Thanksgiving Day Daily Fantasy Football: Thankful for a High Point Total in Dallas
Thursday Night Football has been a bit of a mess this season. We've seen some of the least competitive games in the NFL this season during the league's midweek island game, while also seeing some of the funniest and most entertaining moments of the season. All that said, it's been a fantasy wasteland for the most part, as nothing will kill the fantasy potential of a game quicker than a lopsided scoreline and a one-sided affair at halftime.
This week, hopefully, will be different. While participating Americans gather around a table to eat plenty of great Thanksgiving food (which does not include cranberry anything, for the record), six NFL teams will take to the field to play for our enjoyment. Oh, and you'll be able to win money based on their performances in a way that's legal in nearly every state with daily fantasy football.
Nearly every big site across the industry is doing a "Thanksgiving Only" slate, which means you need some options to roster for this trio of games. Let's look at each of Thursday's contests individually, and point out the best plays for all six teams.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Ah, the Lions playing on Thanksgiving. A tradition unlike any other. For a while, watching Detroit play on Thursday in late November served as a reminder to be thankful, because it could always be worse. But the Lions are a much better team lately, and actually present a couple of interesting options in a game against the Bears.
Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate stand out as top plays, as the duo are heavily targeted and have a great matchup. Chicago ranks 26th against the pass according to our Net Expected Points data and allow above average fantasy point totals to opposing wideouts on the season. They'll be on the road in this game, as well, in a dome that certainly favors offensive football.
Megatron has been targeted 15, 12 and 10 times in the three games since his return, while Golden Tate has 11 or more looks in the passing game in five of his last six games. The fine folks in Las Vegas expect the Lions to score around four touchdowns, and considering how much of the offense these two players participate in, it's a safe bet that one, or both, will find the end zone on Thursday.
Matthew Stafford is also an option, as the Lions QB faces that same weak pass defense. Chicago allows the third-most points per game to opposing signal callers, which gives Stafford a perfect springboard for a redemption game after failing to throw a touchdown in two straight contests against tough defenses.
Other options from the Lions include Eric Ebron, who has 11 targets in his last two games and faces a Chicago defense that is brutal against tight ends, and the Detroit Defense, which faces a Chicago offense that has given the ball away 11 times over its last five games and has been held under 225 yards twice over that span. The Lions have one of the best defenses in the league and are worth paying up for in DFS.
From the Bears side of things, there's not as much to be excited about. The Lions are a tough matchup, and Chicago is on the road for this game. Martellus Bennett is the only Chicago player who stands out as a good play, as tight end is the only position at which the Lions have allowed an above-average amount of points this year. Bennett's injury issues of late have slowed him down a bit, but he does have six or more targets in five of his last six.
Otherwise, I'm likely avoiding the Chicago offense in DFS, as their prices are too high for this tough matchup, on the road, at a weird time of day/week.
Risky Picks: If you're chasing touchdowns, no one does it better than the smooth dancing Joseph Fauria. He saw two targets last week against New England, and is facing a team that struggles against tight ends. This is a very risky option - but not a bad one if you're playing in a tournament and want to differentiate.
The Chicago Defense is also an interesting choice, as Matthew Stafford could continue his recent struggles despite what seems like a really good matchup. The Bears took the ball away from the Bucs four times last week and have four games with three or more takeaways this season. I don't expect many players to use the Bears on defense, so this is another good way to stand out from the crowd.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
This game is absolutely loaded with DFS plays and has one of the highest totals of the week according to Vegas. If you have any doubts about who to pick for a final roster spot, or are deciding between two players, you'll want to lean toward the players in this game.
On the Philadelphia side, Mark Sanchez is a great play. Good volume for a reasonable price is a fantastic recipe in DFS, and Sanchez provides that in bunches. He throws the ball around 40 times per game and will be doing so against a defense that ranks 27th against the pass this season according to our data. Chip Kelly's system is very quarterback-friendly and fantasy-friendly, making Sanchez a great play this week.
His top target, Jordan Matthews, is also an easy call this week. He's seen 8 or more targets in four of his last five games and has seen a sharp increase in production since Sanchez entered the lineup. His role as an "over the middle" receiver puts him in Sanchez's wheelhouse more often than not, and the two have good chemistry as a result. Jeremy Maclin is a good tournament play, as he has big play potential, but Matthews is cheaper and has recent success with the current quarterback, so he's the better overall option.
LeSean McCoy also provides a solid choice in DFS, as the Eagles back has seemingly returned to the form we expected from the start of the season. Dallas ranks 21st against the run, according to our data, which will suit Shady just fine. He's gone over 80 rushing yards in six of his last seven, and has scored in two of his last three. The arrow is definitely pointing up.
On the Dallas side of this game, the same sorts of options stand out. A weak defense all around presents solid choices at every level, and a high team total assures that points will be scored, and we can safely assume that the best players will be the ones scoring those touchdowns more often than not. For Dallas, that means Dez Bryant.
The talented wideout has found the end zone six times in his last four games and has at least six targets in every game this season (including 10 or more in five different contests). He's a big part of the Dallas offense and will line up against some of the worst corners in the NFL this weekend. Philadelphia allows the most points per game to opposing wideouts.
The man throwing the ball to Bryant, Tony Romo, is also a great choice. The Dallas signal caller has thrown for seven scores in his last two games and faces a defense that allows tons of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles force turnovers, which means Romo is likely to throw an interception or two, but the penalty for these mistakes don't override his huge potential to be the highest scoring quarterback on Thursday.
DeMarco Murray is also a solid option, as the Eagles allow an above-average point total to opposing running backs, despite having a pretty good run defense according to our data. Only one team has held Murray under 100 yards this season, which means he's almost a lock for the 100-yard bonus on DraftKings. Play him in any lineup where you have the cash to pay up at the RB position.
And finally, Jason Witten has been scoring touchdowns lately, and that's a trend we simply can't ignore. The veteran tight end has scored three times in his last four games, and four in his last six, and has been seeing a decent amount of targets in the Dallas offense. They're going to find the end zone four or five times, at least, against Philly. Witten will likely be among those celebrating a touchdown this weekend.
Risky Picks: With Zach Ertz limited by an injury this week, Brent Celek represents a cheap way to get a red zone option in this game. He has the third-most red zone targets on the Eagles, which makes him a better bet to score than Riley Cooper or even any other tight end in Philly.
Cole Beasley's best game of his career came against the Eagles in 2013, and he was slightly involved in the offense a week ago. If Terrance Williams is out with an injury, he might be worth a shot, as well.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
If you don't pick the Detroit defense during this slate of DFS games, you'll almost certainly want to take your pick between these two teams, in what Vegas is predicting to be a low-scoring affair on the west coast.
Seattle has taken the ball away from their opponents in five straight games and have only allowed one team to go over 300 total yards over that span. The Seahawks did struggle a bit on defense to start the season, but those struggles are certainly gone. Add in a low projected point total for both teams, and Seattle checks all the boxes as a good option in DFS this weekend.
But apart from their defense, I struggle to find a Seattle player worth plugging into a fantasy lineup. Marshawn Lynch is dealing with nagging injuries and a random workload, but this would seem like a game in which he'd go full "Beast Mode" and take it to his rivals. I just don't have any numbers to back that up, as San Francisco are one of the better defenses against the run, and allow the fourth-least points per game to the position.
Doug Baldwin should see targets in the passing game, but after getting only two looks in last week's contest, even his role as the team's top receiver can be called into question. The Seahawks spread the ball around too often, and in a game with very few points to go around, this makes for a very risky DFS situation. Seattle players will offer salary relief, but roster them knowing they're a potential anchor for your whole lineup.
From the San Francisco perspective, the defense is also a good play. The 49ers are second in our pass defense metrics and above average against the run. They're at home in a game with a low projected total, which makes them a safe bet to not allow many points and yards, while their pass rushers have been producing well enough to expect some sacks and potential turnovers as well.
The Detroit defense probably has more upside, but the two defenses in this game have the safest floors. Neither will allow many points, and both will likely pick up a couple of sacks along the way. If you are playing cash games on Thursday, I think one of these two defenses are the way to go.
Anquan Boldin stands out as a decent play on the 49ers side of this game, as he's been targeted nearly 10 times per game over his last five appearances. In an offense that doesn't throw the ball all that often, that's a pretty considerable workload for the underrated veteran receiver. Seattle does rank 20th against the pass, according to our data, and while that hasn't turned into fantasy point production so far this season (and they've been better as of late), it proves that there is room to work against the Seahawk pass defenders. Expect Boldin to get open for San Francisco often in this game but maybe not for a touchdown.
Otherwise, this game is a crapshoot for DFS purposes. There will be a couple of touchdowns scored, in all likelihood, and if you pick those players, you may turn out to have a decent lineup. But Doug Baldwin's two-catch, six-yard performance in Week 12 is a cautionary tale: this game could be ugly for fantasy purposes.
Risky Picks: Over Seattle's last three games, Paul Richardson and Cooper Helfet have been in the top-five in targets among all pass catchers for the Seahawks. If you think that Seattle is due for a breakout game against the Niners, these are two players who could make a big impact while being on very few rosters in tournament contests.
Brandon Lloyd has been quiet since his big games against Kansas City, St. Louis and Denver earlier this season, but the spotlight of a Thanksgiving Day game may bring out the best in this boom-or-bust receiver. His injury status will impact his viability as a DFS option, but he is a decent way to incorporate big-play potential into your tournament lineups but with plenty of associated risk.