Thursday Night Football should be viewed as an island unto itself in the scope of the DFS NFL scene. With the Thursday Night game being nationally televised, representing the beginning of each week’s action, and being separated from the slate’s other games by multiple days, ownership of these players tends to be greater than it would be otherwise. As a result, the rostering decisions you make with respect to the Thursday Night game are far more binary than normal.
Each week, we’ll be previewing this game with the intention of finding cash game and GPP plays. However, because of the higher ownership that comes with Thursday Night players, there are generally fewer contrarian options to target from this game, relative to the other games contained in a weekly slate. It follows that since top options from the Thursday Night game are going to have a greater rate of ownership than similarly valued pieces from other games, we will often recommend such players as cash game plays, as a means of preventing an early deficit across the majority of your cash games.
Concerning GPPs, you will notice that we tend to highlight few players from the Thursday Night game as ideal tournament options. Our Steve Buzzard wrote a great article on the importance and impact of selecting tournament plays that have are likely to have lower ownership. Applying that logic in practice, the decision to fade the popular players from Thursday night games, that we know are likely to be more heavily owned than they should be, can enhance your standing relative to the field far more than if this game was being played in a different timeslot.
Vegas sets the Ravens as 10 point favorites over the winless Browns this Thursday. With an over/under of 45 points, the implied score is the Ravens prevailing by a final of 27.5-17.5. This has all the makings of one of those traditional, unwatchable NFL ‘island’ games. The Browns come into this game playing terrible defense, and have been largely dysfunctional on offense, though at least they are exciting at the receiver position. The Ravens, however, are ill-equipped to take advantage of the Browns’ porous defense, as Joe Flacco has struggled throughout 2016, and the running game has disappeared in recent weeks. Scoring may be difficult to come by in this game, more a product of ineffectiveness than defensive stinginess, and I see the Ravens prevailing by a score of 20-10.
Terrance West has fallen on hard times since a three week stretch from weeks 4-6 in which he averaged 98 yards per game on the ground and scored three times. Since then, over the course of two games, he’s totaled just 37 yards on 24 touches. However, West’s price appears to be inflated despite the recent drop in performance, as a result of his pending matchup with the Browns. Though the matchup is a very good one, West looks to have played himself into a timeshare with backfield mate, Kenneth Dixon, who has been entirely ineffective since making his season debut in week five. Dixon though, did reach his highwater mark for touches in a game this past week, receiving nine carries and catching two passes. Unfortunately, despite the pristine matchup against the Browns, I am not overly confident that the Ravens can suddenly turn around what has been a dismal running game.
The Browns were surprisingly able to establish a solid running game early on in 2016, but the team, and in particular the head of that rushing attack, Isaiah Crowell has been bottled up on the ground in recent weeks. Since running for 120 yards in week four, Crowell has not gone over 65 rushing yards in any of the five games that followed. The matchup against a ravens defense that is allowing the second fewest yards per game on the ground, does not suggest that a turn around is imminent. Crowell is an easy fade.
Browns Coach Hue Jackson has done an amazing job to this point in making Cody Kessler look like a somewhat competent NFL starter. To date, Kessler has completed 67.5 percent of his passes, with a 5:1 touchdown to interception ratio. That being said, those initially impressive statistics are largely the product of a gameplan that is intent on getting the ball out of Kessler’s hands quickly – which is why he is only averaging 7.19 yards per attempt. Though Kessler has produced surprisingly useful fantasy outputs on multiple occasions this year, this matchup is not particularly enticing, as the Ravens coming in allowing the seventh fewest yards through the air in the league. Kessler can be easily passed over.
Though Kessler should not be in play for your fantasy team this week, his two dynamic receivers are at least worth considering. Terrelle Pryor has been a DFS darling for much of 2016, but he has become more accurately priced of late. Though I am not overly worried about the status of his hamstring, the price increase definitely makes it less feasible for him to hit value, and has him outside of the circle of trust in this tough matchup with Cody Kessler at the helm. Fellow receiver Corey Coleman however, returned from a five week absence this past Sunday to haul in three passes for 41 yards. Extremely talented, as he showed in week two when he caught five balls for 104 yards and two scores, Coleman looks to be underpriced as a result of his long layoff. Hue Jackson talked up Coleman following his seeing seven targets last week, and it’s fair to expect him to push for double digit targets on Thursday. Priced at roughly a 80 percent the cost of Pryor, Coleman is the receiver from this offense that I am locking onto this week – especially in tournaments. Gary Barnidge is the lone tight end of interest in this game, as Dennis Pitta has not had very much production since his nine catch outburst in week two. The two problems with Barnidge are that Josh McCown is not Cleveland’s quarterback this year and that he is not seeing red zone looks in 2016 – which contributed greatly to his value last season. Barnidge has had a couple of usable games this year, but the lack of upside, knowing that you almost certainly will not see a touchdown, really caps his upside and keeps him off my radar this week.
Joe Flacco has been put in a position to be a fantasy asset from a gameplan perspective this season, averaging 41.3 passes per game – a rate that would have him eclipse his previous season high by almost 50 attempts. Unfortunately, Flacco has been unable to convert those attempts into production, only averaging a meager 6.8 yards per attempt. That, in conjunction with a horrid 6:7 touchdown to interception ratio gives reason for pause, even in a fantastic matchup with the Browns. I would rather look for a quarterback who has shown quality play of late (in a decent matchup) than roll with Flacco in what on paper should be a great one.
Excluding the torrid start to his career which took place in Pittsburgh, Mike Wallace is arguably in the midst of his best stretch of games as a pro. Over his last three games, Wallace has hauled in 18 passes for 341 yards – highlighted by a 95 yard touchdown this past week. The Browns have given up a robust 285 yards per game through the air this year, and as noted above, Joe Flacco has been throwing the ball at a very high, though inefficient, rate. As always with Wallace there is a large boom/bust element in his game, as he primarily relies on deep routes to make box score contributions. But, with the Ravens lacking any semblance of a complimentary option, we can expect Wallace to see ample targets in a great matchup. The low percentage nature of those targets is what makes him more of a tournament than cash option in my eyes – but definitely someone that I am looking to fit into lineups.
I am looking to avoid this game entirely from a cash game perspective, as I simply do not feel confident that either of these teams will be able to get much going offensively. In tournaments, Mike Wallace and Corey Coleman both have real appeal, and I will have exposure to both. Coleman is mostly enticing due to his reasonable price and unquestionable talent, while Wallace is in the midst of a great stretch of games and enjoys a fantastic matchup.
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