Football and Thanksgiving. If your childhood memories are anything resembling mine, there is a Pavolian relationship between turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and football--the former do not come without the latter. And if they do, you need to switch venues for Thanksgiving next year.
This Thanksgiving, why don't you give daily fantasy sports (DFS) a try? Deposit a few bucks, make a roster or two, and enjoy the excitement that comes along with one-day fantasy football. If you decide to take the plunge, I have done the heavy-lifting for you by outlining the best plays on DraftKings on this Thanksgiving Day slate; if you continue reading, you will get a game-by-game breakdown of each position, the players involved, and how you might approach building your rosters for both cash games and those big Turkey Day tournaments. Whatever you decide to play on DraftKings, this information should have you covered.
Peace be with you and your family on Thanksgiving and may you win all the money on DraftKings!
Minnesota @ Detroit (-2.5, 43)
Projected Score: Lions 22.75, Vikings 20.25
QUICK TAKE: The game with the least fantasy value is arguably the most meaningful game on the slate, as the winner of the Vikings-Lions game will take sole possession of first place in the NFC North. This is a game pitting two teams headed in opposite directions, as the Vikings have lost four of their previous five games, while the hard-charging Lions have secured five of their previous six contests. Minnesota’s lone win over their past five games was actually last week when they bested the Cardinals, 30-24; if not for defensive touchdowns scored by Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson in that effort, the Vikings would likely be entering Thanksgiving with five consecutive losses. Meanwhile, the Lions are playing ball-control offense and finding ways to win; over their previous six games, they have a point differential of +13, but have somehow managed to squeak out five wins. In fact, the Lions, win or lose, have not played in a game all season where the outcome was decided by more than a touchdown differential. Vegas expects more of the same in this matchup, as they have pegged Detroit as a small 2.5-point chalk over the visiting Vikings in a low-scoring affair.
PASSING GAME: It’s a battle of the two most safeguarded quarterbacks in the league when Sam Bradford ($5.1K) takes on Matthew Stafford ($5.7K) in Detroit in the early game on Thursday. Matthew Stafford enters this game with a 7.1 average depth of target (aDOT), which is ahead of only one quarterback in the league...Sam Bradford (6.8 yards per target). That statistic, alone, should tell you what you need to know about this game--big plays are going to be limited and the offenses are going to try to work long drives with a lot of plays, avoid mistakes, and piece together a win. Bradford has one 300-yard game to his name this season and has not thrown for more than two touchdowns at any point, so his upside would appear to be limited, at best. Stafford has higher upside, but has not displayed that upside against a good secondary all season; his best games have come against subpar secondaries, but he has struggled against more talented defenses. Minnesota fields one of the premier secondaries in the league, headlined by Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, and Captain Munnerlyn, which makes it difficult to gravitate towards Stafford in this matchup, based on his 2016 numbers.
RUNNING GAME: The Vikings will run out Jerick McKinnon ($3.2K) and Matt Asiata ($3.4K) at the Lions’ 24th ranked DVOA rush defense that is allowing 4.2 yards per carry this season. After suffering an ankle injury that limited him mid-season, McKinnon has reclaimed the RB1 role in this offense, which resulted in a 17-to-6 touch advantage over Asiata in last week’s game against the Cardinals. That said, McKinnon will still yield many of the Vikings’ carries to Asiata if/when they get inside the Lions’ 5-yard line, which limits his upside to some degree. Meanwhile, Theo Riddick ($5.4K) is retaining a slim lead in offensive snaps over Dwayne Washington ($3.5K), but Washington is trending as the lead between-the-tackles back in the Lions’ offense, while Riddick is being used in pass down situations. Last week, Washington received 13 carries to Riddick’s 4 carries, but Riddick finished with 8 receptions for 70 yards, which should continue to keep him in play on full PPR sites like DraftKings. The matchup against the Vikings’ 12th ranked DVOA rush defense is average, but Minnesota can be beaten, as evidenced by the 4.84 yards per carry they have yielded to opposing RB’s over the past month.
RECEIVING GAME: After averaging 14 targets per game over his previous three games, Stefon Diggs ($6.9K) fell back to Earth last Sunday when he was shadowed by Patrick Peterson, who held him to 6 catches for a pedestrian 37 yards. If top-tier coverage cornerback Darius Slay shadows Diggs in this matchup, it is a definite downgrade for the Vikings’ top receiver, as his hefty salary almost mandates double-digit targets because most of his targets come outside of the redzone, where they are far less valuable. Diggs’ coverage opened things up a bit for Adam Thielen ($4.0K) last week, resulting in a 5/65/1 stat line for the WR2; if Slay is indeed shadowing Diggs, Thielen should get overflow opportunities, although many of them will come against Nevin Lawson in coverage, whose coverage has dramatically improved in his Junior season in the NFL. Cordarrelle Patterson ($3.6K) is a name we would never discuss on a full slate, but with only three games from which to choose, we have to consider him as a GPP flyer because of his breakaway speed, special teams abilities, and the fact that he has quietly seen eight targets in two of his past three games; Patterson is the type of player who could be the differentiator needed for a large-field, three-game GPP victory. Lastly, Kyle Rudolph ($3.7K) is always a big redzone target for the Vikings, but his role in the offense is unpredictable, which makes it difficult to recommend him; however, the Lions’ ineptitude in covering the tight end position (9 touchdowns allowed; worst in NFL) makes Rudolph an interesting tournament option.
Editor's note - Reports late Wednesday indicate that Diggs may not be able to suit up for Thursday's contest. Be sure to check inactives, but if Diggs is indeed out, Thielen, Rudolph and Patterson will all see an increase in targets, with the biggest net change for Patterson, who may be thrust into a starting role.
For the Lions, Marvin Jones ($4.1K) is the odd man out with only 19 targets over the past month. His diminished usage caps his upside, which makes him a difficult player to get into DFS lineups, despite the attractive salary. With 47 targets over his previous five games, Golden Tate ($5.6K) is Matthew Stafford’s most targeted receiver as of late; he has looked like the 2015 version of himself and is definitely in play on this limited Thanksgiving day slate. Anquan Boldin ($3.3K) will surprise from time to time with 8-10 targets, but he has yet to surpass 60 yards in any game this season, which makes it tough to rely on him for much more than 10-14 points in the best of circumstances. Lastly, Eric Ebron ($4.0K) is intriguing with 23 targets over his past three games and 241 receiving yards in those efforts; when he faced this same Vikings’ defense a few weeks back, he finished with a respectable 7/92/0 stat line that would be certainly acceptable for his current salary.
DEFENSE: The Vikings ($3.4K) won many DFS players a lot of money last week with their 20-point performance against the Cardinals, but Matthew Stafford is the opposite of Carson Palmer in that he plays ball-control offense that results in very few turnovers. Minnesota will get some pressure on Stafford, but this matchup is attractive only in the sense that it should be low-scoring; the turnovers and sacks that result in big fantasy games are likely going to be limited. One could make almost the same argument for Detroit ($3.0K) because of the ball-control nature of their Sam Bradford-led offense. For cash games, both of these defenses are in play, but tournament play may dictate taking a chance on one of the defenses playing later in the afternoon.
Washington @ Dallas (-7.5, 51)
Projected Score: Cowboys 29.25, Redskins 21.75
QUICK TAKE: Another division rivalry, the 6-3-1 Washington Redskins will look to slow down the 9-1 Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Cowboys are football’s hottest team and are winning on virtue of the strength of their offensive line and a pair of rookies drafted earlier this year: Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. These young phenoms have led the Cowboys to nine consecutive victories, most of which were won on the basis of ball-control and winning time of possession. The formula will likely be the same on Thursday, but Washington will look to play spoiler after losing only once in their previous eight games. The offenses are favored in this game, as both defenses have personnel matchup issues that could be exploited. Dallas should certainly get their share of fantasy production, but the Redskins’ fantasy output will be contingent on whether or not they can get the ball for more than 25 minutes, which has not been an easy task against this rush-dominant Cowboys’ offense. One additional factor hurting the Redskins’ chances is the fact that they played a game deep into Sunday night and have to travel to Dallas to play a 4 PM (EST) game just four days later, which should limit their rest and preparation.
PASSING GAME: Both quarterbacks are in play for this slate. Dak Prescott ($6.3K) is fresh off the best fantasy performance of his young career, a 301-yard effort against the Baltimore Ravens that netted him 28.64 DraftKings points. Kirk Cousins ($5.9K) is also coming off his best fantasy performance of the season, a 375-yard, 30.4 DraftKings point performance against the Packers on Sunday Night Football. Cousins has an excellent matchup against the Cowboys’ 28th ranked DVOA pass defense whose numbers are below-average despite not playing a lot of top-tier quarterbacks this season; when the Cowboys have played an above-average quarterback, those passers have performed well against Dallas, who will be without their best coverage cornerback, Morris Claiborne, and his over-the-top help, Safety Barry Church, for this matchup. Back in Week #2, Cousins tossed for 364 yards against this Cowboys squad, but managed only a single touchdown; if he can muster similar yardage on Thursday, expect the touchdowns to follow. The Cowboys should be expected to go run-first in this matchup because it should be easy for them to rip off chunks of yardage against this Washington defensive front. The Redskins’ 29th ranked DVOA rush defense has yielded 4.6 yards per carry (31st in NFL) and allowed 13 rushing touchdowns (31st in NFL), which means that Dak Prescott’s biggest job will be hand-delivering the pigskin to Ezekiel Elliott for most of the Thanksgiving holiday.
RUNNING GAME: As alluded to above, Ezekiel Elliott ($8.5K) has a pristine matchup against the Redskins and should be owned in almost all DFS formats. Elliott has 100+ all-purpose yards in seven of his previous eight games and continues to get 20+ touches almost every week; with 182 receiving yards out of the backfield over the past month, he also brings an additional value to DraftKings because of their full PPR scoring format. Outside of Elliott, only Alfred Morris ($5.1K) sees reasonable action out of the Dallas backfield, but his touches are still quite limited and his salary is too high for that implied volume, so stay away from Morris.
The Redskins will try to keep Rob Kelley ($4.3K) hot off of his three-touchdown effort against the Packers on Sunday night. Kelley has three consecutive 20+ carry games and has compiled 321 rushing yards and four touchdowns in those contests; he enters this game as the clear-cut RB1 in Washington and should see another 20+ touch game, if the Redskins are to stay competitive. Kelley will have his work cut out for him against this Dallas defensive front that is the league’s 8th ranked DVOA rush unit and has allowed only 199 rushing attempts all season (1st in NFL). No opposing running back has surpassed 90 rushing yards against the Cowboys this season, which could temper some enthusiasm about Kelley’s upside; however, his low salary and recent performances against Minnesota (22/97/0) and Green Bay (24/137/3), both of whom boast solid rush defenses, mandates serious consideration.
RECEIVING GAME: Despite coming off a two-touchdown game, it is difficult to love Dez Bryant ($7.7K) in this matchup because he’s bound to see a lot of elite cornerback coverage from Josh Norman, who has the skillset to minimize Bryant. That leaves Cole Beasley ($5.5K) and Jason Witten ($3.2K) as the secondary receivers for Dak Prescott. Beasley should see a lot of Kendall Fuller in coverage, which bodes well for his fantasy prospects, as Fuller is allowing nearly 80% of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught this season. Witten enters this game with at least seven targets in five of his last six games and a 13.8-fantasy point per game average over that timeframe; Prescott appears to be developing a rapport with Witten and that could mean good things for Witten against this Redskins’ defense that has allowed touchdowns to opposing tight ends in three consecutive games and 100+ yard performances in two of those three contests.
Washington is beating their opponents by spreading the ball on offense. Over their past four games, no primary receiver on this offense has less than 31 targets, which is keeping defenses on their heels and allowing Cousins to go through his reads to find the open receiver. Pierre Garcon ($3.9K) is a steal on this slate because he is playing the role of possession receiver in the Redskins’ offense with 32 targets over his previous four games, resulting in 12+ fantasy points in all but one of those games. Jamison Crowder has stepped up into a WR1 role recently with 20+ fantasy points in three of his last four efforts; his 31 targets are just behind Garcon for the team lead over that period of time. Crowder is not a big redzone target, but Cousins continues to look for him inside the 20, as evidenced by his team-leading 12 targets in the redzone (Garcon is second with 10; Jordan Reed is third with 9). DeSean Jackson ($4.8K) is always an intriguing tournament play due to his big play ability, but he has been dealing with a rotator cuff injury for several weeks now, which makes it difficult to know exactly how much we can expect from him until he’s completely off the injury report. Lastly, Jordan Reed ($6.2K) is the type of player who can put up monstrous numbers in any given week, which makes him extremely attractive for GPP lineups where his upside can separate you from the masses; however, his hefty salary merits a second glance when one considers that he has only scored in two different games all season. For that reason, he is a GPP-only play until we see him become the focal point of the Redskins’ offense, as he was in 2015.
DEFENSE: Dallas ($2.9K) does not do a lot right on defense: They do not sack the quarterback (28th in NFL with 14 sacks), they do not get a lot of interceptions (30th in NFL with 4 interceptions), and they have scored double-digit fantasy points only once all season (10.0 versus Green Bay in Week #6). Simply put, they win games based on playing keepaway, which does not yield fantasy points--stay away, despite the low implied team total for Washington. The Redskins are similarly-challenged, in that they also have only one double-digit fantasy score all season (15.0 versus Baltimore in Week #5). The Redskins’ rush defense is so shaky that it is difficult to envision a scenario where this dominant Dallas rush offense does not get multiple scores in this game; with 30+ point potential for the Cowboys’ offense, the Redskins’ defense is the least attractive team defense on this Turkey Day slate.
Pittsburgh (-9, 47.5) @ Indianapolis
Projected Score: Steelers 28.25, Colts 19.25
PIT: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot)
QUICK TAKE: The 5-5 Pittsburgh Steelers opened as a small 2-point favorite over the hometown Indianapolis Colts early in the week. However, when Andrew Luck’s name popped up on the injury report with a concussion on Monday afternoon, Vegas oddsmakers pulled the game from the betting board altogether; by the time it reappeared on Tuesday when it was becoming clear that Luck would not play on Thursday night, the Steelers were favored by an extra touchdown and the Colts’ team total had dropped by nearly six points. Why the drastic line movement? Scott Tolzien. Scott Tolzien will lead the Colts’ charge against the Steelers in primetime on Thursday. With one career touchdown pass, five career interceptions, and no NFL starts in over three years, Vegas oddsmakers (and most NFL pundits) do not think that the Colts can keep this game close. Assuming they are correct, there are a few players you will want on your DFS rosters from this game, but it is disappointing because with Tolzien under center, many of the Colts players are almost unusable.
PASSING GAME: Coming off his worst fantasy game of the season (8.68 DraftKings points), Ben Roethlisberger ($7.3K) has a great matchup against the league’s 29th ranked DVOA pass defense that is dead-last in passing yards allowed per game (284.5). The Colts’ best coverage cornerback, Vontae Davis, has not practiced yet this week due to an ankle injury, which would only serve to strengthen this already plus matchup for Roethlisberger, assuming Davis cannot get on the field on Thursday evening. The biggest question facing DFS players with regards to Roethlisberger is whether he will be asked to throw the ball often in a game where the Steelers could build an early lead and pound the ball on the ground in the second half; this is why Roethlisberger is best viewed as a GPP option in this small game slate.
On the opposite side of the field, it will be Scott Tolzien ($5.0K) who will try to navigate the Colts to a home win. The likelihood of that happening is slim, however, as Tolzien has thrown one pass in the NFL since 2013. An undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, Tolzien struggled with turnovers in college (17 interceptions versus 32 touchdowns) and was initially signed by the Chargers back in 2011 before being released a few months later; he then signed with the 49’ers and was their third-string backup for two years (never seeing the field) before being released and subsequently signed by the Packers in 2013. In Green Bay, Tolzien saw his only on-the-field action after injuries to both Aaron Rodgers and Seneca Wallace, which resulted in a total of one passing touchdown versus five interceptions in two games. Earlier this year, Tolzien signed with the Colts and has not yet played a single down this season. To expect any viable fantasy production from Tolzien would be folly, so it would be wise to ignore his bargain basement salary and look to the other five options at QB on Thursday.
RUNNING GAME: Held scoreless through Week #9, LeVeon Bell ($9.0K) has begun his positive regression over the past two weeks, picking up three touchdowns against Dallas and Cleveland; in the process, Bell has compiled 17 receptions (on 19 targets) and over 320 all-purpose yards along the way. Coming off a game where Bell saw 36 touches, one might suspect that the Steelers would hold him back a bit on a short week; however, the Steelers seem content on riding Bell because Fitzgerald Toussaint has been on the field for 20 snaps all season and DeAngelo Williams is unlikely to play as he recovers from meniscus surgery in early November. Thus, it should be all LeVeon Bell against the league’s 31st ranked DVOA rush defense that is yielding 4.5 yards per carry on the season; start building your lineups with Bell and take the 20+ fantasy point floor.
If the Colts are going to stay competitive in this matchup, they are going to have to get a lot from their running game, one that is headlined by 33-year old Frank Gore ($5.2K). Gore has 20+ touches in four of his last five games, but he is averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry and scored only twice in those efforts; he had a touchdown vultured by Robert Turbin last week, but that was an anomaly, rather than a common theme, so do not allow that to play into your decision-making process surrounding Gore. The matchup against the Steelers’ 11th ranked DVOA rush unit is better than it appears on paper, as the Steelers will greatly miss their best rush defender, Cameron Heyward, who will not see the field again this season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Prior to last week’s game against the Browns, the Steelers had yielded 362 rushing yards in their only two games without Heyward this season; they were, however, successful in taming the Browns’ rushing attack, although the windy conditions in Cleveland were likely a major factor in that particular box score. Expect the Colts to lean heavily on Gore in this matchup to gauge if he can carry the load and thereby relieve Tolzien from pressure to try doing too much.
RECEIVING GAME: The Steelers will once again feature Antonio Brown ($9.2K) in their passing attack; Brown is the most expensive player on the Thanksgiving Day slate and is probably best described as a tournament play at his price point. While he receives double-digit targets almost every week, Brown has surpassed 30 DraftKings points only twice this season, which is the threshold he would need to reach to become cash game-relevant. With the implied gamescript (Steelers winning easily), Brown might not be used as heavily as he would have been if Andrew Luck were playing opposite Roethlisberger. For these reasons, it seems more likely that LeVeon Bell will provide a higher fantasy floor than Antonio Brown, making the running back the better cash game play. Outside of Brown (and LeVeon Bell), the Steelers have only been throwing to Eli Rogers ($4.5K) as of late; Rogers has 21 targets over his previous three games and is averaging a shade over 13.0 DraftKings points per game over that span. Rogers is fairly priced, but he is, at best, the third option in this offense behind Bell and Brown, making him a GPP flyer. Lastly, the Steelers have been enigmatic with regards to their tight ends recently. Ladarius Green ($2.6K) saw 12 snaps two weeks ago and was expected to see an increased role last week, but was on the field for only 8 snaps in total; meanwhile, Jesse James ($2.7K) has been an afterthought in this offense for most of the year, surpassing 5 receptions or 50 receiving yards only once. Both tight ends are deep GPP flyers at their respective salaries, but should not be trusted for anything outside of tournament play.
Indianapolis will continue to highlight T.Y. Hilton ($7.9K), Donte Moncrief ($6.4K), Phillip Dorsett ($3.2K), Dwayne Allen ($2.6K), and Jack Doyle ($2.8K) as their receivers for this game. Of these options, Hilton has been the volume receiver, snagging 99 targets on the season, well over double the next closest Colts’ receiver (Doyle is second with 47 targets). The issue with rostering any of these Colts’ receivers is that their salaries were assigned in mind with Andrew Luck as their quarterback. With Tolzien tossing the ball, the likelihood that Hilton and/or Moncrief reach value for cash games or GPP’s is minimal; of these options, Moncrief is the preferred play because he tends to run shorter routes (10.2 aDOT) than Hilton (13.0 aDOT) and he is offered up at a $1.5K discount. Dorsett, who is primarily used as a deep threat, also feels risky because it is difficult to envision a scenario where the Colts ask Tolzien to throw deep, given his propensity to turn the ball over. That leaves the tight ends, Allen and Doyle, both of whom could be in play because of the short nature of their routes, their overall big frames for targeting, and their low pricing structure.
DEFENSE: Simply put, Indianapolis ($2.4K) cannot be used as a team defense. The Colts have the 30th overall DVOA defense and are allowing more passing yards per game than any team (284.5) in the league while also ranking in the bottom ten of NFL teams against the rush (113.1 rush yards per game). Collectively, that amounts to over 400 yards of offense allowed by the Colts in any given week and they are playing one of the better offenses in the league on Thursday. Avoid.
The Steelers ($2.8K), on the other hand, are interesting for DFS purposes because the Colts’ 19.25-point implied team total is the lowest on the Vegas board and having Scott Tolzien leading the offense does not inspire confidence in the Colts’ ability to get into the endzone. Entering this game, only the Browns (38) have allowed more sacks than the Colts (35), which means that Tolzien will be running for his life in his first game in over three years. If the Colts fall behind early (a likely scenario), Tolzien is going to be asked to do things that his skillset cannot do, which might result in turnovers and defensive scores, both of which you will need to win your DFS Thanksgiving Day tournaments.