FanDuel Thanksgiving Day Special

In this special edition, Justin Bonnema dives into the Thanksgiving Day slate of FanDuel GPPs

Welcome to the Thanksgiving Day Special. What follows is an in-depth look at all three games, highlighting a few key plays. This is not meant to be a column designed around who you should start and who you should fade, but rather a deep dive into the stats that are going to drive ownership percentages.

If you’ve never played in small slates like this one before, the most important thing I can recommend is to mind your bankroll. These tournaments are incredibly hard to crack. Ownership percentages will be clustered around three or four players, and while the chalk plays can’t be ignored, it’s the under the radar guys that can swing cash lines. You’ll want to target one or two of them for sure. Just don’t increase your bankroll much in order to play this slate. It’s fun to win a little cash while enjoying the holiday, but it’s not fun to tank your bankroll before the weekend even starts.

Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions

Over/Under: 44.5; Spread: Vikings -3

Implied Team Totals: Vikings 23.75, Lions 20.75

If you’re a fan of the NFL then you know the importance of this divisional showdown. If you’re simply a fan of DFS then you know how fertile these offenses have been for fantasy points. Matthew Stafford, in particular, has been a steady source of volume and consistency, scoring at least 18 FanDuel points in every game since the Lions had their bye in Week 7. No quarterback has scored more fantasy points over that time frame, and only Tom Brady and Carson Wentz have thrown for more touchdowns.

But that’s where the good news ends. The Vikings are coming to town with an underrated defense that’s allowed only two quarterbacks this season to throw multiple touchdowns. Back in Week 4, this unit pummeled Stafford with six sacks and forced his lowest fantasy output of the season (10.06 points). Six sacks may have been an outlier, but the Vikings’ performance defensively is not. Per Football Outsiders, they rank 12th in pass defense DVOA, fifth in rush defense, and 11th in adjusted sack rate. Those numbers align with their rank in adjusted net yards per attempt (seventh lowest), and quarterback rating (ninth lowest). Long story short, Stafford’s gaudy numbers over the last few weeks are destined to come back to normal. Of course, we can’t ignore that the last time he faced a defense of this caliber (the Steelers) he dumped 423 passing yards on them while failing to score a touchdown.

If you’re using Stafford, you’re hoping that Case Keenum can push the Lions defense, which has struggled to pressure quarterbacks and has recently allowed a carousel of backups to score 24 points (Bears), 24 points (Browns), and 17 points (Packers). But they’ve otherwise been a stingy group that boasts a 12/11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has allowed only 16.2 FanDuel points per game. The Vikings roll into Thanksgiving on the back of six straight wins, and they’d be wise to hide Keenum with the effective run-game they’ve established. They now rank eighth in rushing yards per game despite logging three games of 91 or fewer.

That stat puts Latavius Murray squarely in play as an overrated fantasy asset who is seeing the benefit of goal-line work, including two touchdowns last week. But he doesn’t have a backfield monopoly. Jerick McKinnon out-snapped Murray for the sixth time in six weeks and the two had a near 50-50 split in carries. The good news is that their timeshare should keep both ownership levels in check, which is key on a short slate. The crowd will probably chase Murray since he has the hot hand over the last two games, but McKinnon is a far superior athlete who is capable of breaking a big play every time he touches the ball, which is a lot. He’s averaging 18.5 touches a game since Dalvin Cook’s injury, bolstered by 27 receptions on 34 targets.  Unfortunately, his floor is extremely low. He’s failed to score more than 8.5 points in three of his last four games. One of these backs should have a big game, assuming the Vikings attempt to exploit the Lions’ biggest weakness on defense. Only four other teams have allowed more FanDuel points to the position. In particular, the Lions are susceptible to receiving backs. Nearly a third of the yards they’ve allowed to the position have come via the pass. I’ll take the talent and dual-threat upside of McKinnon, and hope the Vikings fall behind early.

The Lions’ running back situation isn’t worth chasing. I thought for sure we’d seen the last of Ameer Abdullah after his fumbling issues from a few weeks ago, but his usage hasn’t changed. Over his last four games, he has 185 yards total. You know exactly what you’re getting with him. Theo Riddick gets the passing-down work and is an exciting player only in theory. You need to guarantee me the Lions will be playing from behind all game in order for me to roster him. And even then, you can’t ignore the Vikings rank in rush DVOA (fifth), yards per game allowed (second fewest), and yards per attempt (third lowest). Notable backs they’ve stymied this season: Todd Gurley (13.1 points), Jordan Howard (7.6 points). Le'Veon Bell (11.1 points), Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara (9.6 and 5.8 points respectively). In fact, the most points they’ve allowed to running back this season was none other than Abdullah, who hit them for 109 total yards and a score back in Week 4—his only game this season of more than 12 points. So there’s that.

Before you hit the auto-draft button on Adam Thielen, you should probably check out these game logs of wide receivers that have played against the Lions. Note that outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster's blowup in Week 8, not a single player has scored more than 16.4 fantasy points. Here’s a high-level view of WR1s they’ve faced and the results:

Player

Week

Rsh

RshYD

RshTD

Rec

RecYd

RecTD

FantPt

Salary

Antonio Brown 8 0 0 0 5 70 0 9.5 9200
Michael Thomas 6 0 0 0 3 11 0 2.6 8500
Stefon Diggs 4 0 0 0 5 98 0 12.3 7200
Adam Thielen 4 0 0 0 5 59 0 6.4 6400
Julio Jones 3 0 0 0 7 91 0 12.6 9300
Odell Beckham Jr 2 0 0 0 4 36 0 5.6 8600
Larry Fitzgerald 1 0 0 0 6 74 0 10.4 6400

We can only hope that the majority Thielen’s snaps continue to come out of the slot and that he gets Quandre Diggs in coverage for some of this game. A shadow by Darius Slay, however, is more likely. Perhaps his presence will keep the crowd off of Thielen, but I doubt it. I can say with certainty that Stefon Diggs will fly under the radar. He has dealt with injuries all season and seems to be caught in Keenum’s blind spot. But, if you want an edge and a piece of this offense, Diggs gives you both with a manageable price tag ($7,500/WR3).

If you can figure out when Marvin Jones Jr is going to have a big game, you’ll be a profitable person. He embarrassed the Packers’ defense a few weeks ago with seven catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns, only to disappear against a soft Browns’ secondary the next week with one catch for 22 yards, and then returned with a 4/85/1-line last week. Golden Tate is best reserved for full-PPR formats. And we’re still waiting on Kenny Golladay to earn a bigger role. He finally looks healthy and logged 61% of snaps last week. Since returning from injury (two games) he has caught four of his six targets for 116 yards, and sets up as an intriguing GPP play. But, as mentioned, the Vikings’ defense looks great on paper. Perhaps the most reliable evidence that we should avoid this group comes from Week 4 when Jones and Tate combined for five catches and 71 yards with no touchdowns.

The Lions’ tight end situation is a lot like their running back situation: they have talent but no consistency and are risky bets for DFS purposes. Eric Ebron has nine yards or fewer in four games this season, and only two touchdowns. Conversely, Kyle Rudolph is a great option who has at least seven targets and five catches in each of his last six games. Only Thielen has more team targets and only Diggs has more receiving touchdowns. If you’re looking for a contrarian option at tight end, Rudolph is the answer (assuming the crowd chases the night game).

The over/under projection and the fact that these two teams have logged scores of 14-7, 16-13, and 22-16 over their last three matchups screams that we should avoid most skill-position players and target kickers and defenses in this game.

Chalk Plays: Stafford, Thielen, Murray, Prater

Contrarian Plays: Keenum, McKinnon, Diggs, Golladay, Lions DST, (and maybe Rudolph)


Los Angeles Chargers @ Dallas Cowboys

Over/Under: 48; Spread: Chargers -1

Implied Team Totals: Cowboys 23.5, Chargers 24.5

The Cowboys have totally imploded without Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith. And most, if not all, of the blame, can be shoved on Dak Prescott, who has a total of 321 passing yards over the last two games and zero passing touchdowns. Last week was especially bad; he completed only 58% of his passes while tossing three interceptions. Pointblank: Prescott is currently one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL and if Smith doesn’t come back for the game against the Chargers, then I’m not sure much will change. The Chargers are not the kind of defense you want to play against while missing your best lineman. They rank third in sacks and fourth in interceptions. Prescott has been sacked 12 times over the last two games, which more than doubled his previous season total of 10.

Philip Rivers took an early seat last week in a blowout but not before banking 18.04 FanDuel points. It was only the fourth time this year he has hit that threshold. The Cowboys defense looks good on paper, but they failed to register a sack last week and now have three over their last three games. Rivers is in a good spot so long as the Cowboys provide competition and push him into volume. Of all the quarterbacks on the slate, he offers a fair price, a good floor, and shouldn’t have too much of the crowd’s attention.

Regardless of whether or not Smith comes back this week, Alfred Morris is going to be the answer to the Cowboys’ struggles. He was tremendous against a usually tough Eagles’ defense last week, logging 91 yards on 17 carries. He now has 144 yards on 28 attempts since taking over lead-back duties. The crowd is going to know that the Chargers allow the second most rushing yards and second most receiving yards to running backs, and they’re going to apply that knowledge to the fact that the only success the Cowboys have had lately is running the ball, making Morris one of the most highly owned players of the day. He’s a solid play but you’re eating chalk. The fact that the Cowboys opened as favorites at least gives the chalk good flavor.

For those worried that Melvin Gordon III is going to suddenly become part of a timeshare, note that Austin Ekeler didn’t have a carry until the fourth quarter last week and had only two receptions before that. It will require a two-touchdown deficit for him to see volume. Gordon remains a steady fixture on an offense that ran the ball 52 times and passed it 69 times over their last two games. Only three players have more attempts inside the red zone, and one of them is now suspended. Expect to see a lot of lineups that feature both Gordon and Morris.  

The only way Dez Bryant hits value is if he scores a touchdown—something he has done only four times this season. He hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 10 of last year, and all the promise of an increase in production with Elliott sidelined has so far amounted to a total of 12 catches for 102 yards. The good news? His 22 targets over the last two games not only leads the team (Terrance Williams is the next closest with 11), it’s third among all players in the league. The bad news? He was already one of the highest targeted players in the league (fifth most) yet he ranks 25th in total FanDuel points on the year among wide receivers. But wait! There’s more good news: the crowd is probably going to stay away, and if you believe that targets (read: opportunities) lead to the touchdowns like I do, then you’ll happily take his discounted salary and deflated ownership and paste him in your lineups. I’ll caveat that with noting that the Chargers secondary has been excellent this season. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest yards to wide receivers. But where they excel in defending yards, they falter in defending the end zone. They’re tied with five other teams for the eighth most touchdowns allowed to wide receivers. Bryant has a history as an elite touchdown-scorer. I like him as a contrarian play and yes, I’d stack him with Prescott so long as Smith plays.

In fact, stacking this game makes sense even if both defenses could create problems for passers. Rivers has a lower ceiling than we’d normally target in tournaments, but it was great to see him lock onto Keenan Allen last week, who will be one of the highest owned players after his slump-busting 12 catches for 159 yards and two scores last week on 13 targets. Note that he was benched with the rest of the starters before the fourth quarter. It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone like Mike Williams or Tyrell Williams blowup in this game as the Cowboys shift their defensive focus to Allen.

Neither team has allowed tight ends to do much on the season, and neither team is doing much with tight ends. Jason Witten saw a spike in targets a couple of weeks ago with seven, but saw just one last week and now has 18 over his past five games. The coaches might ask him to help out in protecting their quarterback against the Chargers’ intimidating pass rush. Hunter Henry is a promising young player. If only Rivers cared. The fact that Sean Lee might not play again at least says Henry could offer hopes of a sneaky contrarian play against a defense missing its best player and one rarely tested by athletic tight ends. Travis Kelce clocked this unit with seven catches for 73 yards and score in Week 9. Zach Ertz fell flat last week but mostly because he wasn’t needed. Some version of Rivers/Bryant/Hunter or Prescott/Bryant/Hunter or even Prescott/Allen/Hunter could swing tournaments.

Nick Novak is going to rival Matt Prater as the highest owned kickers on the slate. Both make sense and I’d rather eat chalk and lock in a good play than get cute elsewhere. The Chargers’ defense will be one of the highest owned of the day should Smith be ruled out again.

Chalk Plays: Rivers, Allen, Gordon, Morris, Novak, Chargers DST

Contrarian Plays: Prescott, Bryant, Williams (Tyrell and Mike), Henry


New York Giants @ Washington

Over/Under: 45; Spread: Washington -7

Implied Team Totals: NYG 19, Washington 26

This contest features our biggest spread of the day with Washington favored by at least a touchdown at most sportsbooks. That also gives them the highest team total and is going to push their defense and running backs into high ownership.

Kirk Cousins will be crowd favorite after his monster performance last week. The Giants have a notably soft defense that has allowed 20 passing touchdowns on the season and the fourth most passing yards. Up until last week’s kicker-fest against the Chiefs, the Giants had permitted three straight quarterbacks to score at least 26 points, including C.J. Beathard. Cousins has been on a tear this season with six games of at least 20 points and four of at least 25. It’s hard to make a case for fading him. If anything, the loss of dynamic play maker Chris Thompson suggests this offense will hit a cooling period. And the Giants’ offense can’t be counted on to push the score. Simply put, Cousins isn’t guaranteed volume like in his last five games against elite offenses, and his price is the highest it has ever been. I’ll be looking elsewhere for my quarterback.

Eli Manning seems like an easy fade, but we need to at least acknowledge that his team will be playing from behind and if Cousins is a good play based on volume, so is Manning. In theory, Washington has a good defense but they’ve allowed quarterbacks to score at least 22 points in four of their last five games. Drew Brees smashed this group last week with his highest yardage total of the year (385 yards), and on the season, they’ve allowed the fifth most FanDuel points per game. Manning hasn’t been great. But he hasn’t been so bad that we should write him off completely. He lost an all-star wide receiver, then took on the Broncos and Seahawks, played awful against the Rams, then rebounded against the 49ers. If he gets Sterling Shepard back for this game, I like Manning as a contrarian play and will pair him with at least one of his receivers.

I won’t be trusting either rushing attack for these teams. Samaje Perine was good last week and he will be a crowd favorite on Thanksgiving. But the Giants defense has recently bottled up both Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley. Gurley managed two touchdowns to save his day. Led by Damon “Snacks” Harrison, I doubt the Giants defense will have issues with Perine. If you’re wondering who will play the Thompson role, Byron Marshall projects to be the next man up. He had 97 catches for 1293 yards and eight receiving touchdowns at Oregon, the majority of which came during his junior season. He doesn’t bring the same speed and agility to the table, but as the main pass-catcher out of a backfield that targets running backs on nearly 21% of throws, he makes for a solid GPP swing and he’s a great way to get a piece of Washington’s offense where the crowd isn’t looking.

The Giants’ rushing attack has shown signs of life with Orleans Darkwa running well. I won’t call him a workhorse yet, but he does have 56 touches over his last three games, and at least 70 yards in each. Unfortunately, he was in and out of the game last week while dealing with what turned out to be a hamstring injury. That’s concerning on a short week, so even if he’s full-go, I’m going to keep my exposure low. Washington has given up the second most touchdowns to running backs but rank 18th in total yards. If Darkwa is limited, we might see a lot more of Shane Vereen with some Wayne Gallman sprinkled in. Neither offers much upside.

It’s easy to identify the chalk plays at wide receiver in this game. Both Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson will be heavily owned. The two have combined for 33 targets over the last two games. Doctson could have a tough day if he ends up in Janoris Jenkins coverage, assuming Jenkins hasn’t quit on the year. Crowder figures to have a good day against Dominique-Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot. But even though Doctson has the tougher matchup, he won’t have inflated ownership despite having a solid game last week. It could have been much better if Cousins hadn’t ignored him for most of the second half. Thompson leaves 54 targets vacant, which will likely be distributed evenly. I like Doctson to see an uptick in volume and he makes for a nice GPP pivot from Crowder. 

The only receiver anyone is going to touch on the Giants’ side of the ball is Sterling Shepard, who missed last week’s game due to migraines. Hopefully, he’ll be available for the crowd on Thursday. He’ll be chalk but pairing him with Manning helps create roster uniqueness. Washington has been tough on wide receivers, particularly on the outside where Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland play. Slot receivers, however, have enjoyed success:

Player

Week

Rsh

RshYD

RshTD

Rec

RecYd

RecTD

FantPt

Salary

Adam Thielen 10 0 0 0 8 166 1 26.6 7000
Doug Baldwin 9 0 0 0 7 108 1 20.3 7900
Nelson Agholor 7 0 0 0 4 45 1 12.5 5900
Nelson Agholor 1 0 0 0 6 86 1 17.6 4900

I’ll caveat this by saying that even though these receivers play the majority of their snaps in the slot, it doesn’t mean that all of the stats shown above have come from the slot. And I’ll admit I’m cherry picking. But it stands to reason that Shepard should have a good day as the main target for Manning.

The problem with targeting any wide receivers in this game is that these offenses funnel to the tight end position. Both teams target tight ends on 24.3% throws—the 10th highest rate in the league—which sets up the perfect storm given how bad each defense is against tight ends. Just over 18% of the Giants’ points allowed have gone to tight ends this season (third most), and Washington is right behind them with 17.2% (fourth most). Evan Engram is going to be one of the highest owned players on the slate, and either Jordan Reed or Vernon Davis will be second unless we don’t have clarity as to who’s starting. Fading both situations is a great way to gain an edge, should Engram or Davis/Reed have bad games.

Washington’s defense will be owned by at least 60% of the crowd, if not more. Conversely, the Giants’ defense won’t be touched. They offer GPP appeal with Washington coming off of a heartbreaking loss and now missing a key member of their offense. However, the Giants are dead last in sack percentage and have only 12 turnovers on the season, making them a super risky play.

Chalk Plays: Cousins, Crowder, Perine, Shepard, Engram, Washington Tight Ends, Washington DST

Contrarian Plays: Manning, Doctson, Marshall