Given that I’m in the holiday spirit we’re going to take a slight detour from our normal course of action. FanDuel is hosting a $1.2M Thursday Gravy Bomb tournament featuring only the games played on Thanksgiving. Much like the normal Sunday NFL Million, the Gravy Bomb is a $25 entry fee with a top prize of $120,000.
The danger with these types of games is the clustered ownership around a select group of players. It’s nearly impossible to go contrarian and still expect to cash. Fading the crowd in this kind of contest just isn’t possible and the net result means a lot of lineups will be very similar making it hard to cash even though 20 percent of the field gets paid.
That’s not to say we can’t be judicious with our rosters and find a few cut against the grain plays, while also expanding our ceilings as much as possible. Obviously, ownership percentages won’t be available to us but with a little deductive reasoning we can guess which players will see the most action. In addition to my usual analysis s I’m going to throw in wildcard play of a guy that will have low ownership but could finish with a surprising stat line.
Lions vs Bears
Over/Under : 47.5 – Line: Lions -7
The first of our trio of divisional tilts features two promising offenses rife with talent. Unfortunately, both teams have underperformed as of late and, in some case, have been flat out dull. As of Week 12 the Bears are ranked 16th in yards per game and Lions haven fallen all the way to 21st. Both are in the bottom of the league in points scored, Detroit ranking 28th overall. Needless to say, it has been a long year for those who invested in these teams at the beginning of the season.
I wouldn’t expect this game to be avoided but I do think there are some options that will fly under the radar. Matthew Stafford hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in two games despite the return of Calvin Johnson a few weeks ago. It’s hard to say if the crowd will avoid him on Thursday. My guess is he’ll be the third most owned QB, especially if news gets out that the Bears are allowing more points to quarterbacks than all but three other teams.
The obvious stack here is Calvin Johnson. After two very disappointing games, mostly thanks to Stafford, you have to like Johnson to rebound and gobble up the Bears secondary (sorry, that’ll be my only Thanksgiving cliché). My guess is he’ll be the second highest owned wide receiver and I’m okay with that.
There’s no telling how healthy Reggie Bush is but if we do get any clarification, I like him more than Joique Bell. The Bears have been good against the run and I think Detroit will attempt to plan around them by using Bush in the passing game. There will be a lot of action on Bell given his price and opportunity. That will increase should Bush be labeled as questionable. In that case, Bell is a must play.
The fear I have with the Lions offense, besides the obvious, is the offensive line which has given up 33 sacks this year, ranking sixth. The Bears defensive line has looked much better over the last few weeks so it may get ugly for Stafford and company. All the more reason to consider Bush as a check-down favorite.
Start Jay Cutler at your own risk. The Lions defense may sack him 12 times. But I’m betting he registers as the third lowest owned quarterback option so assuming the risk might prove to be profitable. The Lions secondary will struggle removing both Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, not to mention Martellus Bennett (who represents the second best tight end option). It goes without saying this is a talented and underperforming offense. If you start Cutler stack him with both of his receivers and hope he has one of his 350-yard, three-touchdown days.
Matt Forte checks in as the most expensive Thanksgiving Day option. He’ll have low ownership thanks to both his price and matchup. The Lions have been very stingy against the run having allowed the ninth fewest points to ball carriers. Still, he’ll get a lot of work and is one of three options that isn’t in a full blown committee. I’m fading him simply because his price is prohibitive.
Wildcard: It should be noted that the Bears have allowed more points to tight ends than any other team. Only the Jets have allowed more touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Lions don’t know how to use tight ends so someone like Eric Ebron is all risk and no reward. The good news is there isn’t a dominant option on Thursday so it’s possible to risk a low floor guy and survive. Ebron saw seven targets against the Patriots last week. He caught two of them.
Cowboys vs Eagles
Over/Under: 54.5 – Line: Cowboys -3
We’re thankful to have a game with the second highest over/under of the week to choose from. This will be the contest that sees the highest cluster of exposure as fans know we’re in for a high scoring, dramatic affair.
My guess is Mark Sanchez ends up being the highest owned player overall. His salary keeps our cap flexible and it’s pretty clear the Cowboys secondary is easy to exploit. Stacking him with either Jeremy Maclin or Jordan Matthews is recommended. Maclin will most likely draw the coverage of Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys best corner, but I wouldn’t be afraid.
I do worry Sanchez could be mistake prone against a team that has found a way to manufacture turnovers and pressure this season. I’ll fade the crowd.
LeSean McCoy will rival DeMarco Murray for the highest owned running back. I love him this week and wouldn’t be surprised to see him come close to last week’s breakout stat line (130 yards, 1 touchdown). The Eagles know they can run the ball and the Cowboys have allowed six touchdowns to running backs in their last four games. Even Darren Sproles should see plenty of action. He’ll find his way onto a lot of rosters thanks to his price. I might be tempted to start both of them and gamble on the Eagles back field to carry the load.
Tony Romo is our most expensive quarterback and safest option. He has been outstanding lately both in terms of fake and real football. The Eagles secondary has allowed more passing touchdowns than any other team and the second most fantasy points to receivers. You don’t need me to tell you that a Cowboys stack is in order.
Dez Bryant will be our most owned receiver on Thursday and probably are second most owned player overall. You start him no matter what. Unless you’re entering several lineups there’s just no reason to fade this situation.
It’s hard to say how popular Murray will be given his cost. But like Forte he is one of our few options that has no threat of a committee. I’m fading him in favor of Romo/Byrant. I’m half tempted to start the Big Three, Romo/Bryant/Murray. They’ve averaged 60.7 points per game over the course of the season. But over the last four that average has dropped to 56 points per game. Murray hasn’t scored a touchdown during that time. He could turn things around against the Eagles but I’m much more comfortable putting my money on the passing attack.
The Eagles have allowed only one touchdown to tight ends all season. Jason Witten could easily change that on Thursday and he’ll be the highest owned. I’m willing to punt this position and spend money elsewhere.
Wildcard: Last week Cole Beasley turned two targets into 66 yards and a touchdown. In the business we call this a splash play that reeks of unrepeatability. His production largely relies on two important factors: Terrance Williams being injured and the Cowboys playing from behind. Both of those things have to happen for Beasley to contribute in a meaningful manner. But if he does get the opportunity he could see a lot of targets filtered his way. His salary frees up a lot of space if you want to go big at running back. He’s at risk of meeting, or falling below, his average of 1.6 receptions per game this year, so consider ignoring this entire paragraph.
49ers vs Seahawks
Over/Under: 40 – Line: 49ers -1
NFC West showdowns make for great TV but are bad for fantasy degenerates like myself. The over/under of this one screams fade. And that’s exactly what most players are going to do. As you’d expect there is some value in going heavy exposure on this contest as the crowd will ignore it.
Russell Wilson, I’m guessing, will be the second lowest owned quarterback of the day with Colin Kaepernick just below him. I’ll gladly fade both of these signal callers. Seattle has allowed the second fewest points to quarterbacks; San Francisco the fewest. If you’re looking for a contrarian play you’ll find it here. But in a tournament where going against the crowd has so few options, their floors aren’t worth the trouble.
Someone in this contest is going score touchdowns, presumably. My money is on Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore. Lynch is too costly so I’ll leave him out of my lineups. Gore won’t be as popular as the backs that play in the early games and I think he’s a good bet to punch one in, even against the Seahawks threatening front seven. If you’re feeling risky you could go after Carlos Hyde. Eventually he’ll be the lead back but until we see him be a part of the game consistently, I’ll be cautious. That said he will save you $1,200 which would go a long way towards a chalk play at receiver. He has scored two touchdowns the last three games… to go along with 20 carries. The volume just won’t be there until Gore breaks down.
I don’t trust many receivers in this game and will look elsewhere fill that position. If I had to pick one it would be Anquan Boldin. Instead, I’m turning my attention to tight ends. I mentioned the Bears have had their troubles stopping tight ends, allowing the most fantasy points against. The Seahawks have allowed the same amount of touchdowns (10) as the Bears, second to only the Jets (12). I keep coming back to Vernon Davis. He sees just as many targets as anyone else for the 49ers and I believe he finds the end zone Thursday night. For $4,900 I’m willing to risk it.
Wildcard: Sticking with that position we should pay attention to whether or not Cooper Helfet makes the start. I bet he doesn’t. And I bet Luke Willson’s metrics show up on the field. In a game that’s best reserved for kickers and defenses, I don’t mind exposing myself to tight ends. Davis is the same price and a much better play. But Willson will be on about zero percent of rosters.
The fact of the matter is going crazy on contrarian wildcard picks with only three games to choose from is foolish. The best strategy for this situation is minimizing the floor of our lineups. I'm not thrilled by my running back options or the amount of exposure I have to the Lions with this one, and it will likely change, but here's to hoping my wide receivers make up for it.