Thanksgiving Football

12:30PM ET Game

Chicago @ Detroit

Detroit’s offense has struggled mightily throughout Joe Lombardi‘s first year as coordinator. Critical skill-position players have shuttled in and out of the lineup due to injury, and the line play has fallen off dramatically from last season. There has been no rhythm to the Lions’ pass or rushing attack. Detroit hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Week 1. On the bright side, the Lions have a chance to finish fast against the Bears, Bucs, Vikings, and Bears defenses during the final month of fantasy season. Matthew Stafford‘s to-date production suggests he’s on the QB1 fringe, but he offers plenty of ceiling on Thanksgiving against a Chicago defense that’s allowed 25 TD passes, second most in the league, and is expected to either not have top CB Kyle Fuller (MCL) on Thursday, or have him at less than 100%. The Bears’ combined passer rating allowed is 99.3, the NFL’s fifth worst clip. Bears-Lions has a 47-point over-under with Detroit favored by seven. The Vegas sharps expect the Lions to score around 27 points in this game. That’s a solid team total. … Stafford’s target distribution since the Lions’ Week 9 bye: Calvin Johnson 37; Golden Tate 26; Theo Riddick 15; Eric Ebron 11; Joique Bell 10; Jeremy Ross 8. … I’m well aware Megatron has been a fantasy disappointment all year. I also think this is a great bounce-back spot for Detroit’s physically overwhelming wideout. Calvin has seen double-digit targets in three straight games, and the Bears’ smallish corners have problems with plus-sized receivers. Vincent Jackson (5-117) and Mike Evans (3-47-1) both produced against them in Week 12. In Week 11, 6-foot-2, 215-pound Vikings WR Charles Johnson came out of nowhere for a 6-87 stat line at Soldier Field. In Week 10, Jordy Nelson (6’3/217) dropped a 6-152-2 number on Chicago. At home, indoors, and in a plus matchup, Megatron hasn’t lost his top-five fantasy WR1 stock.

The same couldn’t have been said against Arizona and New England the past two weeks, but the receiver-defensive back matchups set up nicely for Stafford in this game. Tate primarily aligns in the slot, where the Bears use second-year UDFA Demontre Hurst. Hurst was abused for almost all of Bucs slot receiver Louis Murphy‘s 6-113 line in Week 12. Fire up Tate as a solid WR2 against Chicago. … Ebron saw a season-high seven targets in last week’s loss to the Patriots, dropping one and managing 23 yards on two catches. He hasn’t shown any real signs of progress over the course of his rookie year. The Bears do allow the most fantasy points to tight ends, but you could find better TE1 streamers in Sunday’s games. Ebron hasn’t cleared 40 yards in a game yet. … Joique Bell had a rough Week 12 against a Patriots defense that’s swallowed up enemy ball carriers in recent weeks. The Bears’ defense has been quietly solid on the ground this year, holding running backs to 3.93 yards per carry and ranking 14th in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA. I still think the Lions are a good bet to generate scoring chances against an overall-vulnerable Chicago defense, and Bell is the favorite for scoring-position carries in Detroit’s offense. He could greatly benefit if WLB Lance Briggs (groin, questionable) misses this game. Bell has 16 or more touches in five of his last six games and is a good bet to hit pay dirt on Thanksgiving. … Reggie Bush (ankle) is tentatively expected to play on Thursday. Bush has been ineffective when available for games this season. No. 2 passing-down back Riddick has managed touch totals of 8, 11, 5, and 5 in Bush’s four missed games. Regardless of Bush’s availability, Joique is the only Lions running back worth using in fantasy leagues.

Jay Cutler‘s roller-coaster season dipped to a low last week as the Bears’ passing offense got nothing going downfield, one week after lighting up the Vikings on intermediate and vertical shot plays. Chicago caught a bunch of breaks on defensive turnovers and wound up throwing just 27 times, a season low for Cutler. Cutler has been a Jekyll & Hyde performer this year, and I think we’ll see “Bad Jay” in Detroit. Not only is the Bears’ Vegas team total a Raidersian 20 points, they are on the road against a team that ranks No. 3 in total defense, No. 1 in points allowed, and No. 5 in interceptions (13). Detroit’s defensive line is capable of dominating and controlling this game. Lions DC Teryl Austin mixes his coverages, but played predominately zone in last week’s game against New England, and Cutler tends to struggle most against zone. I’d be holding my breath about starting Cutler on Thanksgiving. I’d fire up Detroit’s fantasy defense with confidence. … Cutler’s target distribution since the Bears’ Week 9 bye: Alshon Jeffery 33; Brandon Marshall 25; Matt Forte 19; Martellus Bennett 17; Marquess Wilson 7; Dante Rosario 4; Ka’Deem Carey 2. … I don’t think Marshall or Jeffery offers an especially high ceiling considering their Week 13 opponent, but neither is worse than a WR2 based on their ability to score touchdowns and beat defensive backs with size. Jeffery has 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in seven of his last nine games. He will run most of his routes at Lions LCB Darius Slay, a solid cover man. The Lions’ defense is much better this year than last, but the cornerbacks are the same. I think it’s worth noting that Jeffery went 5-107-1 and 9-114 in last year’s two meetings with Detroit.

Marshall’s matchup is more favorable on paper. He plays slot receiver in the Bears’ three-wideout packages and the Lions’ slot corner is Cassius Vaughn, who stands 5-foot-10, 192 to Marshall’s 6-foot-4 1/2, 229. Whereas Slay and RCB Rashean Mathis rank 33rd and 22nd, respectively, in Pro Football Focus’ cornerback coverage grades, Vaughn is No. 96 among 112 qualifiers. … Marquess Wilson played 74% of the Bears’ snaps in his 2014 debut two weeks ago. His playing-time percentage was cut to 49% last week as the Bears used more two-tight end sets. Wilson dropped two of his three targets in the Bears’ Week 12 win over the Buccaneers, which won’t help his chances of earning more run. He’s a tough sell as more than a WR5 or FanDuel hail-mary play against savvy veteran Mathis. … The Lions rank No. 1 against the run and have held running backs to 3.23 yards per carry. The shining light for Forte is that Detroit has permitted the second most receptions (67) and third most receiving yards (568) to running backs this season. Forte seems unlikely to have a monster Thanksgiving Day game, but he’s always a good bet to generate over 100 all-purpose yards. He’s done so in 20-of-27 games (74%) since Marc Trestman took over as the Bears’ head coach.

Score Prediction: Lions 27, Bears 17

 


Editor’s Note: Rotoworld’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $1.25 Million Fantasy Football league for Thanksgiving Day’s games. It’s only $25 to join and first prize is $120,000. Starts on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30pm ET. Here’s the link.


4:30PM ET Game

Philadelphia @ Dallas

Thursday afternoon’s Eagles-Cowboys game has a 54.5-point over-under, the second highest of Week 13 and easily the biggest on Thanksgiving Day. This is a game to target in FanDuel’s Thursday-only tournaments, and in season-long lineup decisions. The environment is indoors, pitting two strong offenses against each other with average to below-average defenses. … Since returning from a back injury two games ago, Tony Romo has carved up the Jaguars and Giants for 38-of-53 passing (71.7%), 521 yards (9.83 YPA), and a 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio. I think he’s the highest-floor quarterback play in this year’s Thanksgiving games. Philly’s defense has allowed the third most passing touchdowns (24) and per-game passing yards (266.3) in football. … Romo’s target distribution the past two weeks: Dez Bryant 17; Jason Witten 13; DeMarco Murray 10; Terrance Williams 4; Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley 3; Gavin Escobar 2. … Dez has a touchdown and/or 100-plus yards in nine of his last ten games. He’s on pace for 92 catches, 1,279 yards, and a career-high 15 TDs. Notable stat lines permitted by the Eagles since their Week 7 bye: Randall Cobb 10-129; Jordy Nelson 4-109-1; Larry Fitzgerald 7-160-1; John Brown 5-119-1; DeAndre Hopkins 6-115-1; Kelvin Benjamin 3-70-2; Justin Hunter 4-64-1.

While Witten’s passing-game usage has risen, Williams’ has fallen off a cliff. Rarely higher than Romo’s third read on passing plays, the sophomore wideout has topped 20 yards just once in his last five games. If Williams can’t body catch it, it isn’t getting caught. Making matters worse is a broken fingertip that will force Williams to wear a splint during Thursday’s game. … The Eagles have played stout coverage against tight ends for most of the year, but have sprung leaks recently. Panthers TEs burned Philly for a combined 7-126 line in Week 10, and in Week 12 Delanie Walker was routinely left wide open en route to a 5-155 game. Witten has seen six-plus targets in four straight games and scored a TD in three of them. 32-year-old Witten lacks upside at this stage of his career, but is a passable TE1 gamble in this matchup. … This is a tough matchup for Murray. Difficult to move up front, Philadelphia ranks No. 9 in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA and has limited enemy running backs to 3.62 yards per carry. The good news is Murray has been incredibly consistent, rushing for 100-plus yards in all but one game this season. He’s also primed for some TD regression after going scoreless in four straight games. I don’t expect Murray to “run all over” the Eagles, but he’s a safe bet for RB1 yardage and a solid bet to hit pay dirt.

The Cowboys stuffed the Giants’ running game on Sunday Night Football in Week 12, but have a lightning-quick turnaround playing on Thursday afternoon in Week 13. They’ve also shown ground-defense vulnerability all season, permitting 4.64 YPC to opposing tailbacks and ten rushing TDs, eighth most in the NFL. Although LeSean McCoy has lost some of his lateral agility this year — likely due to a preseason turf-toe injury — he has remained a high-volume back in Chip Kelly‘s balanced offense and is averaging 4.76 yards per carry over his last six games. McCoy is actually on pace for more carries (316) than he had last season, when Shady led the league with 314. Showing a safe floor, McCoy has a touchdown and/or 90-plus total yards in six straight contests. View Shady as a mid-range to low-end RB1 on Thanksgiving. … Darren Sproles has made “wow” plays on a sporadic basis this season, but his touch totals are 7, 2, 4, and 9 on offense over the Eagles’ last four games. He’s an exciting but risky flex play. … Romo may have the highest floor among Thursday’s quarterbacks, but I think it’s fair to suggest Mark Sanchez has one of the highest ceilings. Showing leaks in pass defense, the Cowboys have allowed enemy quarterbacks to complete 119-of-174 throws (68.4%) for 1,424 yards (8.18 YPA) and a 9:4 TD-to-INT ratio over their last five games. Sanchez’s outlook also benefits from the domed JerryWorld environment and this game’s high-scoring projection.

Sanchez’s target distribution since Nick Foles broke his collarbone: Jeremy Maclin 30; Jordan Matthews 28; Riley Cooper 19; Brent Celek 18; Zach Ertz 16; Sproles 15; Josh Huff 7; McCoy 5. … Running most of his routes against left cornerbacks this season, Maclin has the most favorable Week 13 matchup in Philly’s receiver corps. Cowboys LCB Brandon Carr was burnt to a crisp by Odell Beckham (10-146-2) on Week 12 Sunday Night Football and currently grades out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 109 cornerback among 112 qualifiers. … Matthews gets a slightly tougher draw against stingy Dallas slot corner Sterling Moore, who is PFF’s No. 44 cornerback in coverage. The Cowboys have begun using Orlando Scandrick strictly at right corner in recent weeks. As Matthews’ stat lines in Sanchez’s three starts are 7-138-2, 5-107-1, and 6-77-0, he’s still earned every-week WR2 treatment. For the first time all season, Matthews played more downs than Cooper in Week 12. … Cooper’s stat lines in Sanchez’s starts are 1-6-0, 4-39-0, and 3-49-0. Beginning to lose playing time to Matthews and Huff, Cooper has evaporated from the fantasy-lineup discussion. He’s likely to run most of his Week 13 routes at Scandrick. … The Cowboys have given up a lot of production to tight ends, but Kelly’s usage of Celek and Ertz is the big concern. Celek is a full-time player in Philly’s offense, but primarily blocks. He’s cleared 50 receiving yards in 1-of-11 games, and hasn’t scored a touchdown yet. Ertz has an abundance of talent, but his snap rates the past two weeks are 35% and 31%. Ertz ranks 14th in fantasy scoring among tight ends this year.

Score Prediction: Eagles 30, Cowboys 27

8:30PM ET Game

Seattle @ San Francisco

Thursday night’s Thanksgiving finale projects as a low-scoring, fantasy-unfriendly slugfest between division rivals. The 40-point over-under is lowest of all Week 13 games. 23-17, 19-17, and 29-3 were the final scores of the last three Seahawks-49ers tilts. … Russell Wilson has squared off with Niners DC Vic Fangio‘s defense five times since entering the league, including last January’s playoffs. His combined stats in those meetings are 63-of-113 passing (55.8%) for 848 yards (7.50 YPA) and a 7:4 TD-to-INT ratio, with 25 scrambles for 74 scoreless yards. They’re uninspiring numbers for Wilson’s Week 13 fantasy outlook. The 49ers rank No. 2 in pass defense and No. 1 in interceptions (16). Wilson is a borderline QB1 at best in this game. … Wilson’s target distribution since the Percy Harvin trade: Doug Baldwin 42; Jermaine Kearse 30; Paul Richardson 20; Marshawn Lynch 19; Cooper Helfet 17; Luke Willson 13; Robert Turbin 12; Kevin Norwood 6; Tony Moeaki 5. … Kearse and Richardson form arguably the weakest perimeter wideout duo in football, and the Seahawks are using a three-way rotation of Helfet, Willson, and Moeaki at tight end. Although any of those would-be pass catchers is capable of having a random productive game, none of them are quality fantasy bets on a weekly basis, and particularly not in this matchup.

Baldwin is the lone Seattle receiver worth a Week 13 look. His stat lines since the Harvin trade are all over the map, however, at 7-123-1, 6-61, 5-38, 4-31, 6-45-1, and 2-6-0. Baldwin’s matchup does seem attractive on paper with the 49ers now using fourth-round rookie Dontae Johnson at slot corner. Baldwin is still just a WR3/4 option at San Francisco. … Battling an illness and back tightness, Lynch missed a couple of possessions in last week’s win over Arizona. He emerged with 82 total yards on 18 touches. This is a difficult matchup against San Francisco’s top-seven run defense, but the Niners have shown some cracks recently. Saints, Giants, and Redskins running backs have combined for 315 yards on 70 carries (4.50 YPC) against the 49ers over their last three games, including Alfred Morris‘ 21-125-1 line this past Sunday. Expectations should probably be tempered for Lynch on Thursday night, but he’s the classic example of an every-week fantasy starter.

On the flip side, Colin Kaepernick has made four career starts against Seattle. He has struggled mightily in all four, combining to complete 61-of-117 throws (52.1%) for 699 yards (5.97 YPA) with a 3:7 TD-to-INT ratio. Kaepernick has had running success against the Seahawks, however, piling up rushing-yardage totals of 130, 31, 87, and 31 in those four meetings. If forced to choose between Wilson and Kaepernick in this game, I’d still take my chances with Wilson. … Kaepernick’s target distribution since the 49ers’ Week 8 bye: Anquan Boldin 40; Michael Crabtree 32; Vernon Davis 17; Stevie Johnson 10; Frank Gore and Bruce Miller 7; Brandon Lloyd 4; Carlos Hyde 3. … Boldin has faced Seattle three times since the 49ers traded for him before the 2013 season. His receiving lines are 5-53-1, 6-93-0, and 1-7-0. Boldin runs enough routes in the slot that he won’t line up against LCB Richard Sherman all game, but he will run a number of patterns against him. Boldin is a low-ceiling WR3 versus the Seahawks. … Crabtree’s recent numbers against the Seahawks are skewed by his recovery from an Achilles’ tear, and probably not very helpful from a predictive standpoint. As Crabtree is running most of his routes on the perimeter this season, he will take on Sherman and RCB Byron Maxwell for most of this game. Boldin has settled in as the No. 1 pass option in coach Jim Harbaugh‘s offense, with Crabtree as a close No. 2. There’s nothing especially attractive about Crabtree’s Week 13 matchup. He’s a borderline WR3.

It’s something of a myth that the Seahawks are vulnerable to tight ends. They have yielded the second most touchdowns to the position (10), but are 19th in receptions (49) and 29th in receiving yards (426) allowed. Having seemingly fallen off the cliff during his age-30 season, nothing Davis has done in 2014 suggests he’s more than a low-end TE2. He hasn’t cleared 40 yards or scored a touchdown since Week 1. … The Seahawks rank No. 4 in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA and eliminated Arizona’s rushing attack last Sunday, holding Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor to 38 scoreless yards on 15 carries (2.53 YPC). The return of MLB Bobby Wagner from a lengthy toe injury gave Pete Carroll‘s unit a huge boost. The 49ers and Seahawks played three times last season. Gore’s rushing lines in those games were 9-16-0, 17-110-0, and 11-14-0. This season, San Francisco’s run game as a unit has been inconsistent and lacked big plays, managing just four runs of 20-plus yards despite ranking sixth in rushing attempts (329). Gore’s to-date production and this matchup indicate he’s a poor bet to return top-20 running back numbers in Week 13. … Rookie Hyde has had a handful of nice runs over the course of the season, but is averaging fewer yards per carry (3.64) than Gore (4.00). Hyde’s touch totals over his last five games are 5, 3, 4, 10, and 7. Hyde isn’t getting enough usage to be considered as a flex play in 12- or even 14-team leagues.

Score Prediction: Seahawks 20, 49ers 17

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