Week 4 Thursday Night Spotlight

Analyzes the game script for the Thursday night game. Examines factors to consider in setting Thursday night lineups, including injury considerations.

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.

GAME SCRIPT

The Dolphins and Bengals square off this week in what promises to be the most Offensive oriented Thursday Night game so far in 2016. The spread currently sits at the Bengals as seven point favorites, surely heavily influenced by the Dolphins’ performance this past week in which they made every effort to give away a win to the Browns. With a total of 44.5, we can infer that Vegas projects 25.25 points for the Bengals and 19.25 points for the Dolphins.

While we’ve become accustomed to Thursday Night games too often giving us a dismal matchup, there’s certainly hope for both these squads to play better than their records indicate. No one would argue that either of these teams is off to strong starts, as their 1-2 records suggest, but to be fair, the four combined losses have come against the Steelers and Broncos (who beat the Bengals) and the Patriots and Seahawks (who beat the Dolphins.) A cursory look at the team statistics has the Dolphins run defense appearing to be the most targetable unit. However, as we’ll examine later on, there could be hidden value in fading the Bengals running attack, especially coming off of a performance that has fantasy players warming up to the unit.

Both the Bengals and Dolphins have disappointed their fans more than they have brought them joy in recent years. But, fortunately, in 2016 while that disappointment has continued to perpetuate, it’s largely been a result of poor defensive play. Even if this game doesn’t turn into a shootout, the trend of poor defensive performance should continue into week four. 1-3 holes are difficult to dig out of when you only play 16 games, and even though these teams do match up rather evenly, the home field advantage propels the Bengals to a slim margin of victory this week, 27-24.

RUNNING GAME

The Dolphins come into this game having allowed the second most rush yards through the first three weeks, making that unit a prime target in this matchup, right? Not so fast – let us examine further. Though from a total yards allowed perspective, the Dolphins have been horrific, they rank ‘only’ 20th in yards per attempt, giving up 4.33 yards per carry. However, I’m approaching this with caution, as the Dolphins’ opponents – the Patriots, Browns, and Seahawks - have been amongst the most run-heavy, and effective on the ground, in the NFL. To date, each of the Dolphins’ opponents rank in the top half of the NFL in both yards per carry and total rush yards. My takeaway here is that the Dolphins’ statistical output speaks more to their schedule than what we can expect going forward. Jeremy Hill on the surface had a nice day last week totaling 97 yards and 2 touchdowns, however, 65 yards and a score came on the Bengals’ opening drive. The Bengals rank just 25th in the league in rushing attempts, certainly partially due to game flow but additionally this can be attributed to ineffectiveness, as they are only averaging 3.7 yards per carry as a team. Overall I find this to be a neutral setting at best for Hill and have him earmarked for ‘fade’ status. Giovani Bernard’s upside is enticing, and has already been realized in the form of a 100 yard receiving performance against the Steelers during week two. That being said, banking on pass catching running backs who are more singular in nature than duel threat – like Bernard, who has only received 5 carries in each game so far in 2016 – is a risky proposition. Effectively, they have a fairly limited quantity of touches (catches) with which they have to do all of the leg work themselves – as they’re primarily catching the ball right at the line of scrimmage. The matchup does not stick out as particularly great, regardless, and I’m looking for better ways to fill my running back slots.

To be frank, the Dolphins’ offense was nightmarish for much of last week’s game against the Browns. Though the team escaped with a win, that can be largely attributed to the fact that they were facing the Browns. In the absence of Arian Foster, who once again will not play this week due to a groin injury, four Dolphins running backs saw carries, with all seeing between 4 and 11 touches. Though Kenyan Drake led the backfield with 48 total yards, he was largely ineffective, especially as a runner. I would love to see the team give Jay Ajayi, who won the game on an 11 yard touchdown run, get the bulk of snaps, but I don’t have any confidence in this coaching staff to break up the cavalcade. Any member of this committee that delivers value from this team will likely due so as a result of reaching the end zone, and I can’t advocate plugging in a running back that projects to see ten touches or less into your lineup.

PASSING GAME

Both Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton fall in the same main bucket for me this week: Avoid In Cash Games. Even with a plus matchup for Dalton against the beleaguered Dolphins secondary, I don’t see the surrounding firepower outside of A.J. Green, or the game flow (as this game projects to be close throughout), for Dalton to put up a line worthy of your lineups. Last week we saw Tannehill barely deliver a usable line, with the advantage of overtime, in a dream matchup against the Browns.  Admittedly, the bad taste that that performance likely left in fantasy players’ mouths could contribute to an extremely low ownership rate against a defense that just got carved up by Trevor Siemien, but I’m not willing to invest more than a marginal allocation of my tournament shares in Tannehill.

Jarvis Landry is the marquee cash game play for me in this game. The Bengals come into this matchup having just given up a banner day to Emmanuel Sanders and Landry should be the next to strike. Landry has at least seven catches in each of the first three games, and ranks third in the league in receptions. Though he does have only one touchdown to his name, he doesn’t need to reach pay dirt in order to hit value – especially at his relatively inexpensive price tag. I wouldn’t be worried about DeVante Parker looking healthy the past two weeks, as Parker’s ability to stretch the field should only open up more opportunities to succeed running the short routes that he excels at. The short turnaround on Thursday Night games often results in unexpected, but Landry turning in a solid performance is something you can bank on. DeVante Parker has seen a whopping 19 targets in his two weeks on the field in 2016, turning in serviceable fantasy performances in both games. He’s easily the Dolphins’ best deep threat and should be relied on even more in intermediate-to-deep role with Jordan Cameron not suiting up this week. Though this likely bumps up Parker’s ceiling, such routes are of course lower percentage by nature, so I’m assigning Parker considerably more risk than his teammate, Landry. I do believe that this offense can sustain two quality fantasy receivers, even within the scope of a single game, but ideally I’m using Parker in tournaments, as his profile fits the ‘boom or bust’ nature that I generally associate with tournaments.

Dolphins’ corners have been abused by their counterparts so far in 2016, with Terrelle Pryor’s demolition of Byron Maxwell last week serving as the latest example. Maxwell’s contract will likely have him seeing a lot of A.J. Green this week, which is great for those looking to roll out Green this week. AJ Green hasn’t quite performed in line with expectations the past two weeks after torching the Jets week one, but he can certainly be forgiven for a mediocre performance, by his standards, in week three against the Broncos. I expect Green to be very highly owned this week, but I’m completely fine with using him as an anchor in your cash game lineups.

SUMMARY

The primary options I’ll be looking at from this game are the outstanding receiving trio of Jarvis Landry, AJ Green, and DeVante Parker. Green and Landry are two fantastic cash game plays, while I’ll be throwing Parker in tournament lineups. Outside of those three, I don’t see a ton of value here. If I am throwing multiple entries in a tournament, I think Tannehill garners interest, but on the whole I am minimizing my exposure, as I think the fantasy output will be consolidated to the elite receiving talents.


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