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Thursday night NFL lineup submissions are different than any other type of DFS lineup submission for several reasons. First of all, we don’t have complete information on the other games that will play over the weekend. Who is injured and who is starting is often just a good estimate at this point. Due to this uncertainty it makes the players from the Thursday night game more appealing than those on Sunday. However, since the Thursday night game is nationally televised and is the only game on the players in this game tend to be more highly owned than we would expect given their expected output.
These high ownership levels cause a ripple effect in how we should attack the players in this game. When creating GPP lineups it is much more difficult to include these players in our lineups. This is because you should be taking a contrarian approach to GPPs and their high ownership levels don’t allow you to do so. I wrote about why this is important in this article last year.
However, if the players are owned more than what we would typically think we should break ties in favor of the highly owned players in cash games. This is because if the highly owned player has a big game you find yourself in a deficit right off the bat and could single handedly cost your lineup a win that week.
Based on these two key factors I will tend to recommend players from the Thursday night game for cash games more often than I will for GPPs which is in direct opposition of our normal strategy of diversifying in our GPPs. Because of these complexities the Thursday night game deserves a lot of our attention so each week I will be breaking the game down in detail. See this article for definitions of all DFS terms.
This week’s Thursday night game should be an exciting showdown as the Atlanta Falcons travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. The game sports the second highest total of the week at 51 with the Falcons favored by 3.5 points. All of those projected points should lead us to some very interesting plays for our DFS lineups. Coming into this game the Falcons sit atop the NFC South at 5-0 whereas the Saints find themselves in a position they aren’t used to looking up from the bottom of the standings at 1-4. This game is a must-win for the Saints. A loss at home this week and the Saints will fall 5 games out of first place and all but dash their hopes of a division title.
On the other hand, while it is true that every game in the NFL is important, you could argue this one is a little less important than usual to the Falcons. Their hot start has put them in a great position to make the playoffs. Their one problem lies with their division foes the Carolina Panthers who have started out 4-0 themselves. Any falter by the Falcons would lead to the Panthers having a shot at passing them in the standings. I expect both teams to score at will as both teams have been pushing the gas pedal on offense. That said, I think the Falcons ease up a little bit and the Saints play with a little something extra and the Saints pull the game out 28-27.
In what should be a high scoring game look for the Saints to air it out early and often. Based on my situation-neutral pass ratios, the Saints take to the air at the seventh-highest rate in the league, and their year-to-date pass ratio of 66% would tend to agree. I don’t expect this game to be much different as they are going to need to continue to score at a rapid pace to keep up with the Falcons, and I see the Saints airing it out on about 65% of their passes this week.
Since returning from his Week 3 injury Drew Brees ($8,300) has had no problems throwing the ball. Brees has attempted 41 and 43 passes in each of the last two weeks while compiling 359 and 335 yards, respectively, along with two touchdowns in each game. That said, I don’t think I can pull the trigger on Brees on this Thursday’s game as his price is just a little too high -- I would rather pay up at other places.
Even if we aren’t targeting Brees, though, he has some targets in the passing game that I am interested in. These receivers are especially interesting because Marques Colston will miss this week’s game. So far this year Colston has received 14% of the team’s targets, and those targets need to go to someone.
The main receiver I am interested in is Willie Snead IV ($6,200). During fantasy drafts, Snead was an afterthought. But things are changing quickly. Since Week 2 his snaps have been on the rise recording 50%, 61%, 66%, and finally 71% last week. With the increased snaps he has been gaining the trust of Brees as well. His targets are quickly on the rise with 6, 7, 6, and a career high 11 last week. Snead is a great play for both your cash and GPP lineups.
Unlike Snead, Brandin Cooks ($7,000) has been a bit of a disappointment so far this year despite his strong game last week. Even with that strong game, a good portion of his production came in garbage time. I am not ready to fully trust Cooks at this point and with his expected ownership levels for Thursday night GPPs I don’t see Cooks ending up in my lineups. The rest of the pass-catchers for the Saints, including Brandon Coleman ($4,800) and Ben Watson ($4,900), are off limits
On the Falcons side of the ball they have moved away from the pass this year and it has been very successful for them. Last year the Falcons were passing on 64% of all their plays. This year that number is down to 55%. Even if we take into consideration that they are winning a good portion of their games their situation-neutral pass ratio is still only 23rd in the league at 57%. Given the game script and score expectations, I am expecting that the Falcons will have to throw a little more than that this week at 58%. However, that won’t be enough to make Matt Ryan ($8,100) worth a shot for your lineups due to his high cost and how often Devonta Freeman (see below) has been scoring. Look elsewhere for your quarterback this week.
As we approached Sunday last week Julio Jones ($9,200) was one of the top plays on the board. Then early Sunday morning reports came out that Jones was questionable to play and if he did he was going to be limited. During this time there were still plenty of prop bets available that were extremely favorable to Jones so hopefully you jumped on some of them. When all was said and done I pulled Jones out of all my cash lineups despite his active status. Jones ended up playing and played decently recording 5 catches for 67 yards including a score on a fluky TD recovery while playing 91% of the snaps. This week Jones is expected to play as he is officially listed as probable. I think you can trust Jones in this favorable matchup but it comes with plenty of risk and I wouldn’t mind fading him completely. That said there is plenty of risk fading Jones as he will likely be a popular play as well.
On a side note this is different than what I would have recommended on Sunday morning last week. Last Sunday Jones was a complete fade for cash games due to his injury risk. It’s situations like these that you need to pay close attention to on Sunday mornings and adjust your game plan if necessary. Playing Jones in cash games was taking on risk that was unnecessary and over the long run is going to be negative EV.
If Jones is less than 100% the big beneficiary will likely be Leonard Hankerson ($5,800) and not Roddy White ($5,400/$3,500) who is clearly past his prime at this point in his career. Hankerson was in a great spot last week but only played 49% of the snaps due to a first half injury. This week Hankerson makes for a solid GPP play and should be considered for your cash games to negate some of his expected ownership levels.
As mentioned above I expect the Saints to take to the air heavily. This pass heavy attack along with a three headed running back by committee of Mark Ingram II ($7,800), C.J. Spiller ($5,300), and Khiry Robinson ($4,800) takes all of the running backs out of consideration for cash games. If you wanted to take a chance on one of the backs in a GPP I would go with Ingram on the chance that he would score a couple of TDs but it isn’t an option that excites me.
Finally, what you have all been waiting for, on the Falcons side of the ball they will likely run the ball heavily with your fantasy MVP through Week -- 5 Devonta Freeman ($8,000). Before the year started, Freeman was one of my favorite draft targets and ended up on nearly all my teams. Five weeks later even I am saying he is overrated at this point.
So far this year Freeman has piled up 405 yards on 93 carries for a solid 4.4 yards per attempt. Most importantly, he has scored 8 touchdowns. Freeman won’t be able to keep up this extremely high touchdown percentage, but this isn’t the game I am going to bet against him. His ownership rates will be through the roof, and -- with the totals so high -- it's too much of a risk to fade Freeman. Plug Freeman into all your cash games and try to beat the competition elsewhere. If you are playing GPPs, it may be worth fading Freeman. But you will be at a pretty big disadvantage if he blows up, which is highly possible.