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.
Thursday Night Football brings us a matchup between two teams that, at least judging by records, are amngst the league’s elite – with the 9-3 Chiefs hosting the 10-2 Raiders. Vegas sets the Chiefs as 3.5 point favorites, with a projected outcome, based off of a 46.5 point total, of the Chiefs winning 25-21.5. When these two teams met earlier this season, the Chiefs handed the Raiders their most lopsided defeat of the season, winning 26-10. That game certainly looks to be an outlier, with respect to both teams, as the Raiders have since won six in a row, and the Chiefs’ last five contests have been each been decided by five points or less. This Thursday, I expect that the performance of both teams will be more in line with what they have shown for the majority of the season, and be less representative of their previous encounter. The Chiefs will approach this game with a balanced attack on offense. If the game is as close as it projects to be, Alex Smith will only throw the ball between 25 and 30 times, while Spencer Ware should see touches in the mid-teens. The Raiders have been pass-heavy all year, with Derek Carr attempting over 30 passes in every game this season. The Chiefs defense that has been vulnerable via the air in 2016, but I see them having relative success against Carr this week. I don’t see a ton of offensive fireworks resulting from this pivotal divisional showdown, but I do like it to be a far more entertaining game than when the two teams previously met – with the Chiefs squeaking by 20-17.
Latavius Murray has been one of the more curious cases in fantasy football in 2016. Volume and involvement in the gameplan have been consistent for Murrday most of the season, but production from a yardage perspective has been lacking – as he is averaging just 55.3 rush yards per game. The modest yardage output has certainly been offset however by his 11 rushing touchdowns on the year. It is obviously a positive that the Raiders have been able to get Murray into the end zone so often, but this week he is facing a Chiefs defense that has only allowed six rushing touchdowns on the season – tied for third best in the league. The particularly troubling aspect of this for me is that of Murray’s 11 scores, seven have come from three yards out or closer. Effectively, the aspect of Murray’s game that contributes most significantly to his fantasy value appears to be exactly what his opponent is most adept at preventing. I understand that on the whole the Chiefs have been exploitable via the ground, but this statistic gives me enough concern to keep me away from Murray this week.
Spencer Ware has a theoretically fantastic matchup against a Raiders defense that is allowing 4.9 yards per carry – 31st in the league – on the year. He also had his best rushing performance of the year against the Raiders in week six, shredding them for 131 yards on 24 carries. The Chiefs won that game by a score of 26-10 however, which is definitely not in line with my expectations for this week, as the 10-2 Raiders come into this game playing about as well as any team in the league. That game also took place prior to the concussion that Ware sustained in week eight, and forced him to miss a game the following week. The reason I mention this is the stark differential in Ware’s production before and after the concussion. In the seven games prior to week nine, Ware averaged 5.0 yards per carry, however since returning from injury in week 10, he has only managed an average of 3.7 yards. Now, the volume has been fine since he has returned - averaging almost 18 touches per game in that span – but it took a two score performance this past week for Ware to turn in his first useful fantasy output in four weeks. Those two touchdowns undoubtedly earned him goodwill with the fantasy community coming into this tasty matchup, but given his mediocre performance in recent weeks, I am avoiding him in cash games, and probably am only looking at minimal tournament exposure.
Volume has not been a concern in the slightest for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr this season, as the least amount of passes that Carr has attempted in a single game this season is 31. Carr’s performance in 2016 of course has largely been very strong, but coming into this matchup I do see reason for caution. For one, Carr turned in one of his worst performances to date in week six against this Kansas City defense, only throwing for 225 yards in a blowout loss. The weather also looms as a potential negative contributor to Carr’s performance this week. The temperature in Kansas City this Thursday should be in the mid 20’s, and Carr has struggled in cold weather games thus far in his short career. Granted the sample size is small, but in the four road games that Carr has played in after the calendar has turned to December – two against Kansas City and two against Denver – he has only averaged 177 yards passing. Carr may end up winning the MVP award this season, but it will not be because of his performance this week. He will not be in my lineups.
It is very plausible that the narrative for the Raiders receiving duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree plays out similar this week to how it did in week six. Crabtree caught a season low two passes in that game, seeing only four targets. It is no coincidence that this low point coincided with his spending much of the game running routes under the coverage of Chiefs’ lockdown cornerback Marcus Peters. Alternatively, Amari Cooper managed to largely managed to avoid Peters and exploited that good fortune to the tune of 10 catches on 13 targets for 129 yards. Granted, Cooper’s target share has not been as robust as Crabtree’s in recent weeks, but the opportunity this week should allow him to approach the 100 yard barrio for the fifth time this season. I expect Cooper to have high ownership this week and recommend him as someone to consider for cash game lineups.
With Jeremy Maclin set to return this week, Alex Smith will arguably have more weapons at his disposal than at any other point in his career as a Chief. Unfortunately, expectations for Smith remain low, playing in an offense that ranks 25th in pace at 28,23 seconds per play. An equally contributing factor to Smith’s mediocrity is his middling 22nd ranked yards per attempt (YPA) of 6.92. Even though Smith has been extremely efficient on the year, completing 67.4 percent of his passes, that dismal YPA is clearly a product of a gameplan tailored to incorporate a bevy of short passes. While this certainly caters to Smith’s strengths, it is not ideal for fantasy purposes, as Smith has only cracked 300 passing yards once on the season. Though the Raiders pass defense is very friendly, allowing the 9th most yards per game in the league this season, Smith just demonstrated this past week against the Falcons, who allow the most pass yards in the league, that a good matchup is no guarantee for a solid performance, in his case – throwing for just 270 yards and one touchdown. I feel comfortable fading Smith all together this Thursday.
Jeremy Maclin’s return should boost the Kansas City offense on the whole, but it’s fair to question if his return will have a material effect on the other options in the passing game. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill seem to have very defined roles at this point, so it is most likely that Maclin’s reincorporation into the offense will come at the expense of Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. Prior to going down with a groin injury in early November, Maclin had seen double digit targets on just two occasions in 2016. Historically, Maclin has derived most of his success through large target allotment, which does not figure to be there, with Tyreek Hill emerging as a key offensive piece, and Travis Kelce becoming Alex Smith’s primary option. I feel no urge to plug him into lineups in his first week back.
Tyreek Hill has registered at least 55 yards of offense and caught 4 or more balls in each of the four games that Maclin has missed. While there is some minor concern that Maclin’s return could impact Hill’s role, the two really serve different functions in the Chiefs’ offense. Maclin is locked in as a possession receiver, while the Chiefs have been manufacturing touches and designing plays specifically to get him involved. Hills’ minor role as a runner (he’s received at least one carry in seven straight games) and explosiveness as a returner give him additional paths to fantasy points as well. His gamechanging speed is evident whenever he touches the ball, and his solidified role has him has him on the GPP radar for me. A return of 2x value seems likely if he continues to operate in the 6-10 touch range, with the potential for a far greater output if he is able to break loose against the Raiders’ leaky pass defense.
Travis Kelce has emerged as the top tight end option in the league in recent weeks. Granted, this can be partially attributed to Jordan Reed and Rob Gronkowski going down with injuries, but Kelce has been on an absolute tear of late in his own right. Over his last three games, Kelce has averaged 10.67 targets and 116 yards per game, surpassing the 100 yard threshold in each contest. Even with Jeremy Maclin returning, my expectation is that the Chiefs will continue to feature Kelce heavily. Kelce is a fantastic cash game option this week at tight end, and I cannot really make an argument for any of the tight ends that are priced similarly, as his definitive role in his team’s gameplan sets him apart for me. I expect that his ownership will be quite high, so a fade in tournaments is something to consider.
While I am projecting that the score of this game will fall below the game total, there should still be some fantasy goodness this Thursday. Amari Cooper and Travis Kelce are both strong cash options at their respective positions. Kelce has established himself as a target monster and the clear top option for his quarterback, while Cooper has the chance to exploit an absolutely fantastic matchup. For tournaments, Tyreek Hill is my favorite option from this game, as the multitude ways that he can accrue fantasy points gives him a high ceiling. He has clearly immersed himself as a key cog in the offense at this point, seeing at least six touches in four straight games, resulting in a reasonable floor. I have no interest in playing either quarterback in this game, and while I recognize that an argument could be made for either (or both) Spencer Ware or Latavius Murray, I am steering of these two in favor of constructing lineups around values and absolute studs at the running back position this week.
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