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.
The over/under of 53 points is the second highest this week, as the combination of porous defense and potent offense should lead to plenty of fireworks this Thursday. Both teams should be throwing the ball early and often in this game, as the Panthers have one of the best run defenses in football, and the Saints have the league’s worst pass defense. The Panthers are 4 point favorites, conveying the narrative (that does seem to hold more than a bit of semblance of truth): that the difference in this game is that the Saints are playing on the road – as opposed to at home where the team, and their quarterback in particular, have historically been far better. I too feel that the Panthers will be victorious in this game, by a score of 38-30.
One of Jonathan Stewart’s only two usable outputs of the 2016 season came in week six against the Saints. Take away that game and his week eight performance against the Cardinals, and Stewart has only averaged 38.5 yards in four outings, scoring in none of them. Stewart has averaged 12 carries in those four games, so it is not as if he is not seeing a regular workload, but rather his effectiveness has just been largely minimal with the exception of two explosive showings. Though it is certainly a positive indicator that Stewart shredded these Saints for 85 yards and two scores the last time he saw them, the Saints have shown that they are far more vulnerable via the air than on the ground in 2016 – only a middle-of-the-road 4.11 yards per carry (15th best in the league.) I can understand an argument in favor of Stewart as a contrarian play under the premise that most players will look for exposure to the Panthers passing game, but on the whole I will not be targeting Stewart, as another middling performance looks to be the most likely outcome this week.
Coming into week 11, the Saints backfield looks to have devolved into a full blown committee. Mark Ingram II was dominating touches for most of the season, until a fumble in week eight spurned Sean Payton to bench Ingram in favor of Tim Hightower. In the two weeks that followed, Hightower has outtouched Ingram 34 to 30. With the Panthers allowing just 3.4 yards per carry (2nd best in the league) and having only surrendered five scores on the ground this year, neither Ingram or Hightower are overly attractive options this Thursday.
Cam Newton has had a down year by his standards, but this week gets the hapless Saints defense that is allowing a league worst 295 pass yards per game. Newton torched this same defense for 322 yards in week six and is coming off of his best game since then, throwing for 261 yards and rushing for 54 yards and a score this past week against the Chiefs. He will have his full complement of receivers at his disposal for this matchup and there is little reason to not expect a top tier performance. Game flow should also be in his favor, as New Orleans should be able to keep pace offensively against a Carolina defense that has not been as stingy as in years past. He is my primary target at quarterback in cash games this week.
Though quarterback Cam Newton makes for a great play this week, the transitive property does not necessarily apply to his receivers. Newton is able to generate a sizable amount of his value with his legs, and additionally spreads the ball around fairly equitably to his receivers. Over the entirty of the 2016 season, on only four occasions has a Panthers wide receiver hauled in over five passes (Kelvin Benjamin all four times). Even though Benjamin has clearly been Newton’s favorite wide receiver, his production has been far from bankable, as he has only surpassed 100 yards on one occasion. He did set a season high in targets (14) and catches (8) against the Saints in week six, but I would prefer to pair him and Newton in tournaments, rather than cash games, as I do not feel that Newton necessarily needs to pepper Benjamin with targets in order to have an viable fantasy performance this week. Tight End Greg Olsen is effectively the equivalent of Kelvin Benjamin, at the more difficult position to find production at in Fantasy. Olsen actually has the same amount of targets (76) as Benjamin, and will require a similar cost to roster him this week. I prefer Olsen to Benjamin, in cash games especially, as I believe that I can more easily find value at the Receiver than Tight End. I am also a believer in Olsen’s floor, not only in this matchup but on the whole – as he has seen at least seven targets in every game but one this season. If I am rostering one Panther in cash games in addition to Newton, it is Olsen. Devin Funchess had his best fantasy performance of the season last week, catching three passes for 56 yards, including a long touchdown. The problem here is that Funchess simply does not see a large target allotment, and you are essentially banking on a touchdown if you roster him. His price is reasonable though, and given the projected scoring output in this game, if you are looking for alternative routes to exposure to this game, Funchess can be a route to look at in GPPs, but I am definitely staying clear in cash games.
The Drew Brees home/road splits are as definitive as ever in 2016. At home, Brees is averaging 366 yards passing per game, while on the road, Brees is only throwing for 290 yards per contest. Granted, 290 yards is nothing to sneeze at, but considering that you know you are getting nothing from Brees in the running department, you really need a performance more in line with accomplishing in the Superdome to roster him at his costly price tag. That being said, Brees has the Chiefs and 49ers for 367 and 323 yards, respectively, in his last two road starts, and this week gets a Carolina defense that is allowing 273 yards per game through the air (25th best in the league.) For me, in cash games, it is easy to pass on Brees, as all I have to do is look at his opposing quarterback in this game, before even considering all of the other options in this slate, to find a more preferred option. But, with Brees playing as well as any quarterback in the league coming into this game, and likely being tasked with carrying an offense that should find limited success on the ground against one of the best run defenses in football, Brees has appeal as a tournament option.
Whereas Cam Newton is able to accrue much of his value via his legs, Drew Brees’s entire statistical output comes through his right arm. Because of that, we can expect that if he has a big game this Thursday, his receivers, at least as a unit, should put up ample fantasy points. Brandin Cooks is the Saints’ top receiver and torched the Panthers for a season best 173 yards back in week six. Surprisngly, this was one of just two 100 yard receiving performances for Cooks in 2016. Though he does lead the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, his numbers would likely be even better if not for the presence of his three other Saints with at least 30 catches. The reality is that Brees spreads the ball around and that Cooks has often relied on touchdowns to salvage a given week. I definitely rate him as the top option amongst Saints receivers this week, but with Cooks not seeing double digit targets once this season, it is tough for me to get behind him in cash games, and I would far prefer to pair him with Brees in a tournament lineup. The two Saints that round out that Drew Brees’s receiving corps are Michael Thomas and Willie Snead IV. These two have similar overall numbers, but have gotten there very different ways. Snead rocked the Raiders for 172 yards in week one – a number that has made up 33 percent of Snead’s yardage production to date. He likely has the look of someone trending upward after this past week, after he hauled in two touchdowns against the Broncos on Sunday, but his production has been mediocare at best outside of those two outlier games bookending his season. Snead is an easy fade for me. Michael Thomas is coming off of a horror of a game against the Broncos, losing two fumbles and recording a season low 40 yards receiving. Thomas only has one 100 yard game to date, but he has performed well on the whole in the plus matchups that Brees has been able to exploit – logging either 100 yards or a touchdown in four of the six games that Brees crossed the 300 yard threshold. Thomas is someone to consider rostering in tournaments in conjunction with Brees.
Cam Newton is undoubtedly my top play in this game, as the matchup is an absolute dream. I do not necessarily feel compelled to pair him with one of his receivers, as Newton can achieve value via his legs. If I am using another Panther in conjunction with Newton it is his tight end Greg Olsen. Drew Brees looks great to me as a tournament option. It is very likely that the Saints will have trouble running the ball against a staunch Panthers front, and Brees should have no trouble surpassing 300 yards. Pairing him with Brandin Cooks in tournaments is a fine strategy, but I will be avoiding Cooks in cash games, as he has shared targets fairly equitably with his fellow Saints receivers this season.
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