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Thanksgiving Football Preview: What to expect fantasy-wise from Thursday’s doubleheader

Fantasy preview of Thanksgiving Day Football.

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Thanksgiving Thursday offers up two NFL games: The Texans facing the Lions and Washington Football Team taking on the Cowboys. I’m here to offer some fantasy football insight into how these two games might play out and who you should be starting and sitting in your lineups.

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions — 9:30am PST

Texans

Deshaun Watson puts his post-Bill O’Brien QB4 ranking on the line in a can’t-miss match-up this week, against a Detroit Lions’ front-seven generating a QB pressure rate of just 19.0%—5th worst in the NFL. Detroit’s seven interceptions and 35 passes defended rank 12th and 11th worst in the league, respectively. Watson gets the No. 1 overall spot in this week’s Tiered Quarterback Rankings.

The impending absence of slot receiver Randall Cobb (toe) enhances the already-great outlooks of wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller. Since Cooks’ goose egg in Week 4, the final coaching performance of BOB as head coach of the Texans, he’s led the team in targets (52), with Will Fuller (46) hot on his tail. Fuller’s 12.2 average targeted air yards and 29.51% of the team’s air yards share are both superior to Cooks’, however—10.5 and 27.12, respectively. Both receivers are high-end Top 15 options this week.

A last second report from Ian Rapoport announcing Kenny Stills, whose quad injury was from last weekend was initially reported as “not regarded as serious”, is out this week, further bettered Fuller and Cooks’ Week 12 prospects. It also breathes fantasy life into one-time promising up-and-comer Keke Coutee. Coutee, oft-injured, was having game plans schemed around his play-making ability back in 2018. In 2020, Coutee can be treated as a shaky PPR flex option.

Tight ends Jordan Akins and Darren Fells kneecap each other’s fantasy potential on a week-to-week basis. It’s fair to note that last week, in a game where Randall Cobb exited with the toe injury, Akins racked up six targets—the highest workload he’s seen since Week 2. Both Akins and Fells are TE2 options with Akins as favorite to make noise in the box score, given last week’s success.

In his two games as the Texans’ lead back, Duke Johnson Jr. has played on 101 of the team’s offensive snaps. Backups running backs C.J. Prosise and Buddy Howell for just 18, with Prosise owning 17 of them. Likewise, Duke’s carry total through the two contests (24) blows the other two out of the water (3). With his target total (5), it’s the same story (3). For all that work, Duke’s totaled just 10.4 .5PPR points—43rd in the NFL. That said, Detroit has been the Fountain of Youth for opposing backfields, allowing the most .5PPR points per game to opposing backfields (31.2). Committee back Jordan Wilkins took them to school in Week 8, on rushing/receiving lines of 20-89-1 and 1/1-24, before returning to his 2020 dormant state in Week 9. Washington backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic combined for their best performances of the season against the Lions in Week 10. Mike Davis vaulted back to an RB1 performance against them last week after a month of single-digit finishes. Keeping all of that in mind, fantasy managers can fire up Duke Johnson Jr. as a high-end flex option.

Lions

One of the few secondaries to record worse interception and passes defended totals than the Lions is that of their opponent this week, the Houston Texans, who boast just two picks (worst in the league) and 29 passes defended (2nd-worst). Unfortunately for Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford, stud wide receiver Kenny Golladay seems to have suffered a setback after getting in a limited practice session on Monday. Golladay did not practice on Tuesday, putting his availability for Thursday morning severely in doubt. Stafford has struggled mightily through his No. 1 receiver’s three-game absence, producing QB19 numbers while also battling a thumb injury on his throwing hand. It’s entirely possible for the veteran quarterback to take advantage of Houston’s Junior Varsity-like secondary but the recent results are extremely concerning. Stafford should only be considered a contrarian DFS option who should be benched in season-long leagues outside of extreme circumstances.

Marvin Jones Jr., Marvin Hall, and Mohamed Sanu figure to round out Detroit’s three-wide sets with the latter being acquired seemingly to replace the ineffective Quintez Cephus. With Danny Amendola missing both Monday and Tuesday’s practices (hip), Sanu is likely to take over slot receiver duties—a role he played for much of his career in Atlanta. It’s tough to get excited about him though, given that he played on 15 of the Lions’ Week 11 snaps and didn’t see a single target. While Marvin Hall doesn’t offer much fantasy appeal either, the other Marvin, Mr. Jones Jr. has fared well in Kenny Golladay’s absence, catching 15 of 20 targets for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Jones Jr. can be treated as a high-end flex option which the rest are nothing more than undesirable Hail Mary plays.

Dominant receiving tight end T.J. Hockenson continues to produce while battling a toe injury. Fire him up as a high-end TE1 option.

Rookie running back D’Andre Swift returned to practice on Tuesday, in an albeit limited fashion, giving hope to fantasy managers that his progression through the league’s concussion protocol may be coming to an end. The talented dual threat enticed fantasy managers with Week 10 breakout performance where Swift posted the 12th-fastest speed of the week 20.09 MPH. It took ten weeks for head coach Matt Patricia to give Swift a full compliment of snaps and touches and after last week’s Swift-less, abhorrent backfield performance, fantasy managers can expect Patricia to eagerly deploy the rookie as a full-time bellcow. The Texans’ front-seven has stunningly allowed the most rushing yards, 1,593, and the 7th-most rushing touchdowns, 13, on the year. Their 28.5 .5PPR PPG allowed to opposing backfields is second only to the Lions. D’Andre Swift is this week’s overall RB5.

Neither Adrian Peterson, nor Kerryon Johnson are fantasy-relevant this week.

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys — 1:30pm PST

Football Team

Alex Smith and the boys head to Dallas for a showdown with The Boys for Thanksgiving Day’s afternoon dust-up. Assuming wide receiver Terry McLauin’s ankle is good to go—and his limited practice participation on Tuesday indicates that is in fact the case—Smith makes for an intriguing streaming option against a Dallas Cowboys’ defensive-front generating a middling QB pressure rating (23.3%) while their Magikarp of a secondary flails to the tune of 24 passing touchdowns allowed, the most in the NFL, three interceptions, 2nd-fewest in the NFL, and just 25 passes defended, the fewest in the NFL. Smith is the overall QB14 this week. For reference that’s just one spot behind Lamar Jackson.

Terry McLaurin, .5PPR’s WR11 in scoring, enters a blow-up spot on Thursday that pushes him into contention for top five at the position this week. Assuming the ankle doesn’t prevent him from playing—which again, it shouldn’t—McLaurin offers week-winning potential.

The Sims—Cam and Steven Jr.—both offer deep league, multi-flex appeal, given the match-up. Cam has the No. 2 WR role locked up while Steven gets the highly-valued slot receiver reps.

The remaining receivers are not fantasy relevant.

The last time Washington and Dallas played was also the last time that tight end Logan Thomas had a truly strong performance (4/4-60-1) and he’s seen a nice uptick in targets since Alex Smith took over in Week 9. Prior to Smith, Thomas recorded four straight games with just four targets.

As is clear from Sam Hoppen’s chart above, Thomas’ usage is superb. Consider the tight end a solid TE1 option this week.

The Washington backfield continues to be fruitful yet frustratingly deployed. Peyton Barber has seen an increase in snaps over the last three weeks but continues to do next to nothing with the opportunities, posting just 42 yards from scrimmage over that span. Barber’s presence hasn’t slowed the team’s top dog, Antonio Gibson from posting the fourth-most .5PPR points during that span though (48.4). The rookie back’s complete domination in the red zone (11 carries to J.D. McKissic’s three in Weeks 9-11) have led to him scoring a sublime four touchdowns. Against a Dallas defensive-front that’s allowed 1,538 rushing yards, 2nd-most in the NFL, and 12 rushing touchdowns, 10th-most in the NFL, Gibson’s cocked, locked, and ready to rock as an RB1 this week.

The presence of Barber has seemed to knick J.D. McKissic’s usage a tad though, with his Week 11 usage dropping severely from the two weeks prior. Still JDM isn’t going anywhere for the time being and he can be trusted to largely maintain his safety valve role for the immobile Alex Smith. He’s a solid flex option with high-end upside in full-point PPR leagues.

Cowboys

Stability has returned to the Dallas offense with positive alterations being made to the offensive line and QB Andy Dalton back in action. Washington’s defense offers a bizarre combination of good defensive line play (25.2% QB pressure rate—7th-best) and missed tackles (83—5th-most), aerial ball hawking (nine interceptions—9th-most) and a high number of defensive back whiffs (29 passes defended—2nd-fewest). All of that has amounted to the fewest total passing yards allowed (1,954) and a middling ability to keep opponents out of the end zone. With that in mind, Dalton’s scheme and surrounding talent keep him firmly locked in the mid-tier of the QB2 ranks.

Week 11’s wide receiver usage brought back the Dak Prescott, early-season target tree. Amari Cooper (6/7-81) was the top dog with CeeDee Lamb hot on his heels (4/6-31-1). Michael Gallup (2/5-29) continued to see downfield shots that he couldn’t connect on and Dalton Schultz’s Little Engine That Could campaign rolled on (4/6-25-1). With another low-grade secondary group on tap this week, Cooper and Lamb are both mid-tier WR2s. Gallup is nigh-unplayable but retains ever-present boom/bust flex viability.

As seen in Sam Hoppen’s chart (see the Washington Football Team section), Schultz’s usage (target share and air yards) shockingly only trails Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews, and Evan Engram. Schultz is a locked-in TE1.

Ezekiel Elliott’s usage has been thoroughly sporadic during Dalton’s tenure. In Week 6, Elliott saw a whopping 10 targets. Last week he saw just two but he converted one in the red zone into a touchdown. Overall, Elliott is the 4th-most targeted running back in the league (51). The good news is, even though No. 2 back Tony Pollard has seen a sharp uptick in snaps, he hasn’t eaten too much of the higher-valued passing game pie. On the whole, Zeke’s is back in bellcow land and the presence of Andy Dalton at quarterback helps everyone. Although the Washington defensive line is fearsome, the defense’s aforementioned knack for missing tackles bodes very well for the running back’s Week 12 outlook. He’s this week’s overall RB8.

Tony Pollard isn’t getting enough work to be considered as anything more than a capped-ceiling, multi-flex option. His talent is undeniable though as he routinely makes big time plays.