Here’s the breakdown for the Week 12 NFL Thanksgiving Day slate that kicks off on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET.
This article primarily focuses on strategic decision-making, so also be sure to also check out Matthew Freedman’s positional breakdown, Ryan Collinsworth’s piece on how players perform on short weeks, the Thanksgiving Preview edition of the Action Network NFL podcast with myself and Ian Hartitz, and our Thanksgiving betting guide.
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Cash Game Strategy
There are six studs on the slate …
- Drew Brees, QB, Saints: $6,700 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel (vs. Falcons)
- Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: $6,200 DraftKings; $8,400 FanDuel (at Saints)
- Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints: $8,300 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel (vs. Falcons)
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: $8,600 DraftKings; $8,700 FanDuel (vs. Redskins)
- Michael Thomas, WR, Saints: $8,900 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel (vs. Falcons)
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: $8,300 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel (at Saints)
… but you can only fit four.
Brees or Ryan?
If you’re not a fan of Brian Schottenheimer you must abhor Sean Payton. Since Mark Ingram came off suspension in Week 5, Payton has dialed up an offense even the 1970s thinks is run-heavy. Payton’s offense averages a league-leading 36.3 rushes and measly 28.8 passing attempts in six games over that span.
That would be the case to fade Brees. It’s not a very good one.
The Saints don’t have an aversion to the pass; Brees just makes lightning-quick work of opposing defenses with a 75.5% completion rate, 8.9 yards per attempt and 15-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the first halves of games this season. The Saints also aren’t afraid to run up the score; Brees launched a 37-yard deep strike to Kamara for a touchdown when they were up 38-7 in the fourth quarter against the Eagles last week.
Brees has scored at least 30 DraftKings points in each of his three home games since Ingram returned. In five home games overall, Brees averages 30.17 DraftKings points, a +11.36 Plus/Minus and 80% Consistency Rating this season, according to our NFL Trends Tool. Those numbers blow out Ryan’s road splits (20.44/+2.65/50%). The most likely outcome is both putting up big numbers, but the odds are in Brees’ favor. Besides, you can only play one quarterback, but multiple receivers …
Julio or Michael Thomas … or Both?
And while Brees’ fantasy production has had a strong positive correlation this season with Thomas — their Pearson correlation coefficient is 0.56 (on a scale of 0-1), according to our NFL Correlations Dashboard — opposing quarterbacks haven’t always capitalized from the game scripts created by Brees’ usually outlandish production (QB-Opposing QB correlation of 0.12). Meanwhile, Ryan and Jones have barely been correlated at all (0.14).
But Jones has a long history of putting up his best numbers when his team needs him most, averaging 24.8 DraftKings points, a +4.4 Plus/Minus and 70% Consistency Rating since 2014 as an underdog compared to 19.9/-0.8/47% as a favorite, per the Trends tool. And Thomas averages 24.1 DraftKings points, a +5.14 Plus/Minus, and a 60% Consistency Rating overall this season, with the former two numbers jumping to 29.3 and +10.28, respectively, at home.
Especially since there’s value at running back, taking the top two receivers and picking between stud running backs looks like the best move.
Zeke or Kamara?
In five games with Ingram this season, Kamara averages 21.1 DraftKings points, a +1.34 Plus Minus and a 50% Consistency Rating, which isn’t quite up to snuff in comparison to Zeke’s 22.74/+4.41/60% overall and 23.4/+5.93/75% at home. On FanDuel, though, Kamara’s 15-7 touchdown edge allows even his with-Ingram splits (19.4/+4.44/83%) to best Elliott’s overall splits (19.0/+4.65/60%).
The one thing that separates Zeke and Kamara this week is their respective matchups.
Zeke is playing a defense that is willing to concede the run at times — the Redskins’ 0.4% mark on defense in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA ranks 28th in the league — but also one that has been able to slow down running backs it decides to key in on. Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, David Johnson and Zeke himself played the Redskins this season. None hit their salary-implied point total on DraftKings, and only Johnson did it on FanDuel by the slimmest of margins (0.04 points). Washington’s defensive approach held Zeke to 15-33-0 rushing and 6-2-9-0 receiving in their first meeting.
Kamara, meanwhile, will face a Falcons defense that purposely funnels opposing pass games underneath and is on pace to lead the league in receptions allowed to running backs for the fourth season in a row.
Using the Trends tool, I filtered each matchup by running backs projected for 15-plus DraftKings points in that particular contest:
- Redskins vs. RB projected for 15+ DraftKings points: 12.9 DraftKings points, -8.09 Plus/Minus, 0% Consistency
- Falcons vs. RB projected for 15+ DraftKings points: 25.1 DraftKings points, +9.81 Plus/Minus, 75% Consistency
Playing Zeke over Thomas makes some sense if you already have Brees, but it doesn’t come without risk.
Look to Bears-Lions for Value at WR, D/ST
Regardless which combination of studs you lock in, you’re going to need at least one cheap receiver. Although Bruce Ellington will have a tough matchup with Bryce Callahan, who is fourth among corners in Pro Football Focus’ coverage grades, Ellington still has the top Projected Plus/Minus at the position on DraftKings and the top mark among receivers priced at less than $7,200 on FanDuel. Matthew Stafford targeted Golden Tate 27% of the time before Tate was traded this season and targeted Ellington at a 24% rate in his first game with the team last week.
Given the difference in projected game flow, I also think you can make a good case for Keith Kirkwood, who is third on the Saints in air-yard share over the past two weeks (14%). The only worry is that Brandon Marshall could impact Kirkwood’s playing time, so I still lean toward Ellington.
The Bears D/ST has the top projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings, where it’s only $600 more than the Lions, while the Detroit has the top mark on FanDuel where its $1,300 cheaper. Chicago’s D/ST averages more than twice as much fantasy production as Detroit’s, however, so I’m trying to get up to them wherever possible.
Consistency is more important in the higher price ranges because everyone has a high ceiling and you’re just trying to ensure that a player still gives you solid production even if he fails to hit his ceiling. At the lower salary ranges, upside reigns supreme because nearly the entire player pool is inherently inconsistent (or at best, unproven).
Putting It All Together
The main source of upside from low-cost players in DFS is touchdowns, which is why my favorite build for a Brees-Kamara-Thomas-Julio-Ellington-Bears core on DraftKings is going with Jordan Howard, LeGarrette Blount and Austin Hooper: All three have a tough matchup on paper. The Lions’ new Damon “Snacks” Harrison-led run defense has allowed 2.88 yards per carry to opposing running backs over its past two games, the Bears defense is first in rushing DVOA and the Saints are No. 4 in DVOA vs. tight ends — yet each comprises the highest projected trio in our NFL Player Models when locking in the aforementioned core.
Howard and Blount are among the top six in percentage of team rushes inside the 5-yard line while Hooper leads his team in percentage of targets inside the 10 (32.4%) and in the red zone (24.4%). Given the unclear workload split between Blount, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner, I actually like Ito Smith over Blount in this spot; Blount and Zenner are better suited for tournaments.
On FanDuel, the top projected lineup once the aforementioned core is locked in is to punt tight end with Dalton Schultz, whose 17% snap rate was higher than Rico Gathers (14%) and Blake Jarwin (5%) last week. The coaching staff talked up Schultz the team’s top replacement for the injured Geoff Swaim (wrist). Schultz is also an option on DraftKings if you want to get up to Riddick. At $4,800 on FanDuel, Riddick is so cheap that he along with Tarik Cohen make up the rest of the top projected FanDuel lineup over Blount and Howard.
The over is 10-0 in games with an over/under above 57 since 2003, according to BetLabs. Even if Saints-Falcons doesn’t make it 11-0, it isn’t likely to fall short by much. Tournaments will be decided by which entries are able all of the touchdowns scored in that game aside from Kamara, Thomas and Julio.
Ingram and Tevin Coleman offer top-six ceiling projections on DraftKings and top-eight ceiling projections on FanDuel and. They are the best leverage plays due to the negative impact any rushing touchdown they score would have on the fantasy production of their team’s passing game. (The same is true of Ito Smith at lower projected volume.) Ingram is seventh in the league in carries inside the 5-yard line despite his four-game suspension. Coleman has a 5-1 lead on Ito Smith in carries inside the 5, and is third in target share inside the 10 (20%) behind Hooper (32%) and Julio (20%). Regardless of Smith’s backseat to Coleman and New Orleans’ stout run defense (third in rushing DVOA), Smith is cheap enough that’s he still one of the top GPP plays on the board as a back with double-digit touch upside in a game with an over/under of 60 (view live odds here).
All of the running backs in Falcons-Saints make for good stacking partners with their quarterbacks as well, including Brees-Kamara-Ingram given how generous the Falcons are to running backs in the passing game.
It might be moot if this game goes way over the total, but it’s worth mentioning that because Julio hogs Atlanta’s air yards at a league-leading 48% clip, it’s difficult for multiple complimentary Falcons pass-catchers to go off in the same game — our Correlations Dashboard shows nothing but negative correlation or non-correlation between Falcons pass-catchers. Despite a combined three red-zone targets this season, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu are still in good spots. Ridley went off for 7-146-3 in the first meeting between these two teams this season and has a top-six ceiling projection on both sites while Sanu will draw P.J. Williams, PFF’s 108th-ranked corner among 111 qualifiers, whenever the Saints go with man coverage.
On the other side, Tre’Quan Smith (foot) will have a top-seven ceiling projection on both sites if he suits up. Kirkwood and the rest of the Saints pass-catchers are dart throws. Austin Carr (37%) is right behind Kirkwood in snap rate over the past two weeks but hasn’t been as productive. Josh Hill (61%) has out-snapped Ben Watson (34%) and Daniel Arnold (29%) over the past two weeks, but Arnold and Watson are probably the better correlation plays with other Falcons because they’re more likely to be called upon to run pass routes if the game is close. If active, Marshall would likely be utilized primarily as a red-zone specialist if Smith plays but could see an expanded role on the outside if Smith is unable to go.
Aside from leveraging Falcons-Saints, there are a few other strategies you can use to gain some differentiation.
1. Go Contrarian at Cheap Receiver
- Taylor Gabriel might have been the chalk if Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) were starting. Gabriel is liable to disappear if used a as deep threat, but can also be schemed the ball in space and has the ability to break big plays after the catch. He and Anthony Miller are tied for the team lead in air-yard market share over the past six weeks.
- Trey Quinn played 71% of the snaps and put up a 4-49 line in his first career game last week. Quinn will have a better matchup in the slot than Josh Doctson and Maurice Harris do on the outside vs. Byron Jones and Co.
- Since Amari Cooper’s arrival, Michael Gallup trails Cooper (23%), Zeke (20%) and Cole Beasley (16%) in target share, but Gallup’s 30% air-yard share trails only Cooper’s (34%).
2. Pivot off Brees/Ryan
- Aside from Brees and Ryan, the top two quarterbacks on both sites by both Projected Plus/Minus and ceiling are Dak Prescott and … Chase Daniel. Dak benefits from his rushing upside, and Daniel has a better matchup and supporting cast than Stafford and Colt McCoy.
3. Pivot at D/ST
Dallas, Chicago and Detroit will be the locked in chalk, leaving Washington, New Orleans and Atlanta as contrarian plays. You can can a case for both Washington and New Orleans:
- The Redskins D/ST has double-digit points in four of its past five games. There’s also the fact that Jason Garrett’s Cowboys have never covered on Thanksgiving.
- The Saints D/ST faces a Falcons squad that has allowed an average of 9.0 DraftKings points, a +2.54 Plus/Minus, and 75% Consistency Rating in four road games this season.
4. Utilize Players in the Middle Salary Tier
Jamming in studs simply more fun, but it can lead to mid-tier plays going under-owned:
- Kenny Golladay was targeted on a ridiculous 82% of Stafford’s air yards last week.
- As mentioned, Cooper is seeing 34% of Dallas’ air yards and may actually benefit is the declining Josh Norman shadows him.
- As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, Adrian Peterson is liable to be scripted out of a game but also has multi-touchdown upside when his team is an underdog. He’s also had a significant positive correlation with the Washington D/ST (0.39).
Let’s get this shmoney!
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Chris Raybon is a Senior Editor at The Action Network and a co-host of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+. He has watched every snap of every NFL game since 2010 — even the kneel downs. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRaybon and read about how he quit his accounting job and got paid to watch sports.
Pictured above: Julio Jones (11) and Marcus Williams (43)
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports