The NFL Handbook – Thanksgiving Day Special

I don’t know how your fam gets down, but Thanksgiving dinner in my household takes place around 3 PM. Light breakfast, maybe make it a brunch. But, in either case, it’s just an appetizer for the real deal around mid-afternoon.

The NFL got it backwards.

For breakfast, we get to feast on the turkey, the ham, the mashed potatoes, the dressing… I mean, the two later games (Chargers at Cowboys/Giants at Redskins) figure to be entertaining. But, from the jump we get the battle for the NFC North; Vikings at Lions – which might just be the game of the week, let alone the day.

Not only are these two of the league’s best in terms of play, but they also boast two of the more aesthetically pleasing uniforms (yes, this holds major weight).

Everything else is an appetizer.

If you’re new to the handbook, I’ve analyzed each of the matchups on tap, and provided a complete overview of each team’s outlook from the fantasy football perspective, in addition to statistical analysis, and betting picks for each game.

For the fantasy portion, I’ve broken each team’s fantasy relevant players into four categories:

  1. Ballers –  Either the guys you just aren’t benching, or the ones with favorable match-ups. Either way, they should be in your lineups.
  2. Under the Radar – Guys who you may not start typically, or have what appear to be tough matchups, but have a good opportunity to produce. Good for dfs (DraftKings, Fanduel, etc.) as they should have low(er) ownership.
  3. Temper Expectations – Proceed with caution. May be players you’d normally start, or guys who’ve been playing well, but might not put up the numbers needed to justify a start this week.
  4. Bums – It’s a good idea to just avoid these guys in your lineups.

For the betting side, I used the opening spread and over/under totals from sportsinsights.com. A lot of the lines have moved in reaction to the money, injury updates, etc., but picking and choosing which current odds to use felt a bit too arbitrary. If you have any questions regarding the updated odds, feel free to comment, shoot me an email: leonard@maximizeyourodds.com, or hit me up on Twitter: @maxingyourodds

Minnesota Vikings (8-2, 7-3 ATS) at Detroit Lions (6-4, 5-4-1 ATS)

Spread: PK

O/U: 44.5

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
MIN 13.71 (9th) 12.54 (1st) 19.00 (11th) 6.24 (6th) 1.90 (3rd) 7.80 (15th)
DET 15.08 (14th) 20.14 (27th) 19.60 (14th) 7.14 (20th) 7.80 (19th) 6.50 (7th)

The Lions have won three straight against the Vikings; including a 14-7 victory in Week 4 – at Minnesota. For that reason alone, the Vikings will win this game. But, let me give you the unabridged version.

For starters, a lot has changed since that Week 4 matchup. Hell, the Vikings still had Dalvin Cook at that point (for three-ish quarters). Not to mention, Case Keenum played arguably his worst game of the season, and while the Lions D deserves a ton of credit, they’ll likely be without a few key starters who contributed to the containage of this Vikings offense.

Most notably, Haloti Ngata (there’s no likely with him, he’s on IR).

Through the Lions 1st five games – with Ngata in the lineup – opposing backs averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and the Lions held them to 71 rushing yards a game. In the five games since he’s been sidelined, Detroit is allowing RBs to rush for over 5 yards per carry and 125 yards per game. They’ve also allowed seven rushing TDs over their last five after allowing just three with Ngata in action.

Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have formed one of the better RB tandems, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t eat against this Lions D.

Back to Keenum. Yes, Detroit’s secondary has been impressive. In fact, they’ve allowed just one 100 yard receiver (JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 8). However, the fact that JuJu was the guy makes this next point exponentially more relevant…

Adam Thielen has activated beast mode.

What does JuJu have to do with Thielen? Well, per playerprofiler, 46.7% of Smith-Schuster’s snaps have come from the slot while the number is 48.6% for Thielen. Granted, JSS’ 97-yard TD pass was a major contributor to his 100 yard day, but without it, he still grabbed 6 passes for 96 yards. And – though none have been overly jaw-dropping – the majority of the solid receiving days we’ve seen WRs put up against the Lions this season have come from slot guys.

And, when it comes to slot guys, Thielen might currently be the best in the league.

He hasn’t had fewer than five receptions in a single game this season, he’s put up back-to-back 100+ yard performances (two yards shy from three straight), and he’s also scored in three straight. He faced a much tougher matchup last week, and still managed to put up his best numbers of the season.

No reason to bench him at this point.

On the flip, this Vikings defense is the only unit to hold the Lions under 20 points this season, and the 251 total yards they allowed them? Yeah, that’s the 2nd fewest Stafford and co. have put up on the season.

Minnesota also just held what was the league’s top scoring offense to just seven points. Oh, and despite having faced five of the Top 13 QBs – in terms of passing TDs – they’ve allowed just nine passing TDs on the season; good for the 2nd fewest. They’ve also allowed just 68.6 rushing yards per game (3rd fewest), just three rushing TDs (2nd fewest)…

Basically, if you play offense, and face the Vikings, you’re shut down. Don’t expect that to change here, but the Lions will make it interesting; they always do.

Vikings 23 – Lions 17

Ballers: Jerick McKinnon, Latavius Murray, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph

Under the Radar: Kenny Golladay

Temper Expectations: Case Keenum, Stefon Diggs, Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones

Bums: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones, Eric Ebron

Los Angeles Chargers (4-6, 5-4-1 ATS) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5, 5-5 ATS)

Spread: DAL -1

O/U: 48

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
LAC 13.65 (7th) 20.44 (28th) 20.39 (19th) 4.87 (2nd) 4.00 (8th) 7.80 (15th)
DAL 17.11 (17th) 19.02  (23rd) 22.77 (24th) 7.12 (17th) 6.00 (13th) 7.20 (12th)

Playing three games in 12 days seems like it’d be a daunting task for any team. But, seeing how the Chargers had their bye in Week 9, and Dak has endured 12 sacks over the Cowboys last two… You have to figure Prescott will feel it a bit more.

Even if he is 11 years Rivers’ junior.

Making matters worse, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram pose the stiffest test yet – the Chargers have more sacks than any team not from Jacksonville or Pittsburgh. The good news is, Tyron Smith is expected to be back for this one. But, the bad news? Ezekiel Elliott does not appear to be un-suspended.

In the two games without Zeke, the Cowboys have allowed 32 points per game after giving up 22.3 in the eight games with him. Now obviously, it’s not fair to compare a two-game sample to an eight-game sample. But, it’s no secret that the Cowboys gameplan strongly revolves around controlling the clock and limiting their defense’s time on the field.

Well, Zeke being gone (the loss of Smith only compounds the issue) means more time on the field for this D, and that’s not exactly a good look.

Especially considering Sean Lee isn’t playing.

Back to this 8 vs. 2 sample… 79.4 and 4.3 – the yards allowed per game and yards per carry allowed to RBs in the eight games with Zeke. Those averages are up to 159.5, and 5.3 in the two games since his suspension went into effect. Taking it one step further, in the three games Sean Lee has missed – one during the Zeke suspension – Dallas has allowed RBs to pick up 6.3 yards per carry while surrendering 150 rushing yards a game.

Luckily (for Dallas), the Chargers have been far from dominant on the ground, but Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 75 yards in four of their last six games with three rushing TDs over that stretch. There’s absolutely no reason for him to not be in your lineups this week.

Through the air, though? The ‘Boys have been surprisingly mediocre.

They’ve held all but one of the 10 QBs they’ve faced under 300 yards passing, but at the same time, they’ve given up more passing TDs than all but six teams (18). Where they’ve excelled is in limiting the big plays – as the 11.3 yards per reception they’re allowing ranks 15th and sits two yards below the league average. Problem is, Keenan Allen ranks 7th among WRs in receiving yards despite ranking 33rd in yards per catch (13.5).

He likes the underneath stuff.

So, that’s cool and all, but what the hell do we do with this Cowboys offense?

Simply put, depends on your options.

Again, Tyron Smith makes a world of difference. However, Dak is averaging just 160.5 passing yards per game without Zeke, has thrown 0 TDs but 3 interceptions, and is coming off the worst game of his career. Feels a lot like a primed bounce back spot, but the only issue with that line of thought is this Chargers secondary – which has held QBs to just 227.9 passing yards per game (8th), and has given up just 12 passing TDs on the season (7th).

Prescott will put up numbers with his legs, no doubt. And, if I had to bet on one QB scoring on the ground this week, it’d be Dak. So, I’m not suggesting you run out and grab Blaine Gabbert. But, I am strongly advising discretion. Keep in mind, none of this is even considering the fact(s) that no receiver has gone over 100 yards against LA (just three have gone over 75), or that the Chargers have allowed just one TD to the tight end position.

That said, moving on from Jason Witten is somewhat painless at this point. But, if you have Dez Bryant in your fantasy leagues, I feel for you.

You have to roll him out there weekly because, well, he’s Dez Bryant. And, any given week he’s liable to drop 150 yards and 2 TDs. Thing is, he has zero 100 yard games this season, four TDs, and ranks 29th in fantasy points (standard scoring). Given the matchup (and the circumstances) it’s not the worst idea to let him ball out on your bench this week…

Unless you want to live with that regret from Thursday afternoon until Sunday morning. You know the feeling, when he doesn’t ball out and you’re stuck with a locked receiver, 6 points, and nothing that can be done to change it. Just a hope, and a prayer, that your two remaining receivers go nuts. But, then you’re left mulling over which to plug in, constantly swapping them out for two days until Sunday finally comes…

That my friends, is what I call purgatory. Just wash your hands now.

Honestly, the only Cowboy I’m be comfortable touching without a thirty-nine and a half foot pole this week is Alfred Morris. Dallas has been blown out in two straight, and game flow has limited his carries. Don’t let that mislead you. The man is averaging 5.1 yards a carry in his two starts – which would put him 4th among RBs (if it was based on a full season’s workload).

True, the Chargers have been stout against the run in recent weeks, but they were straight mollywhopped by LeSean McCoy on Sunday. And, on the season, only the Patriots are allowing RBs to pick up more yards per carry than the 4.9 given up by LA.

Oh, there’s also that part about him dropping 91 yards on the league’s best run D a week ago. Yes, please.

All told, I expect Dallas’ offense to be better than we’ve seen in recent weeks, but I’m also a believer in this Chargers team. Defensively, they have more than enough to contain this diminished Cowboys offense, and Rivers can put points up with the best of them.

Chargers 20 – Cowboys 16

Ballers: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Alfred Morris

Under the Radar: Austin Ekeler, Hunter Henry

Temper Expectations: Travis Benjamin, Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten

Bums: Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Rod Smith, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley

New York Giants (2-8, 4-6 ATS) at Washington Redskins (4-6, 4-6 ATS)

Spread: WAS -7.5

O/U: 44.5

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
NYG 19.49 (30th) 18.15 (17th) 21.06 (21st) 13.25 (32nd) 7.50 (18th) 9.00 (21st)
WAS 18.46 (27th) 19.79 (25th) 19.19 (13th) 11.24 (30th) 7.00 (15th) 9.50 (26th)

Just like the time I told a female co-worker that I liked her dress right as she was bending over to grab something from the bottom of the refrigerator, the Giants timing is a bit off.

In my defense, it was a nice dress. But, practically proclaiming “I’m staring at your ass!” wasn’t one of my finest moments. In the Giants defense, at least they showed some pride after looking indifferent for weeks. Problem is, the season is lost at this point and that W simply means a lower draft pick.

Now, I get it – Ben McAdoo is likely coaching for his job, and very few athletes find pleasure in losing. But, the time to step up and actually play was seven games ago. Just like my time to tell the woman I liked her dress was when she said good morning while facing me.

It is what it is.

In any case, the Giants have a pretty damn good shot at making it two straight meaningless wins if the defense we all expected to see this season shows up again on Thanksgiving night. Last week, the Giants held the Chiefs to just three field goals while limiting Alex Smith to just 230 yards through the air and picking him off twice…

Kirk Cousins could be in for a very similar fate in this one.

Not only did the ‘Skins lose their most productive offensive weapon – Chris Thompson – for the season to a broken leg, Terrelle Pryor is also done for the season, Jordan Reed will miss his 4th straight game, and that’s just the prelude to their novelesque injury report. Adding insult to injury, Cousins is 2-4 in his career against New York with just six TD passes to ten INTs and a 69.6 QB rating.

Excited about this offense yet?

If not, Samaje Perine finally showed a glimpse of his potential rushing 23 times for 117 yards and a TD last week at New Orleans. And, with Thompson going down, Perine was surely at the top of a lot of people’s waiver priorities this week.

If you were able to snag him, congratulations.

Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon are the only two backs to rush for more than 100 yards against this Giants D which has allowed just five rushing TDs. On the season, Perine is averaging around 3.5 yards per carry and the Giants have allowed backs to pick up about 4 yards per. So, based on volume alone, it’s likely that Perine will wind up in the 70-80 yard range.

Terrible? No. However, the odds that he finds the end zone aren’t in his favor, and he has just 7 receptions through seven games; it’s not likely he’ll give you much production outside of his rushing yardage. That said, given the injuries which keep pilling up on this offensive line, and the fact that the bye weeks are over and done with, he’s probably best served on your benches this week.

At least until we get a better idea of how this offense will look moving forward.

It’s not all bad for Washington, though, as the Giants have been the NFL’s worst team at defending the tight end position. They’re allowing over 75 receiving yards per game to TEs, and surprisingly, last week Travis Kelce helped the Chiefs become the 1st team to not have a TE score a TD against the G-Men this season.

Despite having just one TD to his name, Vernon Davis – the ageless wonder who ranks 6th among TEs in receiving yards – figures to be in for a very productive evening. So too should Evan Engram – who ranks 7th among TEs in receiving yards, and is tied for 3rd at the position with five TDs.

Washington is one of the few teams who present a threat to New York for the crown of league’s worst against tight ends – allowing 77 yards per game to the position (most) with six TDs (T-4th).

Eli will need to capitalize on this mismatch as Sterling Shepard hasn’t practiced this week, and is again listed as questionable. It’s hard to imagine Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, or Travis Rudolph finding much success against Josh Norman and co. Hell, it’s hard to imagine Shepard balling out even if he does play. But, this offense needs all the help they can get.

The help will likely come on the ground.

The ‘Skins have given up four TDs to RBs over their last four games, while allowing 4.2 yards per carry on the season. They’ve also allowed backs to pick up 44 yards per game through the air. The Giants offensive line woes have been about as damning as Washington’s, but Orleans Darkwa has still managed to rack up over 75 all-purpose yards in three straight games while scoring one TD over that stretch.

He figures to be a key contributor for a Giants offense which is devoid of weapons.

Maybe I’m delirious, or maybe the disappointment of being a lifelong Knicks and Giants fan has brought me to the point where I’m always expecting the worst – even if it means a Giants W. But, I think the Giants pull this one off and make it two straight. In fact, they’ll probably win six of their last seven, finish 7-9, but still miss out on the playoffs and a high draft pick (you heard it here first).

Giants 24 – Redskins 20

Ballers: Evan Engram, Vernon Davis

Under the Radar: Eli Manning, Orleans Darkwa, Josh Doctson

Temper Expectations: Sterling Shepard, Kirk Cousins, Samaje Perine, Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant

Bums: Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Byron Marshall

As always, thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe, and follow @maxingyourodds on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest fantasy insight. And, look out for the full Week 12 Handbook coming soon!

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