Here’s a breakdown of the Thursday Night Football one-game DFS slate featuring the Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers that kicks at 8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network and FOX.
- Carolina’s defense highlights that the metrics we use to evaluate matchups can’t always be taken at face value — they have to be taken in the context of scheme, and we also have to remember volume comes into play when targeting a defense, too, rather than just efficiency. Despite ranking fifth at defending passes over the middle (per Football Outsiders’ DVOA) and possessing two linebackers who both rank in the top seven at the position in Pro Football Focus’ coverage grades (Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis), the Panthers have allowed the most receptions in the league to tight ends. They have given up at least five catches to slot receivers such as Cole Beasley, Nelson Agholor, Willie Snead, and Adam Humphries. Antonio Brown will get his numbers regardless, but this matchup also sets up well for Ben Roethlisberger to pad his home splits throwing to Juju Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, and Jesse James.
- Rookie James Washington has been mostly quiet since dominating the preseason, but he was reinserted into the starting lineup and played 86% of the snaps last week, making him extremely valuable as salary relief on this one-game slate.
- Cam Newton has the highest median projection for this game in our Models. He’s a great value even as the most expensive player on FanDuel ($16,500), and is an even better value on DraftKings, where he’s only the fourth-most expensive player ($14,400 Captain/$9,600 FLEX). Over/unders of 50-plus haven’t always been as commonplace as they are now, but in a six-game sample of such games since 2014, Cam averages 27.2 DraftKings points with a +6.41 Plus/Minus and 83% Consistency Rating.
- Since returning from a foot injury in Week 6, all Greg Olsen has been doing is dad-running into the end zone. He’s got a good shot at keeping his three-game touchdown streak alive — only Olsen’s own team has given up more receptions to tight ends than the Steelers this season.
- We all know explosive rookie receiver D.J. Moore has become a full-time player in the absence of Torrey Smith (knee), but Curtis Samuel is also trending up, with a snap rate over the last two games (34%) that puts him slightly ahead of Jarius Wright (31%). Samuel has at least three touches in three games straight, which is noteworthy for a one-game slate in regard to a player who averages 10.9 yards per touch and a touchdown on 13.3% of his touches in his career. Regression obviously has a search warrant out on those kind of numbers, but Samuel is cheap enough to bet against it happening for at least one more week in tournaments.
Roster Construction Notes
- We’re dealing in small samples here, but according to our NFL Correlations Dashboard, the Plus/Minus of Brown and Smith-Schuster has been strongly negatively correlated this season (-0.93), while Brown and James Conner’s Plus/Minus has a strong positive correlation (0.76).
- The fantasy points of Pittsburgh’s TE1 have been inversely correlated with Roethlisberger, as well as all of the running backs and wide receivers, at a strength of -0.33 or greater this season. Again, this could be noise, but is something to keep in mind for tournaments.
- Newton’s fantasy production has been more strongly correlated with that of Christian McCaffrey, Moore, and Olsen than Devin Funchess this season.
- Carolina’s backs and tight ends have scored in concert this season — Carolina’s RB1 and TE1 have a registered a 0.76 correlation while each has been negatively correlated with each of the team’s top two wideouts.
Cash Game Strategy
On DraftKings, the best way to get exposure to both teams’ passing and rushing production is to pair each team’s quarterback with his starting running back and then punt the last two slots with Washington and Wright.
There’s not enough salary to pair both teams’ quarterbacks and running backs on FanDuel; you have to fade at least one. McCaffrey is the obvious choice since over 50% of his fantasy production has come in the passing game. Going Newton-Conner-Roethlisberger leaves $12,000 to punt the last two spots.
Though Carolina has struggled more against tight ends than wide receivers, a Switzer-Washington combo still projects for more points than pairing James with any of the mid-priced options (though Hunter being active over Washington would make a James-Hunter combo the play instead).
If you’re new to one-game slates, or to playing on one of the main sites, note that the approach to the 1.5x slot varies depending on whether you’re playing on DraftKings or FanDuel.
Since DraftKings forces you to pay a 1.5x premium in salary to roster a player in that slot, you’re trying to catch one of the mid-tier players in a smash spot; the punt plays usually don’t have enough ceiling unless they give you a multi-touchdown game (sup Aldrick Robinson and Jordan Thomas), while the most expensive stud may not end up being the best value even if they score the most points.
Since this is a slate with six studs, it’s a great time to embrace the volatility of each team’s complimentary receivers (Moore, Samuel, McDonald, James, Washington) in the Captain spot. Players in the mid-tier (Funchess, Olsen) are also higher-leverage plays than any of the top six — essentially, think of the viability of players for the Captain slot in reverse order of salary.
More often than not, it won’t be necessary to be as contrarian in the MVP slot on FanDuel — the higher the ceiling, the better. Instead, it’s more important to nail leverage and correlations since there’s less flexibility and high-yardage games without touchdowns aren’t as valuable.
From that perspective, I think Funchess is the top leverage play on the slate. Funchess has dawn 38.5% of Carolina’s targets inside the 10-yard line this season, and not only do his touchdowns negatively impact McCaffrey and the team’s cheaper receivers, they also give you slight leverage on Newton (a potential six-point rushing score for Cam gets turned into four points).
Smith-Schuster also leads his team with a 35.3% share of targets inside the 10, giving him nice leverage on Brown and Conner. Building around a Funchess-Smith-Schuster pairing in tournaments is a +EV, cost-effective way to potentially give yourself access a larger share of this game’s touchdowns before even rostering any of the chalkier studs.
Obviously the other stack to build around is Big Ben and AB, though AB is the better of the two if you’re going unstacked, because if Big Ben ends up worth rostering it likely means one of his other receivers has gone off as well.
The top dart throw for Pittsburgh is Washington — eventually his 17.2-yard average depth of target is going to pay off. For Carolina it’s Wright; Pittsburgh has funneled at least seven catches to opposing slot receivers for three straight weeks.
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: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1)
Photo credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports