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Thursday Night Football NFL DFS Showdown: Marcus Mariota Among Top Options for Falcons-Panthers

Neil Orfield

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Vikings-Patriots DFS Picks: Kirk Cousins Best Option on TNF Thanksgiving

For nearly a year now, I’ve been hosting the High Stakes podcast for Stokastic, interviewing DFS pros on a range of topics. There have been a lot of recurring themes on the show, but the most relevant for this article: DFS pros love NFL DFS Showdown. For the single game slates, there are many factors to consider. Let’s dive into what Showdown contests are, and some Falcons-Panthers DFS picks for TNF.

That’s because a lot of casual NFL fans enter the Showdown fray as a way to have some action on island games. As a result, DraftKings and FanDuel offer enormous contests with generous prize pools. The contests become more difficult to win, too, when there are hundreds of thousands of entrants, but with a large portion of the new players being casual, the increase in difficulty pales in comparison to the increase in prize pools. It’s a tradeoff DFS pros will gladly make.

My goal with these Showdown articles — which I’ll be writing for each Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football NFL DFS slate this season — is to help you attack the largest-field DraftKings GPP like a pro. There are three main components to discuss when it comes to Showdown, and I’ll break them down accordingly: Projection, Correlation and Differentiation.

Before reading this piece, you may find it helpful to read my evergreen piece about how to attack NFL Showdown GPPs more generally.

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Week 10 NFL DFS Showdown: Falcons-Panthers Picks TNF

Projection

The goal in DFS is to make the lineup that puts up the most points and a natural starting point is looking at individual players who are likely to put up high scores or high point-per-dollar scores. Some pros run simulations or create their own projections to achieve this. Many others, like myself, rely on the Stokastic projections and tools to determine which players should be core pieces of our lineups. I primarily look at the base projections and the “Top Showdown Plays” Tool, which publishes results of 10,000 advanced simulations run by the Stokastic team.

Studs

These are simply the top projected players on the slate. I’d recommend having at least three of these players in just about every lineup you make tonight, either as captain or in a flex spot.

  • Marcus Mariota ($10,200) is the highest projected player on the slate at the second highest salary. He does not throw for much volume, but has already rushed for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns this season.
  • DJ Moore ($9,200) is one half of the second tier of studs, projecting a couple points worse than Mariota.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson ($11,800) is the other half of the second tier of studs. He is also the second most expensive player on the slate. Though Patterson is a former receiver, he has been targeted just eight times this season on 57 routes run.
  • D’Onta Foreman ($7,800) is one half of the third tier of studs, projecting a couple points worse than Patterson. It is unclear how much of the workload Foreman will get if Chuba Hubbard is active.
  • P.J. Walker ($9,600) is the second half of the third tier of studs.
  • Drake London ($8,200) is one of four players in the bottom tier of studs in terms of projection. London leads the Falcons in both routes run and targets with 206 and 55, respectively.
  • Kyle Pitts ($7,000) is second on the Falcons with 43 targets, and third in routes run with 162 despite missing a game.
  • Terrace Marshall Jr. ($8,400) has seen an uptick in opportunities recently, playing 92% of snaps in each of the Panthers’ past two games and garnering 15 total targets in that span.
  • Chuba Hubbard ($5,800) is the final player in the bottom tier of studs, though he is currently questionable. Hubbard will be interesting if he plays because he started the first Panthers game after they traded Christian McCaffrey, only to get injured and see Foreman take over as the lead back. The backfield is murky heading into this game.

Top Point-Per-Dollar Panthers-Falcons Picks

These are just a few players who will be featured throughout my lineups due to their high projected points per dollar. At the same time, because I’ll typically have at least three studs in each lineup, the top points-per-dollar plays are often players I’ll be pivoting away from in some spots in favor of players who project a bit worse but will also garner lower ownership. I’m also excluding any player with a projection below three fantasy points from this list.

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  • The top point-per-dollar value options on this slate are all four of the kickers and defenses. Younghoe Koo ($4,200) leads the group both in terms of raw projection and value, with Eddy Pineiro ($4,000) not far behind. Walker has thrown three interceptions across four starts, and Mariota has thrown six picks through nine starts.
  • Tommy Tremble ($3,200) has played at least 55% of snaps in each of the past five Panthers games. He has been targeted 17 times on 143 routes run this season.
  • Shi Smith ($3,600) is second on the Panthers in routes run and third in targets, with 214 and 20, respectively. In more recent weeks he has been less involved, though, garnering just five total targets over the past four weeks as Marshall Jr. has taken on a bigger role.
  • Olamide Zaccheaus ($5,400) is third on the Falcons with 25 targets.

Correlation

In NFL DFS, correlations are endless, both positive and negative. Most are minor enough that they don’t necessarily need to be factored into lineups. If you want to give a boost to your running back’s defense, for example, that’s great; but running backs will frequently be optimal without the defense also being optimal, even in Showdown.

The only correlations that are almost mandatory to consider on Showdown slates involve quarterbacks. Particularly, non-rushing quarterbacks. That’s because of the scoring dynamics on DraftKings. On each passing play, the pass catcher scores more fantasy points than the quarterback. For example, if a quarterback throws a pass for 5 yards, he’ll get 0.2 fantasy points — 1 fantasy point per 25 yards passing, divided by five. The receiver will get 1.5 fantasy points — 1 point per reception, plus half a point for 5 yards receiving . The quarterback also only gets 4 points per passing touchdown, while the receiver gets 6 points for a receiving touchdown.

The quarterback is also generally one of the most expensive players on his team. Thus, more often than not he will need to be his team’s highest fantasy point scorer to be the optimal captain. Outside of rare occasions where the quarterback scores fantasy points by passing to a player who is not in the DraftKings player pool or gets points as a receiver on a trick play, there are essentially just two ways for the quarterback to be the highest-scoring player on his team: adding fantasy points via rushing or spreading the ball around to multiple pass catchers.

Some general thoughts:

  • If you play a quarterback at captain, and he does not have rushing upside, and he is the most expensive player on his team, you will almost always want to have multiple of his team’s pass catchers in the flex. This is also largely true if the quarterback is only slightly less expensive than the most expensive pass catcher on his team.
  • If you play a quarterback at captain, and he has moderate rushing upside, you can consider playing just one of his pass catchers in the flex — but multiple may still be preferred, depending on the extent of that rushing upside. The quarterback’s price may also come into play here; the more expensive he is, the more likely you’ll need to have multiple pass catchers in the flex.
  • If you play a quarterback at captain, and he has major rushing upside, you don’t necessarily need to play any pass catchers in the flex. This is relatively uncommon, and only applies to a few quarterbacks.
  • If you play a quarterback in the flex, and he does not have rushing upside, you will generally want to have at least one of his pass catchers elsewhere in the lineup, either at captain or in another flex spot.
  • If you play a quarterback in the flex, and he has moderate to high rushing upside, you don’t necessarily need to include one of his pass catchers elsewhere in the lineup. But there will always be positive correlation there between a quarterback and his pass catchers.

Some game-specific thoughts:

  • IF you play Mariota: Mariota has rushed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has enough rushing upside to be considered either in a flex spot or at captain without any pass catchers. With that said, he is more likely to be in an optimal lineup with at least one Falcons pass catcher, particularly if played at captain. Falcons running backs have not been involved in the passing game much this season, as even former receiver Patterson has been targeted just eight times. Thus, it is better to pair Mariota with receivers or tight ends.
  • IF you play Walker: Walker has rushed for just 25 yards so far this season across four starts. He should be paired with at least one pass catcher regardless of where you play him, and multiple is better if he is played at captain. None of the current Panthers running backs have been targeted more than six times this year. Time will tell if their involvement in the passing game increases as Walker becomes more comfortable with them.

Differentiation

Making highly projected lineups with smart correlations will separate you from the lowest level Showdown players, but there are many very smart casual players as well. Differentiation is the last step to separating pros from Joes.

In just about any DFS GPP, finding low-owned gems is key because lower ownership reduces the field of lineups you’re competing against when the player has a 99th-percentile outcome. Taking it to the extreme, just as a thought exercise, let’s say that Patterson scores 100 fantasy points tonight. You’re not just going to need him; you’ll need him in the captain spot (150 fantasy points). If 20,000 lineups in your contest have Patterson in the captain spot, you’ve essentially reduced the field of lineups you’re competing with to 20,000. If only 200 lineups have Patterson at captain? Now we’re talking.

On NFL Showdown slates there is an additional factor for large-field GPPs. We don’t just want to find seldomly used players; we want to find seldomly used LINEUPS. Why? Well, I’ll give you two examples from last year:

  • On Sept. 20, 2021, DraftKings had a Milly Maker for the Packers vs. Lions tilt, but the top lineup was duplicated 231 times. Rather than winning a million dollars, the users who entered those 231 lineups had to split the top 231 prizes, for just a bit over $6,000 each. That’s despite having everything go their way, which requires an extreme amount of luck.
  • On Oct. 11, 2021, we saw the other end of the spectrum: user rcoho1984 played a unique lineup in the Ravens vs. Colts Milly Maker, taking home not just a million dollars but a ticket to the Tournament of Champions.

If you’re going to win — which takes a lot of luck, regardless of how well your lineup projects — I’d suggest making it count. I’m not necessarily concerned with making an entirely unique lineup like rcoho1984 did every single time, but I aim to be a lot closer to their unique lineup than those that were duplicated 231 times.

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Some Easy Tricks

Low-owned players. Yup, even if you’re using other tricks to get unique, it’s still a good idea to play a few players in your set of lineups who won’t be getting much ownership. Some low-owned players to consider:

  • Ian Thomas ($2,000) has been targeted 17 times this season, and makes for a nice boom-bust play at his low salary.
  • Laviska Shenault Jr. ($3,000) played just three snaps for the Panthers in week nine after playing 23 snaps in week eight. While the decrease is concerning, at very little ownership it makes some sense to target Shenault for his splash play potential.
  • Damiere Byrd ($4,400) has seen his snaps increase to right around 50% in the past two Falcons games. At single digit projected ownership he makes for a fine play.
  • Raheem Blackshear ($5,000) is clearly too expensive for his projection, and would be difficult to play if Hubbard is active. If Hubbard sits Blackshear will make for an interesting contrarian play after seeing four targets in week nine.

Embrace lineups missing some correlation pieces or even with some negative correlation. Generally, highly correlated lineups will be over-owned, whereas the field will avoid negative correlation at all costs. If you want to read my reasoning, check out the evergreen piece I linked near the top of this page. In some of my lineups, I like to see the following:

  • Quarterback against opposing Defense.
  • Pass Catcher at Captain without including the QB at Flex.
  • Multiple Running Backs from the same team in a lineup.

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Leave salary on the table. This is the easiest way to lower your duplicates. Casual players assume that if they have salary left over, they should upgrade. The problem with this approach is that it almost inevitably leads to highly duplicated lineups. How much salary should you leave on the table? That’s up to you. If it’s less than $1,000 on this slate and you haven’t gotten extremely unique with player selections and weird correlations, it’s likely you’ll have to split any winnings with many other entries.

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Neil Orfield has been playing DFS regularly since 2013, but his success really started taking off in 2019 when he had a six figure payday with a hand built NFL lineup. The next day, he signed up for a Stokastic+ subscription with FantasyCruncher. Since then he has won an NFL milly and added six figure wins in XFL, MLB, and NBA. He has recently excelled at NFL Showdown, with many five- and six-figure wins since 2021.

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