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Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday. I’m thankful for another season providing my thoughts on the Thursday games with such a great crew. Speaking of the games, we’ve got three today with their level of intrigue. I’ll preview each along with the injury news from practices to monitor as we head into the weekend.
Thanksgiving Day Preview: The Turkey Slate
It’ll be an eventful day, and I’ll try and keep it to the main plays for each game. However, as we all know, short slates like these are prone to outbursts from players we’ve never heard from since (Jesper Horsted, David Blough, etc.). Regardless, let’s get to the big storylines for each contest.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Honestly, the league should’ve moved this game to the middle of the day. Or, and bear with me, have the contest as the late-night matchup. It’s guaranteed to lull you to sleep after eating.
On the other hand, a duel between Andy Dalton and Jared Goff could be ideal for watching while cooking. There’d be less need to pay attention to each play. Regardless, there’s some fantasy goodness here for us.
Dalton is a deep streaming option for season-long folks and a dart throw for the single-game players. It’s a one-game sample, but last week, Chicago’s pass rate over expectation (PROE) was higher (1%) than in Fields’ previous six weeks. Dalton had 23 attempts with two scores in their comeback attempt against Baltimore, and Detroit is a defense to target.
The Lions have allowed the second-highest yards per attempt (8.3) and are 31st in EPA per dropback. The only problem (for Dalton at least) is that they’re also 30th in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. David Montgomery has the best shot at a high-scoring fantasy day, given their tendency to run while in scoring position (29th in red-zone PROE). But Detroit can answer back.
The Bears have lost multiple defensive starters, and opposing teams have taken notice. Tyler Huntley was mildly efficient and racked up 219 yards. The four quarterbacks before Huntley averaged 233.3 YPG and two touchdowns. Coincidentally, Goff had a similar stat line the last time he faced Chicago, which gives him some appeal. But, even on a one-day slate, we’d instead look to his pass-catchers.
T.J. Hockenson’s been volatile this season but led the team in targets last week. Chicago has faced Mark Andrews (10-73-0) and Pat Freiermuth (6-43-2) in consecutive games giving Hockenson the best path to fantasy success. D’Andre Swift has an equal chance to shine. Swift has owned 79.1% of the running back touches since their bye. The Bears have had issues with running backs that have breakaway speed (Elijah Mitchell, 18-137-1) and pass-catching utility (Kareem Hunt, 7-74-1). It’ll be a slow-paced game, but at least we have some idea who the best plays are in this match.
Points of Interest
I’ll be watching the ancillary wide receivers on both teams. Josh Reynolds was first in routes run and second in wide receiver targets. Proponents of the “Shower Narrative” will want to see how Goff targets Reynolds relative to the other pass-catchers.
Marquise Goodwin is another player to watch. His 49-yard touchdown reception will create a bias for most fantasy managers, but he was also second in targets. Goodwin is questionable but practiced in full all week, so he should be on the field this afternoon.
Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys
My stance on this game hinges on CeeDee Lamb’s availability, and the team and local reporters were optimistic.
Without Amari Cooper, having at least Lamb and Michael Gallup on the field isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. Just last week, non-Gallup or Lamb targets resulted in 47 scoreless yards, four drops, and an interception. Dak Prescott had his worst outing of the season while being pressured on 37.5% of his dropbacks. Today’s matchup sets up similarly, but the Cowboys have to rebound from Sunday to take advantage.
Las Vegas is 27th in EPA per dropback and has allowed the 11th-most touchdown passes while recording the third-fewest interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged 246.8 YPG over their last five games while trying to fend off the Raiders’ pass rush. They’re 8th in pass rush win rate with three sacks per game over the previous month. So, teams take to the air.
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The wide receivers with top-end fantasy production against the Raiders include Diontae Johnson (12-105-0), Courtland Sutton (14-94-1), Tyreek Hill (10-83-2), and Marquise Brown (6-69-1). We can reduce their profiles into traits we’d associated with Lamb or Gallup (speed, ability to win at the catch point, nuanced route-running, etc.). Las Vegas has also given up the fourth-most points to tight-ends and running backs. After Sunday, Dallas could use a bounce-back spot, and the Raiders are that type of matchup. I have no idea how Raiders will respond.
The wheels appear to be coming off of the Raiders’ hype train after three straight losses. They haven’t topped 16 points in a game and have averaged 31.6 yards per drive (20th) since Week 9. Darren Waller remains a solid play given his 24.1% target share over the last three weeks and the production of the previous tight ends to face Dallas (Travis Kelce – 8-74-0, Kyle Pitts – 7-60-0). But the Cowboys have allowed just one passer over 250 yards since Week 5 while applying pressure on 37.1% of their plays. Carr’s in for another tough outing but at least has reliable options in Waller and Hunter Renfrow to generate some offense for them in the afternoon.
Points of Interest
Let’s assume Lamb plays today. I still want to see what Dallas does with Tony Pollard. All jokes aside, it’s clear who has the juice between Pollard and Ezekiel Elliot. However, it’s also clear the team wants to keep Elliot in his primary role. Pollard’s snaps or touches haven’t changed, but they need help in the passing game. A 21 personnel package with Pollard in the slot isn’t far-fetched for Kellen Moore, and Pollard has been the more efficient receiver of the two running backs (2.29 YPRR).
Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints
The late-game carries the most intrigue. We’ll see if the Bills have made any adjustments to their offense after another baffling loss, plus how Sean Payton plans to deal with the team’s injuries. The top story heading into the game sets the stage.
Mark Ingram’s questionable tag has stirred up some buzz around third-stringer Tony Jones. From most reports, Ingram is on the doubtful side of questionable as he’s pushing to play. Last night, Nick Underhill spoke on the Establish the Run show, indicating Ingram was dealing with knee swelling while pushing the coaching staff to let him play. His availability will shift how daily fantasy players approach the slate and could change how the Saints approach the game.
The boxscore says Trevor Siemian has averaged 253.7 YPG and 2.3 touchdowns per game since becoming the team’s starter. That’s good! However, Siemian has accrued 47.8% of those yards in the fourth quarter. He’s engineered just two scoring drives out of 17 and dead last in EPA per play in the first half. The overall picture isn’t much better. He’s 28th in completion percentage over expected and relied on explosive plays to move the offense. It’s hard to expect much with so many injuries against Buffalo’s defense.
Buffalo is first in total defensive DVOA, despite Jonathan Taylor running all over them. Regardless, only two passers have eclipsed 250 yards, and the Bills have allowed the fewest touchdown passes. They still pressured Carson Wentz on 42.9% of his dropbacks, so they have a chance to rebound tonight. But we’re also expecting their offense to do the same.
Josh Allen has averaged 19.1 PPG over the last month, which is “fine” for him. However, his struggles against the Jets and Colts, along with five interceptions over the previous three games, are a concern. Part of the problem is their first-down efficiency. The Bills have a 17% pass rate over expectation on first down. However, Allen is 12th in EPA per play on those attempts when he was first in the same area last year. He’s also 9th in pressure rate while teams continue to use zone coverages. However, he might catch a break tonight.
The Saints have used man coverages on 41.3% of their plays this season. They attempted to adjust to Jalen Hurts (19.4% man coverage rate), but he still tagged them for 69 yards and three scores on the ground. Slot receivers have run circles around their interior corners (Chris Godwin - 9-111-1, Russell Gage 7-57-0), which may be Allen’s best avenue through the air. Regardless, the Saints’ inability to move the ball may give the Bills more opportunities on offense to get back on track.
Points of Interest
Diggs is always a point of interest, but I’m especially interested in how Brian Daboll will deploy Diggs against the Saints. He’s primarily played outside and has the lowest slot rate amongst the wide receivers. However, that’s also where Marshon Lattimore plays. Diggs has beat Lattimore before, but a “give the ball to your best players” approach may be the cure to get Allen in rhythm. Moving Diggs to the slot and forcing Sanders to the perimeter would help, assuming Lattimore doesn’t travel. Regardless, the WR-CB matchup will be a fun battle to watch.
I’ll keep it short as we’ll likely get more information after the holiday. In either case, at least the news from yesterday was primarily positive. Let’s start with Cleveland.
Kareem Hunt got his first workout in since Week 6. The team designated Hunt and RT Jack Conklin to return from IR with plans for both to play on Sunday. Cleveland’s running has been productive in Hunt’s absence, being seventh in rush EPA. However, Baker Mayfield could use Hunt’s receiving skills as Mayfield nurses his long list of injuries. Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, and Donovan Peoples-Jones all missed practice Wednesday, which will make their Friday status something to monitor. The Ravens are also getting some help back ahead of their divisional clash this week.
Lamar Jackson looked sick heading into Week 11, he didn’t know the team’s plane had landed before getting to the stadium, but he was back to practice on Wednesday. Marquise Brown joined him after missing last week with a thigh injury. Jackson spoke to the media yesterday, so we should expect both to start on Sunday, barring any setbacks. We’ve got one more player return to monitor.
Aaron Rodgers’ toe became the focus later in the day, but Aaron Jones’ return immediately caught our attention. Matt LaFleur didn’t comment on Jones’ Week 12 availability, but the team does have their bye next week. He’d be hard to trust unless we hear he’s a full go while the rest of the crew continues to get healthy. Let’s check in on the Giants as we get into the injured players.
Jason Garret’s dismissal was the larger storyline to start the week, but New York still has players out to start the week. Kadarius Toney’s absence was a surprise as Toney played his highest snap share since Week 4. There was no report of Toney spending time in the medical tent on Monday night, but he’s dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season. Sterling Shepard was a DNP but beat reporters saw him during the open portion of practice. Both will be critical to the team’s success as they adjust to life with Freddie Kitchens, so let’s hope for clarity from Joe Judge later in the week.
Michael Carter will miss at least one more game with a high ankle sprain. To make matters worse, Corey Davis pulled up during practice with a groin injury. Zach Wilson gets a relatively soft matchup against Houston in his first game back, but we’d like to see him with all the help he can get. Finally, let’s look at the long list of DNPs for Tennessee.
Ben Volin is correct in suggesting the Titans should list who did practice. A.J. Brown left Week 11 early due to a hand injury, returned, and left again after being ruled out with a chest injury. His absence is no surprise, and his season goes along with the trend for most of the team. Let’s hope for some positive news at the end of the week, but even if he’s available, he’ll have to face the Patriots’ secondary. He’d be tough to trust even if healthy given the matchup and Ryan Tannehill’s downtick in play.