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.
This week’s game has a very nice over/under of 51 points, which mostly reflects the lack of faith that Vegas has in either of these teams to play decent pass defense. I am expecting both teams to largely rely on their quarterbacks to move the ball this week, as the Buccanneers are down their top 3 running backs and the Falcons are going up against one of the better run defenses in the league, minus one half of their dynamic running back duo. The Falcons are slotted as 3.5 road favorites, which I think is supported by their clear advantage at every skill position over the Bucs. I do not see this game quite getting to the 51 point over/under, but the Falcons should roll against a team that has been definitely average in 2016. I see an outcome of Atlanta winning 28-21.
The Bucs’ running game is shaping up as a situation to avoid this week. Whereas the past few weeks have provided opportunities to roster the adequate but not overly impressive Jacquizz Rodgers in a bellcow role, with him being ruled out this week, this backfield is going to be a fullbown committee. Antoine Smith, Mike James, and Peyton Barber could each push for between five and ten touches, but betting on any one to contribute a useful output would be purely touchdown driven speculation.
Contrary to the cavalacade that the Bucs are rolling with, the Falcons should ride Devonte Freeman very heavily on Thursday. When Tevin Coleman and Freeman have both been healthy, touches have been allocated fairly equitably between the duo, but with Coleman already ruled out, Freeman should push for 20 touches. The Bucs run defense has been very solid this season, not allowing a 100 yard rusher in any game thus far. Granted, it could be argued that the cause of that could be their generosity against the passing game, Freeman’s projected volume certainly gives him a relatively high floor. Freeman is priced amongst the elite running backs and I expect him to be very highly owned given how early in the week Coleman was ruled out. I am worried about his ceiling, as the Falcons will probably rely largely on Matt Ryan’s right arm, and understand that he makes sense as a ‘cash block’, but I do not see value in rostering him in GPPs this week.
Matt Ryan gets a great matchup this week against a Bucs defense that has been shredded on every occasion in which they have faced a halfway competent quarterback this season. The overall numbers against the Bucs through the air may not look overly robust, but they have had the good fortune of drawing matchups with Trevor Siemien (replaced by Paxton Lynch mid game), Derek Carr, Case Keenum, and Colin Kaepernick in four of their seven games. In the other three games against Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan (in week one), and Derek Carr – who threw for 513 yards this past week against them – the Bucs have allowed an average of 383 yards passing per game and a combined 9/0 TD:INT ratio. Even though he is very highly priced, expect a solid performance from Ryan this week from a value perspective. He is a great cash game option.
Julio Jones looks to be in a prime position for a bounceback performance following last week’s clunker against the Packers in which he only totaled three catches for 29 yards. That poor showing was attributed to a knee bruise that caused to be limited early this week in practice. He was taken off of the injury report though on Wednesday, and we should take this as a sign that he is healthy enough to potentially bust out for one of his signature dominant efforts. Pairing him with Matt Ryan in cash games is an alluring way to begin cash game roster construction in week nine. One of the main results of Jones’s limited impact against the Packers was Matt Ryan locking onto Mohamed Sanu as his top receiver. Sanu hauled in a season high nine catches for 84 yards and a score in that game. He would likely be the primary beneficiary once again if Jones were to aggrevate his knee injury, making him an interesting tournament option at his modest price. Austin Hooper as emerged as one of the most rare sights in the NFL: the competent rookie tight end. He got his big chance to contribute last week when Jacob Tamme went down with an injury and ended up catching five passes for 41 yards on the day. Tamme has already been ruled out for Thursday and Hooper has been announced as a starter. At minimum price, he’s in play as both a cash and tournament option for those looking to punt at the tight end position.
Jamies Winston has only eclipsed the 300 yard passing mark once this season. This could be partially attributed to a very tough stretch of schedule between weeks two and five, but his performance this past week against an awful Raiders secondary was flat out inexcusable. Throwing for 180 yards against Oakland and only 269 against the 49ers the previous week, Winston seems to be making a habit of wasting plum matchups when they are presented to him. He gets another chance to take advtange of a porous secondary again this week, as the Falcons have been shredded the past two weeks by Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Unfortunately, I feel that Winston’s biggest problem is not that he does not have the skillset to take advantage of favorable circumstances, but rather that he really only has one weapon, in the form of Mike Evans, by which he can attack opposing defenses. This week I expect another middling, but serviceable, effort, that likely will not put you in an advantageous position relative to your opponent. I feel comfortable fading him all together. Evans, however, has shown no negative effects from Winston’s inability to put up gaudy statistics, as he has accounted for 595 of 1,776 yards (33.5%) that Winston has thrown for thus far. He will be peppered with targets all night, and has yet to see less than 10 since week one, and is definitely in play for cash games.
In Matt Ryan and Julio Jones we have the premier hook up for week nine on tap in the week’s first game. Both are legitimate cash game options, but I will look to pivot to Mohammad Sanu in tournaments, under the pretense that Jones could still be operating at less than 100 percent and Sanu performed valiantly with Jones limited last week. Austin Hooper is a valid punt option at tight end filling in for Jacob Tamme, who has been ruled out for the week. Mike Evans is the sole Buccaneer I will be looking at, as his outrageous target volume keeps him in play for cash games despite the presence of any other credible threat in the offense.
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