Welcome to the Thanksgiving slate — a DFS community favorite (and a slate I often expect to not play myself, because it’s “too few games” — and then end up playing anyway). DraftKings has gone ahead and included all three games from Thanksgiving on the “Main Slate,” while FanDuel and FantasyDraft have done the same. No time to waste, then; let’s dive in!
I toyed around with the idea of building this slate as one giant writeup, as the best way to view a three-game slate is through the lens of “all the games together,” rather than just “one game at a time.” When we have a one-game slate, of course, only that game matters; and when we get up to 10+ games, the most important thing is to have a handle on each game environment before thinking about how a game matches up against others, or how ownership will shake out, etc. But when we have three games, every decision you make should be built off the fact that there are only three games to choose from. Because having a handle on each game environment is still a vital part of all this, however, I’m going to shift things in two ways:
1) We’re going to skip the “Interpretation” section in the individual games, and hit only game environment and matchup elements first.
2) At the bottom of the third game (Saints at Falcons), we’ll have a “slate strategy” section that wraps all the thoughts together.
Finally, there is a unique aspect of slates this small in that more players are actually viable, rather than fewer. Because there are so few players to choose from, it is often the random, lower-owned player no one is rostering who ends up being the difference-maker on the slate. As such, we’ll gain a clear idea as we move through these games of which players are likeliest to hit; but we’ll also leave paths open along the way to consider some players who may be less-clearly-attractive.
Bears at Lions, Game Environment // Matchups ::
While Jeff Driskel missed “practice” on Monday and is questionable with a hamstring issue, we’ll approach this game assuming he plays. If he misses, it will be 24-year-old undrafted rookie David Blough under center against the Bears, which will leave the entire Lions offense as nothing more than a hope-and-pray option, while also increasing the likelihood of a run-heavy game from the Bears. Blough is undersized and had an issue with interceptions at Purdue, while his 1.0 yards per carry in college don’t exactly point to the same sort of freewheeling excitement Driskel has brought to the table. //
While it isn’t something that’s often talked about in the NFL (we see this a lot in baseball, where a hitter is better at hitting a particular type of pitch), quarterbacks can perform better or worse against certain types of looks and certain styles of defense. And through his first two years on the job with the Lions, Matt Patricia has not been able to come up with a look that has given Mitchell Trubisky trouble, as this man-heavy defense with a bad pass rush has allowed Mitch to go 39 of 53 (73.6%) for 528 yards and six touchdowns across two starts. Most of the yardage on that line came from last year (when Trubisky averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt on the season, compared to a pathetic 5.5 this season), but the Lions boost the league-average aDOT by 27% (the largest boost in the league), and Mitch notched 7.4 yards per pass attempt in this matchup earlier this year. This slate is surprisingly full of viable quarterbacks; but while Trubisky’s floor remains low, he does have sneaky-viable paths to ceiling this week against a Lions defense that has allowed the fifth most passing touchdowns in the league while picking off the fewest passes.
When Trubisky takes to the air, his primary target will be Allen Robinson, who will do battle with Darius Slay — whom PFF has charted with 15.0 yards allowed per catch…but with only 2.7 catches allowed per game. After Amari Cooper faced off with Darius Slay in Week 11, he talked about how there are some routes that you simply cannot run against Slay, and so you have to beat him with a more limited route tree. A-Rob went 6-133-2 against the Lions last year in a game Slay missed, while posting 6-86-0 on nine targets against Slay earlier this year. Slay presents a difficult matchup, but Trubisky remains a bigger obstacle in A-Rob’s path toward success — and if Trubisky is on, A-Rob will have a chance to go for one of his higher-end games.
Behind A-Rob, things get a bit more muddled, as it appears likely that Taylor Gabriel will miss this game with a concussion — yet even with that, we won’t have a guaranteed full-time role for Anthony Miller, who saw target counts of 3 // 7 in the games Gabriel missed earlier this year. Miller has had to share some of his snaps with Javon Wims in two of the Bears’ last three games, but Wims was the direct fill-in for Gabriel earlier this year, which should at least lock in snaps for Miller. He has 11 // 9 targets across his last two games, but he went only 3 // 1 // 2 in the games before that, and it isn’t as if Gabriel is leaving behind a basket full of targets. Miller is likeliest to benefit in this spot if A) the Bears are forced to lean on the pass, or B) Slay slows down Robinson. The Bears will likely need Driskel to start (and play well) in order to lean on the pass. Miller does have a respectable aDOT of 10.5, which is enough to give him paths to upside if the usage is there. Wims saw 5 // 1 targets in the two games Gabriel missed earlier this year and is a “bet on a pass-heavy game from the Bears, or bet on a big play hitting” option.
For most of the season, Tarik Cohen has seen around four to six carries and four to six targets, and the likeliest scenario for this game has him sticking in that range (with some opportunity for a spike), while the biggest risk in this game — from a fantasy perspective — is that the Bears control this game pretty thoroughly and lean on David Montgomery (recent yards per carry of 2.9 // 3.5 // 2.2 // 1.7) once again as an ineffective focal point. I think Montgomery will surprise some people next year, but with how bad this offensive line has been, and with Montgomery likely hitting something of a “rookie wall” this late in the year, he has primarily been operating as little more than a drain on the clock at this point. Consider him an “embrace a low floor to bet on usage-driven ceiling” option.
When a pair of division opponents play each other the second time around, it is not unusual to see these teams take a different approach in Game Two — which is an interesting note after the last game between these teams featured the Lions throwing 46 times with Jeff Driskel in a 13-20 loss (while the Bears picked up 23 pass attempts and 24 runs). If this were two weeks ago, we could believe that the Lions would continue to go pass-heavy regardless, given that they had no run game, though with this team unearthing Bo Scarbrough, we could see a more balanced approach this week. Injuries have turned the Bears run defense into an attackable unit, and Scarbrough is an extreme yardage-and-touchdown back (16 carries per game across the last two weeks, but only one total target). He’s a low-floor, touchdown-dependent bet; but especially if Driskel misses, he has a chance to be the engine of this offense (and of course, if Driskel plays, Scarbrough has a chance to be this year’s LeGarrette Blount — who popped in two touchdowns against the Bears on Thanksgiving last year).
Even if Driskel plays, we’re still likely to see the Lions go a little less pass-heavy this time around, and on a slate with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, and Josh Allen, Driskel at home against the Bears will rank just below Trubisky in the QB rankings. With that said: Driskel’s aDOT of 8.6 (while not in the same class as Stafford’s league-leading mark of 10.7) is providing him with enough per-pass upside to matter, and his 50.3 rushing yards per game have allowed him to average 20.7 fantasy points per game since taking over, with only one game below 19 points. The Bears rank top eight in pass defense DVOA, while only San Francisco is forcing a shallower average depth of target. Only five teams are allowing fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than Chicago, with this defense giving up, on average, one passing touchdown per game. Driskel is a “bet on aggressiveness and potential volume” play.
While this concentrated, still-somewhat-vertically-minded passing attack has still been able to produce usable fantasy lines since Stafford went down, slate-breakers have been much tougher to come by. Kenny Golladay has seen target counts of 9 // 5 // 4 with Driskel, but this has turned into only eight total catches, and he caught only three of nine targets in Chicago a few weeks ago, making him a bet-on-talent play. Marvin Jones has gone 5 // 5 // 11 with Driskel, and the Lions have been using him as a shorter-area piece in this offense in this stretch. Touchdowns or broken plays are required right now for him to reach ceiling.
Behind these guys, J.D. McKissic has seen target counts of 4 // 7 // 4 // 2 the last few weeks, while Danny Amendola has gone for yardage totals of 29 // 47 // 21 with Driskel under center. Both of these guys are “betting on a touchdown” right now — while the same can be said of whoever starts at tight end this week.
Xandamere’s Bonus Showdown Notes! ::
I’ve compiled some showdown thoughts for each of the games on the Thanksgiving slate! One interesting thing to take advantage of on a short slate with a showdown for each game is to look at prices on the showdowns and on the full slate and try to find some leverage points. They aren’t directly equivalent (for example, Javon Wims is $200 in the first showdown, but the minimum price on the full slate is $3,000), but you can find some leverage points and go overweight in the spots in which you’re getting the pricing advantage. For example, if we look at the first showdown, we have Allen Robinson as the most expensive player at $10,200, then we have a cluster of the Bears running backs and the Lions receivers, all piled up between $8,000 and $8,800. On the full slate, the Bears running backs are $5,400 and $5,000 and Marvin Jones is $5,300, while Golladay is $6,100. Golladay stands out here; if you’re just trying to find leverage points based on price, you could go overweight on him in the showdown and underweight on the main slate in order to take advantage of the pricing differences.
- The big news to wait on here is Driskel. If he’s out, we get a starting QB at just $6,200. He’s not a good starting QB, but volume is valuable at the highest floor position.
- If Blough starts for the Lions, expect Bears D to be VERY chalky. They have a great matchup, of course, but keep in mind that defense is the highest variance position (by far).
- LaGarrette Blount won me a lot of money in this exact matchup last Thanksgiving when nobody played him and he scored 2 touchdowns at something like 10% ownership. Scarbrough is going to be higher than 10% owned, of course, but just your regular reminder that running backs with goal line roles have value on small slates.
- As if we needed any more value, Javon Wims should be starting for Taylor Gabriel and he’s stone minimum at $200. I’m not even sure what to do with all of this extra salary.
- Both of these teams are likely to want to run the ball a lot (Detroit especially), and as long as the game stays close, that’s likely going to be how things go. Plan your exposure to receivers carefully; it’s hard to see either of these teams really supporting more than one receiver unless they fall way behind and throw more than expected, so build accordingly.
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