat this would be it on national television.

On the other hand, Brady didn’t get to play as much as he is used to in the preseason. When he did play he didn’t look like himself. This could just be small sample sizes or signs of distraction. But it also might be rust as he wasn’t given a full complement of snaps all offseason or age finally catching up with him.

All of this makes Brady a very difficult decision this week. He will likely be highly owned and grades out as a cash game play based on my projections. But the uncertainty surrounding the offseason gives me pause to go all in on him, especially with so many good options coming on Sunday. I recommend Brady as a cash game play but don’t go overboard until we see more. In GPPs you should certainly consider fading given his expected ownership levels.

Ben Roethlisberger ($8,600) – If the game script goes as expected the Steelers will find themselves in a hole early in the game. Without LeVeon Bell to ease some of the burden Roethlisberger will be asked to do more than normal which could lead to a big game and makes Roethlisberger a solid GPP play especially given how many more people will be on Brady thus they may forget about Roethlisberger. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger loves to rely on Bell in the passing game and without his safety valve his success rate will be at risk. Given how close the prices are between the two Brady is the clear cash game play.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Antonio Brown ($9,300) Brown was the most consistent wide receiver last year and this game should be no different. With Bell and Bryant out for the game and the Steelers likely trailing most of the game Brown will be targeted heavily early and often. Brown is my top cash game play at wide receiver and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him top 8 catches for 100 yards. You can certainly fade him in GPPs given his expected ownership levels but do so at your own risk in cash games.

Rob Gronkowski ($8,100) The Patriots come into the game missing a key part of their offensive game plan as well in Brandon Lafell. Last year Lafell was on the receiving end of 20% of the Patriots receptions and those are going to have to go elsewhere. Our favorite tight end comes to the rescue. We’ve already talked about how Brady is a safe cash game play and for all the same reasons I love Gronkowski. Expect at least one Gronk spike in this game as Gronkowski is my top ranked tight end on this week’s slate. Fade him in cash games at your own risk and pairing him with Brady in a GPP or two isn’t a bad idea at all. Just realize a lot of others will be too.

Julian Edelman ($7,700) If the Patriots pass the way I am expecting Edelman should be in play as well. Edelman doesn’t have the upside as the two pass catchers mentioned above. He doesn’t score as often as  Gronkowski and he doesn’t get nearly as much separation and targets as Brown but his price is a lot better. I expect him to be Brady’s safety net as he won’t have Vereen to dump so many passes off to. Edelman can safely be played in cash games but should be avoided in GPPs.

Markus Wheaton ($5,700) Wheaton makes for an interesting contrarian play, if there is such a thing on Thursday night. If the Patriots decide to completely sell out to keep Brown from beating them the Steelers could quickly find themselves short on weapons and will be forced to take some shots with Wheaton. If Wheaton breaks a few plays he could pay dividends in a GPP. The problem is players on Thursday night tend to get over played. As such he can safely be avoided in GPPs unless you want some extra diversification.

Danny Amendola ($5,600) and Heath Miller ($5,500) – Despite the projected high scores these two can be safely avoided this week.

Running game

As discussed I have high hopes for the passing game in this matchup which for the most part will allow us to ignore the running game for both teams in cash games but I see game scripts where they can have values in GPPs.

DeAngelo Williams ($7,600) Williams is not a safe cash game play at all as the game script could quickly go awry. However, the Steelers could try to control the game on the ground to help protect their leaky defense. If they succeed Williams could be in for a sneaky good game and could easily score a touchdown. This put Williams in play as a GPP option.

Dion Lewis ($4,500)–Lewis is on the radar as a GPP play since the Patriots are likely to score a lot of points and they could get in the end zone very easily. Additionally,  Lewis could easily see a long carry late in the game if the Patriots are trying to ice the game away which would pay off his cheap salary.