FanDuel Thanksgiving Slate Breakdown
On a short slate like Thanksgiving, it’s usually wise to favor GPPs and often avoid cash games altogether. With so few options available, there is usually a ton of overlap between lineups, which leads to much more variance—exactly what we are trying to avoid when grinding cash games. Because the Thanksgiving slate usually draws in a more casual player pool than a typical short slate, there may be some merit to dabbling in cash games, though I would still recommend keeping it to a minimum and favoring tournaments. With that in mind, this analysis will focus primarily on players’ ceiling value rather than the median projection value.
Not only are the Saints the only team projected for over 25 points on Thursday, but their 36.5-point implied total is the highest since Week 6 of 2013. Expect New Orleans to have the highest team ownership by a wide margin and that starts with Drew Brees ($9,000). Only Patrick Mahomes has been more efficient than Brees this season when it comes to fantasy points per attempt and the Saints face a Falcons defense ranked last in schedule-adjusted points allowed (aFPA) to opposing defenses. Atlanta has allowed at least three passing touchdowns six times this season, the most in the league.
Given the high correlation of opposing passing games, Matt Ryan ($8,600) is a viable pivot that should draw significant ownership himself. While the Falcons are projected for just 23.5 points, the difference between their point projection and the second-highest total is less than a full point. Ryan is the only player in the league who has accounted for at least 80 percent of his team’s total yards and total touchdowns, and the matchup is somewhat misleading—although New Orleans ranks 19th in quarterback aFPA, it took a debacle from Carson Wentz and the Eagles to bump the Saints up from the worst ranking in the league. Rostering Ryan won’t necessarily make for a contrarian lineup but it will free up some salary to get to another stud in game stacks.
The slate-breaker hinges on the health of Mitch Trubisky ($7,900). As of this writing, “signs point to Trubisky not playing.” If healthy, Trubisky is clearly in play against one of the worst defenses in the league. Should Trubisky sit, Chase Daniel ($6,000) unlocks the option to load up on high-priced skill players, specifically from the Saints/Falcons game. Chicago faces a Lions defense that has allowed the most fantasy points per pass attempt this season and the second-most over the past six weeks. Just two weeks ago, Trubisky torched this defense for a touch under 350 yards and three touchdowns. The hope here is that Daniel can at least approach Trubisky’s output from two weeks ago while touchdowns in the Falcons/Saints game are spread relatively evenly through the air and on the ground. Simply having a two-man stack from this offense will allow owners to have a combination of skill players from the game in Atlanta that Brees and Ryan owners simply won’t be able to afford. Dedicating 15-20 percent of lineups to this approach should be sufficient.
Dak Prescott ($7,400) projects as a top-three quarterback value despite the tough matchup. If Trubisky plays, Prescott becomes the best option to implement a strategy similar to the one described for Daniel, albeit to a lesser degree. Should Daniel start, Prescott suddenly occupies his own pricing tier and rostering him will lead to a unique lineup build. Regardless of who starts for Chicago, expect Dak to be the fourth-most popular quarterback.
Alvin Kamara ($8,900) will easily be the most popular running back on this slate and may very well end up as the highest-owned player across all positions. There simply isn’t another player on this slate who sees the workload near the goal line that Kamara does, giving him more touchdown equity than any other non-quarterback. Many owners will make lineups with either Kamara or Mark Ingram ($7,400) but on a three-game slate, an argument can be made to dedicate a handful of lineups to both Saints’ backs. Ingram’s 14.1 FanDuel points per game rank 12th among backs who have played at least six games this season and pairing these two together is a fantastic way to leverage the field with a roster that doesn’t include Brees. Ingram has actually out-touched Kamara over the last two weeks—given New Orleans’ projected point total and Atlanta’s second-worst rating against running backs, in terms of aFPA, both Saints’ backs could conceivably pay off tournament value.
Even with the Saints’ massive implied total, it’s Ezekiel Elliott ($8,700) who has the highest projected ceiling. Accounting for half of the Cowboys touches on the season and 53 percent of touches over the last month, there isn’t another player in action on Thursday who commands the same workload as Zeke. Even on a full slate, fading high-volume backs has been a mistake this year—doing so on a slate where there isn’t another workhorse available may be GPP suicide. That isn’t to say that you should own Elliott in every lineup—you want to leave yourself outs. He should, however, be the cornerstone of most builds.
Tevin Coleman ($6,500) and Tarik Cohen ($6,000) round out the top five ceiling values at the position but Coleman has shown little ceiling this season—he’s exceeded 15 FanDuel points just twice all year and could very well fall victim to game script as a 13-point underdog. Atlanta is already throwing at the third-highest rate in neutral game script over the last six weeks and they should be forced into an even more pass-heavy gameplan on Thursday. It is worth noting that four of Coleman’s six touchdowns have come through the air. While conditions aren’t ideal, both teams are on a short week in a division game which widens the range of potential outcomes.
Cohen faces the only defense besides the Falcons that ranks outside the top 20 in running back aFPA but teams have been attacking the Lions relentlessly through the air of late—that plan of attack favors Cohen. If Daniel starts, Cohen should see increased usage in order to give Daniel easy looks.
With Colt McCoy under center for the Redskins, Adrian Peterson ($6,700) stands to see the vast majority of Washington’s touches. Peterson is 1-of-10 players to account for at least 40 percent of his team’s touches over the last month but the Redskins have the lowest projected point total on the slate and touchdown equity is a must on FanDuel. Consider AP for only a small percentage of lineups as a price pivot off of Coleman or a simple differentiator from the other high-usage backs.
With Kerryon Johnson out, Theo Riddick ($4,800) is the most intriguing dart throw at his position. Chicago ranks sixth in running back aFPA and they have only allowed one back to go over 60 yards on the ground this year. The Bears’ great pass rush does force quarterbacks into quick throws and that often means increased targets for pass-catching backs. In their matchup in Week 10, Johnson and Riddick combined for 13 targets and with Golden Tate gone, Riddick is the primary outlet receiver.
In the highest scoring game of the week with the two worst defenses against wide receivers on this slate, according to aFPA, Michael Thomas ($8,800) and Julio Jones ($8,800) will be the core plays in a huge percentage of lineups. Thomas has the highest projected ceiling of any non-quarterback and the third-highest ceiling overall, but the Falcons default to the pass much more than the Saints, and Atlanta figures to be forced to throw even more often. One contrarian way to approach these two is to roster them together since many owners will prefer paying up for some combination of the expensive running backs and Brees or Ryan. There is also some merit to fading both, especially in lineups that include both Zeke and Kamara, though that strategy shouldn’t be the default approach.
Staying in this game, TreQuan Smith ($6,400) will be the most popular price-saving option on this slate after his breakout game in Week 11. While his snaps and targets from last week justify him as a core play, my favorite leverage play is Mohamed Sanu ($5,300). Sanu is playing 84 percent of the Falcons snaps since the bye and is averaging over six targets per game in that span. New Orleans ranks in the bottom five in yards per target to the slot and that’s where Sanu has seen 90 percent of his targets this season.
The remaining core plays are Kenny Golladay ($7,200) and Amari Cooper ($6,500). Assuming Marvin Jones is out, both Golladay and Cooper are primary receivers in their respective offenses and will command significant target shares. After back-to-back big games, Golladay will be mega chalk but Cooper is a top-five ceiling play at his position that will likely go largely ignored, even on a small slate. Cooper makes a great leverage play in lineups that don’t include Elliott and is the obvious option to stack with Dak.
With Jones out last week, Bruce Ellington ($5,000) was targeted nine times on just 50 percent of the Lions snaps. As underdogs against a relentless pass rush, Ellington could see increased usage and is worth rostering in a fair number of lineups.
Allen Robinson ($7,000) torched the Lions defense two weeks ago but his upside is contingent on Trubisky’s availability. When a backup comes in, they often favor young receivers that they built rapport with in the preseason. While Anthony Miller ($5,600) and Taylor Gabriel ($5,100) have seen similar workloads lately, look for Miller to see an uptick in usage with Daniel under center.
With 22 percent of Dallas’ targets last week, Cole Beasley ($5,300) is the final option that can be used somewhat liberally in a portfolio. Of the remaining receivers, Michael Gallup ($4,900) and Josh Doctson ($5,300) are the only ones who have played at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps over the last month. In a game with dreadfully low offensive expectations, they are nothing more than long-shot differentiators.
Jordan Reed ($6,000) and Trey Burton ($6,400) both face defenses ranked in the bottom 10 in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to tight ends but they also get the unknown of catching balls from a backup quarterback. Reed is coming off of an 11-target game, three of which came from Colt McCoy’s 10 attempts. That will push Reed’s ownership up but I’d much rather take the lower ownership on Burton on a team with a much higher implied total against a Lions defense that is poor all around.
Austin Hooper ($5,600) will be chalky but he’s facing a Saints defense ranked first in tight end aFPA. If there is a player worth taking a shot in the dark with, it’s Ben Watson ($5,600) in the most dynamic offense on the slate. Watson doesn’t see enough volume to be used as a stand-alone leverage play but he can be used as a unique player in team or game stacks.
Defense and Special Teams
The Cowboys ($4,800) and Saints ($3,200) are both favored by at least a touchdown while the Bears ($4,700) have one of the best defensive lines in the league. These factors should lead to relatively even ownership among these defenses. Rather than trying to figure out the best play in a vacuum, choose among these plays based on what fits your lineup narrative the best. If you have a game stack with three Falcons, lean the Bears or Cowboys. Of the underdogs, the Redskins ($3,700) are the most viable play as Dallas allows the third-highest adjusted sack rate in the league.
When building lineups for a short slate like this, don’t try to pinpoint the perfect play at each roster spot—you’ll drive yourself mad. Instead, build teams around a story that you can tell about the games. How can you benefit from chaos? We know that Atlanta throws at an extremely high rate and could be behind big, leading to increased sacks and turnovers. If New Orleans lucks into an early defensive touchdown or two, Mark Ingram could suddenly dominate touches and Drew Brees may find himself with just one of the Saints five touchdowns. Now, lineups that faded the Saints passing game are sitting pretty. That’s just one example. Go through each scenario and build a core while planting your flag on a few under-the-radar plays. Finally, don’t be afraid to leave salary on the table. On short slates, winning lineups may have as much as $1,000 left over and it’s a great way to build a unique team.
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