Hey Fantasy Life Members,
Below you will find an in-depth breakdown of the three Thanksgiving games. If you enjoy it, the NFL Edge writeups of every game is included with your OWS Free membership (No CC Required).
The Bills kick off the Thanksgiving festivities as the team on the slate with the highest Vegas implied team total (31.25) in the game with the highest game total (53.5) – and it makes a lot of sense why that is the case. The Bills continue to play at an elevated pace of play (third-ranked first-half pace of play, fourth-ranked pace of play with the score within seven points, and fifth-ranked situation-neutral pace of play) with the second highest pass rate over expectation (PROE), a 60.77% overall pass rate, and an average of 37.5 pass attempts per game. They have scored the second most points per game this season at 28.1, and playing an opponent ranked dead last in the NFL in points allowed per game (28.2). Buffalo started the season so efficiently, and their defense started the season so elite that they ran below league average total offensive plays from scrimmage in four of their first seven games but have been above league average in each of their previous three games as their defense has struggled through injuries. That’s an important nugget as far as the expected volume from this game goes. The Bills have primarily been an 11-personnel base team but have mixed in seemingly random games throughout the season with elevated heavy personnel utilization, as evidenced by their Week 11 win over the Browns. In that game, their heavy personnel utilization (21- and 12-personnel) skyrocketed up to 59% – and it’s not like they were running away with the game throughout, as the game remained within six points until four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Their other elevated heavy personnel rate games came in a Week 1 blowout win over the Rams and a Week 2 dismantling of the Titans where Gabe Davis missed. Stefon Diggs played 66% or fewer of the offensive snaps in each of those games. Diggs has been below an 80% snap rate on three other occasions this season, a Week 3 loss to the Dolphins, a Week 5 dismantling of the Steelers, and a Week 9 loss to the Jets. In other words, Stefon Diggs, everyone’s poster boy at the wide receiver position this season, has played 80% or more of the offensive snaps only four times all season. More on this in a bit.
Nyheim Hines was brought over at the trade deadline and has played exactly 20 offensive snaps in three games – but hey, at least the Bills got their return man. I kid, but the point here is that the Bills backfield is very much still Devin Singletary’s. Singletary has played 72% or more of the offensive snaps in every game since Week 6, seeing running back opportunity counts of 13, 15, and 20 since the addition of Hines. Rookie running back James Cook has played between 17% and 25% of the offensive snaps in each of the four games since Buffalo’s Week 7 bye. While Singletary’s usage has seemingly come and gone with the wind, he remains the back to roster for a team averaging 25.5 rush attempts per game this season and has scored three touchdowns in his last two games. There might yet be room for upside for the veteran back playing for the team with the highest Vegas implied team total on the slate. The pure rushing matchup yields a slightly above average 4.41 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Lions defense that has allowed 12 rushing scores through 10 games played and a robust 4.78 yards per running back carry.
This brings us back to Stefon Diggs, who is sure to be one of the most popular plays on the Thanksgiving slate. Diggs has seen an insane 31.5% targets per route run rate, 29.4% team target market share, the fourth most targets amongst wide receivers, and has run the 15th most routes in the league – all while playing only 78.4% of the offensive snaps this season. Furthermore, Diggs has seen his snap rate shrink massively in non-competitive games this year, typically the wide receiver to see a reduced snap rate when the team runs increased rates of heavy personnel (as they have done on numerous occasions this season). Compare that to Gabe Davis, who carries an elite 91.6% snap rate and the second-deepest aDOT in the league this season. Obviously, Diggs is valuable for his red zone role (33.3% red zone target market share), but the drastic difference in snap rate between the two at least gives us something to think about on a short slate. Isaiah McKenzie continues to operate as a situational wide receiver, splitting time with Khalil Shakir out of the slot since Jamison Crowder’s injury in Week 4. Finally, Dawson Knox should see between 80% and 90% of the offensive snaps regardless of how the team decides to handle their personnel alignments, backed up by primary blocking tight end Quintin Morris. Really none of the secondary options outside of Knox earns targets at a serviceable rate.
We don’t need to sound like a broken record regarding Lions quarterback Jared Goff versus pressure, but a trend worth noting is the dip in pressure rate from the Bills over the last six weeks of the season as they have fought through numerous defensive injuries. The Bills are still a team that blitzes at a relatively low frequency (17.9% – ninth lowest in the league), but the difference between pressure rates over the first month of play and the previous six weeks has been stark, leaving them with a pressure rate right around league average (22.8%) and only three games of three sacks or more this season. Detroit remains a run-first offense that utilizes unique blocking schemes designed to create multiple holes for their backs to hit, but we’ve seen this team be willing to adapt to game environment as far as rush-pass splits and pace of play go (ninth fastest second half pace of play and overall pass rates that reflect game flow). Electric rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams was designated for return from the reserve/non-football injury list on Monday but is unlikely to make his debut on the short week. Josh Reynolds got in a limited session on Tuesday after starting the week as a DNP on Monday’s walkthrough injury report, a step in the right direction after he missed the previous three games with a back injury. Finally, running back D’Andre Swift and wide receiver D.J. Chark are clearly not at full health yet as Swift has played 31% or fewer of the offensive snaps each of the previous three games and Chark played only 11 offensive snaps in his first game back from an extended absence last week. Again, with the team on a short week it’s likely the injured Lions see reduced involvement.
Running back Jamaal Williams has five games with multiple touchdowns in just 10 games played, a ridiculous and likely unsustainable mark – but it’s startling, nonetheless. Considering he has played more than 50% of the offensive snaps in only one game this season, it is likely the Lions don’t want to overwork the aging veteran. That has meant increased utilization of Craig Reynolds (on injured reserve) and Justin Jackson with Swift not fully healthy, with one or the other seeing at least 32% of the offensive snaps in five of the last seven games (since Swift began dealing with injuries). Williams remains the back likeliest to score as the preferred short yardage back. The pure rushing matchup yields an average 4.355 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Buffalo defense ceding a near league-average 22.2 DK points per game to opposing backfields (moderate 4.23 yards allowed per running back carry).
The Detroit pass volume carries a wide range of potential outcomes from week to week, based heavily on eventual game flow. Considering their opponent this week, it is likely we see that volume see a stark uptick, with the only truly viable path to a decrease coming via a game environment where the Lions can generate multiple turnovers. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, and tight end Brock Wright are the only pass-catchers that we can expect to see near every-down usage, with the health of Josh Reynolds likeliest to influence the expected snap rate of Raymond more than the other two. I tentatively expect to see Reynolds return from his three-game absence and D.J. Chark to see a slight bump to his modest participation from a week ago. The unknowns surrounding those two pass-catchers leaves all of Raymond, Reynolds, and Chark with a rather wide range of outcomes regarding expected snap rates, also influenced a good bit by the eventual game environment. Basically, Detroit’s pass offense has a massively wide range of outcomes for both overall pass volume and the uncertainty introduced by the multitude of players working there way back from injuries, leaving only Amon-Ra St. Brown as a sure bet for volume through the air. That said, there are some interesting ways to leverage that uncertainty, which we will discuss further in the DFS+ interpretation section below.
The Bills are highly likely to score points at ease here against a Lions defense ceding the most points per game this season (28.2), leaving the likeliest game flow with a rather tight range of potential outcomes. That said, the game environment is almost entirely left up to what the Lions can muster on offense as we can expect the Bills to be fairly successful running their preferred game plan (fast pace of play, efficient with the ball, heavy pass rates). What might (maybe, I dunno) go missed by the field is the fact that the Bills have given up 25.3 points per game over the previous three weeks as their defense fights through injuries, paving the potential for a true shootout-style game environment should the Lions find some form of offensive success. The Lions have also shown to be a team that will open their offense up when required, providing further paths to this game environment turning into the game environment you had to have on the slate. That isn’t going to go missed by the field, so we’ll talk about some interesting ways to attack this environment down in the DFS+ Interpretation section for the entire slate.
We know with a high degree of certainty how the Giants want to try and win this game, as they’ve shown us all season that they want to leverage elevated rush rates (third lowest pass rate over expectation) and a slow pace of play in an attempt to keep the game close into the fourth quarter. While the Dallas defense has stumbled against the rush over the previous month of play (like, allowing almost 180 yards rushing per game, stumbled), six offensive linemen for the Giants are currently listed on the team’s injury report heading into Thursday’s game with everything from injuries to illness. Furthermore, their top two corners are banged up, making it more likely they experience more negative game script than they’ve grown accustomed to handling this season. Electric rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson suffered a torn ACL in Week 11 and will miss the remainder of the season as well, which is a big blow to a team already without tight end Daniel Bellinger (particularly so considering the Giants operate primarily from 11-personnel this season). All of those injury and illness concerns introduce a slew of uncertainty regarding how we expect the Giants to attack here, with most roads pointing squarely back to Saquon Barkley and a run game that has succeeded through volume as opposed to efficiency this season (well below average 4.10 adjusted line yards and 4.33 running back yards per carry).
The backfield is firmly Saquon Barkley’s as Week 11 marked only his second game all season below an 80% snap rate (76%). Barkley is on the field at the highest rate amongst all running backs in the league (82.4% average snap share) and has seen the highest share of team opportunities and the second most rush attempts this season. The biggest question is the expected efficiency considering the unknowns surrounding the Giants offensive line. Matt Breida should continue operating as the change of pace back behind Saquon but has seen no more than 30% of the offensive snaps or six running back opportunities this season. The matchup on the ground yields a below average 4.23 net-adjusted line yards metric with each side seeing a recent hit in efficiency.
The state of the Giants pass offense is such that we can only expect certainty from Darius Slayton and tight end Lawrence Cager, the former of whom started the season fifth on the depth chart and the latter of whome started the season on the practice squad. The injury to Wan’Dale Robinson opens things up significantly behind those two, with all of Kenny Golladay, Richie James, Isaiah Hodgins, Marcus Johnson, and rookie David Sills likely to see some level of involvement. Kenny Golladay has more drops than receptions this year and has struggled through injuries, Hodgins was brought over to the team three weeks ago, Sills hasn’t played an offensive snap over the previous two games, and Marcus Johnson started the season on the practice squad – yea, your guess is as good as mine as to who would be likeliest to emerge as a secondary option for the Giants this week. Based on previous utilization and familiarity with head coach Brian Daboll, I tentatively expect Darius Slayton, Marcus Johnson, and Isaiah Hodgins to operate as the top three wide receivers, each likely to play 80% or more of the offensive snaps. That leaves Golladay likely to mix in for 40-50% of the offensive snaps and David Sills likeliest to bring up the rear in snap rate. Practice squad tight end Lawrence Cager reverted to the practice squad on Monday before being elevated to the active roster on Tuesday, marking his third and final elevation prior to requiring a full signing. He worked his way up to a 74% snap rate last week. The team also signed former Saints tight end Nick Vannett to the practice squad on Tuesday, but he would be unlikely to make much of an impact after being with the team for only a couple of days come Thursday.
The Cowboys hold the league’s ninth lowest pass rate over expectation, carry below league-average number of offensive plays run per game, and hold one of the lowest overall pass rates in the league this season (26th-ranked 52.49%). Three of Dak Prescott’s four complete games this season has seen the veteran quarterback attempt 27 passes or fewer, with the only outlier game (46 pass attempts) coming in a game that saw the Cowboys run 83 offensive plays from scrimmage, more than 20 more than their season average. That provides a fairly tight range of outcomes as far as distribution of volume goes against a Giants team ravaged by injuries this season (and a team that also likes to play at a slow pace with low pass rates as they attempt to keep games close into the fourth quarter). The biggest unkowns come through the expected split in running back utilization in Ezekiel Elliott’s second game back from injury after Jerry Jones’ love child played only 29% of the offensive snaps in Week 11. The Dallas offense has continued to be primarily based out of heavy personnel alignments, which has transitioned away from a two-tight end distributon of work and towards a four-way rotation at the position as the season has progressed.
Considering the state of the Cowboys team, in conjunction with an aggressive defense, an offense that would prefer to win games in the trenches, and a severely banged up Giants team, it is likeliest we see the Cowboys afforded the opportunity to play to their strengths and perferences here – which includes a slow pace of play and elevated rush rates split between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. After Pollard went nuclear on a 54% snap rate in Week 11, we can expect most of the ownership to come from this backfield to land squarely on Tony Pollard while Zeke goes relatively overlooked. Zeke played only 29% of the offensive snaps last week after missing the previous two games, and I would tentatively expect the snap rate distribution to be closer to an even split in Zeke’s second game back from injury. That introduces an interesting dynamic considering Pollard is expected to be one of the highest-owned backs on the slate. Regardless, the matchup is a good one, yielding a well above average 4.76 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Giants defense ceding 23.9 DK points per game to opposing backfields.
Dallas “alpha” wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has played only four full games with Dak Prescott this season, seeing target totals of six, seven, 15, and five in those games. The 15-target game came against the Packers when the Cowboys ran 25% more offensive plays than their season average (average 62.3 plays per game and ran 83 that week). Furthermore, the Cowboys have shown they want to be a run-balanced team when both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are healthy over the previous two plus seasons, meaning it is highly unlikely wee see CeeDee projected for more than six to eight targets here (and if he’s projected for more than that, it’s just wrong – sorry, not sorry). The Cowboys prefer to operate via elevated 12-personnel rates, with all of Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Sean McKeon likely to see involvement on Thursday. The return of Micheal Gallup has left the offense with a tighter distrubition of snaps amongst Lamb, Noah Brown, and Gallup, but the levated 12-personnel rates has put a hard cap on the overall available snaps for the wide receives to divvy up. Furthermore, Dak Prescott has attempted 25, 27, 46 (Packers game where they ran 83 offensive plays), and 25 passes over the previous four weeks, which makes this unit a low expected volume bet. Michael Gallup has worked his way back to an integral part of the Dallas offense after missing the first three games of the season and should jockey back and forth with Noah Brown for the weekly WR2 behind Lamb. Dalton Schultz is the clear lead option at the tight end position but has seen his snap rate trickle down to the 65-75% range with the team adopting a four-way rotation at the position amongst Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and even Sean McKeon.
We’re likeliest to see both teams able to run their preferred game plans here, with the Cowboys leaning on a run game split between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard and the Giants allowed to run a slow-paced offense with elevated rush rates for deeper into the game. The most likely tributary away from that primary game flow would likely be introduced through the Dallas defense more so than any other potential outside influence, likeliest to come via an aggressive Dallas defensive unit that can generate turnovers in a hurry. Should that transpire, the paths to upside take a significant hit considering the Giants have not shown a propensity to open up their offense until extremely late in games, sapping most of the upside from the individual pieces of this game in the process. Although this game total sits a couple of points above that of the Patriots and Vikings game, the game environment here has a tighter range of potential outcomes due to the relative conservative nature of each offense.
New England’s formula for approaching games largely hasn’t changed all season, with an emphasis on disrupting opponent drives through an aggressive and blitz-heavy unit aimed at stopping drives, keeping teams out of the end zone, and generating turnovers. With the ball, the Patriots play at a bottom five pace of play across the board with bottom half pass rate over expectation (21st) and overall pass rate (24th). The biggest blemish to that game plan has been a quarterback duo that has struggled mightily when under pressure this season, but that is less of a concern against a Vikings defense that generates pressure at a below average rate this year. Expect a primary emphasis on controlling the game flow and environment, where the Patriots like to find themselves controlling the time of possession and dictating the game environment on their terms.
That game plan has primarily filtered production to the backfield tandem of Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. Stevenson has operated as the unquestioned lead back for each of the previous six games while Harris has battled through injuries, seeing 73% or more of the offensive snaps in all but one of those games and over 63% in every one. That said, last week was the first week during that span that Harris found himself off the injury report entirely and it is fair to expect an increase to his modest 24% snap rate from a week ago in his second game back from injury. I tentatively expect a snap rate dispersal closer mimicking the early-season split, which had Stevenson leading the way in a 60/40 split. The matchup on the ground yields a below average 4.22 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Vikings defense ceding 24.6 DK points per game to opposing backfields.
Quarterback Mac Jones has landed between 27 pass attempts and 35 pass attempts in all six of his complete games this season, which should be considered a valid representation of his expected pass volume for the remainder of the season. He has oly four touchdown passes to seven interceptions on the season, again highlighting the run-heavy nature of the offense as a whole. Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry remain the only two near every-down pass-catchers, with all of Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, and Jonnu Smith likely serving in rotational and situational roles. That makes predicting volume and ranges of outcomes fairly difficult behind the top two pass-catchers. When combined with the likeliest game flow (covered below), we’re likely to see volume remain an issue for the secondary options on this offense.
The Vikings rank seventh in pass rate over expectation in their first season with the forward-thinking Kevin O’Connel as head coach. That, when combined with the fastest pace of play with the score within six points this season, has left them as one of the more sure-thing offenses as far as expectations versus reality this year. That said, they have averaged “only” 64.4 offensive plays per game (read “only” because we should theoretically expect that number to be higher based on their pass rates and pace of play) primarily due to a defense ranking in the bottom half of the league in all efficiency metrics. Furthermore, quarterback Kirk Cousins has struggled immensely when placed under pressure this season, checking into Week 12 with PFF’s 24th-ranked grade when under pressure, of qualified passers. That has all combined to yield a 17th-ranked net-drive success rate for the Vikings this season, which again should be considered underperforming their expectations. From a personnel alignment perspective, the team has played primarily from 11-personnel for the majority of the season, increasing their 12-personnel rates slightly with the arrival of tight end T.J. Hockenson at the trade deadline.
Dalvin Cook began the season with a reduced role, averaging “only” 65.4% of the offensive snaps over the first five weeks of the season. That role has grown over the past five weeks as he averaged an 83.25% snap rate over the four games prior to last week’s blowout loss to the Cowboys (he played only 60% of the offensive snaps in that game, giving way to Alexander Mattison for most of the final quarter of play). Said another way, Dalvin Cook has regained his borderline workhorse status over the previous month of play, which may or may not be fully realized by the field just yet. During that four-game stretch of dominance, Cook averaged 20.5 running back opportunities per game and saw five or more targets in three of the four games. The biggest problem for Dalvin Cook’s fantasy expectation this week is a matchup with a Patriots defense that has allowed only two total touchdowns to opposing backfields on its way to allowing the fewest DK points per game to the position. Expect Alexander Mattison to serve as the primary change of pace back in a reduced role.
Justin Jefferson is the alpha and omega of this offense, running the most routes in the league, already responsible for 105 targets through 10 games, and seeing an elite 29.5% red zone target market share (his 18 red zone targets leads the league). That said, T.J. Hockenson has immediately made his presence felt in this offense, receiving nine or more targets in each of his three games with the organization. Hockenson’s workload hasn’t come at the direct detriment to any one player, instead making a seemless transition into a pass-first offense. As such, both Jefferson and Hockenson should be considered the two primary contributors to the pass game moving forward, with the two combining to see 62 targets on 113 Kirk Cousins pass attemtps over the previous three weeks (a combined 54.9% team target market share). Expect Adam Thielen to continue in a near every-down role as the secondary wide receiver option, while K.J. Osborn sees 70-80% of the offensive snaps in a low upside role. The only other pass-catcher to play significant snaps since the addition of Hockenson has been fellow tight end Johnny Mundt, who has primarily served as a pass-blocking tight end this season. That leaves the offense in a highly concentrated state through the air, which we have been attacking for the better part of the last three seasons. Due to the expected high pressure rates from the Patriots, I think it is likelier we see the team adopt an offense designed to get the ball out quick as opposed to suddenly leaning more run-heavy, meaning Hockenson should serve as the primary “chain-mover” while the team should theoretically keep Jefferson in a more downfield role against a defense that ranks fourth in yards allowed per pass attempt but in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed per completion.
This game is most likely to be influenced by the New England defense, who have generated pressure at the second highest rate in the league this season behind only the Cowboys. That notion is furthered by the likely absence of Vikings tackle Christian Darrisaw, who has been Minnesota’s top-rated lineman in pass protection this season. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has struggled mightily when under pressure this season, checking into Week 12 with PFF’s 24th-ranked grade when under pressure of qualified passers. Those three aspects combine to provide a game environment likeliest to be controlled by New England’s defense, which should allow them the opportunity to leverage that success via increased rush rates and short-area passing to march the field and control the time of possession. The way for that likeliest game flow to open up into something that could send this game environment into the levels of expectation as seen with the Bills // Lions game would be for one of those expected pressures to turn into a defensive score as we’ve seen the Vikings turn to levels of desperation earlier than most other teams in the league this season, albeit at a lower frequency due to relatively few games where they have found themselves in that situation. Finally, when the Vikings have struggled due to pressure in their backfield this season, they have missed hard, scoring a combined 10 points in their two losses this year (to the Eagles and Cowboys).
We’ll start our exploration of the slate at the wide receiver position, which should be considered a point of primary emphasis on this shortened slate. All of Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, and CeeDee Lamb carry significant question marks as far as expected volume and percentage chance to achieve a ceiling score are concerned, with Diggs and Lamb likely to experience “lower than perception” volume and Jefferson in one of the most difficult matchups he’ll see all season. We saw just last week how fragile Jefferson’s expectation can be when playing a team likely to generate above average levels of pressure I the backfield, which is likely to be the case again this week. If forced to rank these three players, I have them as Jefferson, Diggs, then Lamb. Futhermore, it is highly likely at least one of the three are on the majority of rosters in play on the slate, making it interesting to start the roster building process with other players at the position. Amon-Ra St. Brown is expected to garner ownership, but the high level of expected volume and relatively safe floor make him my top option at the wide receiver position on this slate. After those four, expected volume becomes rather thin in a hurry. Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton is probably next up in the line of expected value at the position, followed by the slew of uncertainty with the remainder of the Giants, the remaining Lions wide receivers, Michael Gallup and Noah Brown, Jakobi Meyers, then the host of touchdown-dependent, lower-volume options in Isaiah McKenzie, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Tyquan Thornton, and DeVante Parker. The rule at wide receiver is to embrace the uncertainty, for sure.
Next, quarterback is highly likely to be the next “ownership funnel” position, which much of the field likely to look to lock in the guaranteed points of Josh Allen at the position. Considering the high level of expected ownership between Allen, Diggs, and Gabe Davis, the pairing of Devin Singletary and Jared Goff immediately jumps out as a high leverage situation, basically as a bet on the top expected game environment playing out in a different way than the field will be utilizing. I would rank the remaining quarterbacks as Daniel Jones, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, and then a distant Mac Jones behind the clear top option in Josh Allen and the upside potential of Jared Goff.
Running back becomes interesting as the top two on-paper options (Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook) are not expected to come in with prohibitive ownership. The two primary yardage and touchdown backs (Ezekiel Elliott and Damien Harris) are expected to be amongst the lowest-owned options at the position and very easily could back their way into multiple scores on the ground, likely forcing their way onto the optimal build. Rhamondre Stevenson, Devin Singletary, and Tony Pollard are expected to carry the highest ownership at the position, who all carry significantly wider ranges of potential outcomes than the field seems to be giving credit for.
At tight end, Dalton Schultz, Dawson Knox, and T.J. Hockenson are expected to garner the bulk of the ownership at the position, with the top on-paper option (Hockenson) expected to carry the lowest ownership of the three. There’s not much to say against that expected distribution of ownership as those three are the clear top options at the position. Lawrence Cager makes for an interesting option to mix into GPP player pools as the tight end likeliest to be on the field at the next highest rate followed by Brock Wright.
Defense is expected to be rather spread at, which makes sense considering there isn’t one option that stands out as a far better play than any of the others. The best on-paper defense is likely the Cowboys considering all the offensive line injuries for the Giants, but a case can be made for any defense on the slate.
From a macro perspective, I want to be focusing on making tailored and specific bets on individual game environments playing out differently than public perception. There are multiple reasons for this approach, the foremost two being that all these teams are playing on a short week (which introduces additional variance regarding individual team performances) and the specific bets lowers the number of things you have to get right in order to lap the field.