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Thursday Night Football NFL DFS Showdown: Cousins for the Win on Thanksgiving Vikings-Patriots

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 Vikings-Patriots DFS picks for TNF.

That’s because a lot of casual NFL fans enter the Showdown fray 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 12 NFL DFS Showdown: Vikings-Patriots DFS 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.

  • Justin Jefferson ($11,600) is the highest projected player on the slate.
  • Rhamondre Stevenson ($9,600) is one half of the second projection tier, at a relative salary discount.
  • Kirk Cousins ($10,200) is the other half of the second projection tier.
  • Dalvin Cook ($10,000) is one half of the third projection tier.
  • Mac Jones ($9,000) is the other half of the third projection tier.
  • Jakobi Meyers ($8,200) leads the Patriots in routes run, with 252, and targets, with 56.
  • T.J. Hockenson ($7,200) is one half of the bottom projection tier of studs.
  • Adam Thielen ($7,000) is the other half of the bottom projection tier of studs.

Top Point-Per-Dollar Vikings-Patriots 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.

  • Hunter Henry ($3,000) is second on the Patriots in routes run, with 236, and fourth in targets, with 28.
  • Tyquan Thornton ($1,800) played 27% of snaps in week 11 with DeVante Parker active. He should have an opportunity to pay off his price tag even if Parker is active, but will be an even better play if Parker, who is currently questionable, shows up on the inactives list.
  • K.J. Osborn ($4,600) has seen a surprising 16 targets since the Vikings acquired Hockenson, including 11 in week ten.
  • Nelson Agholor ($3,400) saw his snap share come up to 59% in week 11 following the Patriots’ bye, after topping out at 33% over the previous four games.
  • As usual, kickers and defenses for both teams are among the top value plays. Greg Joseph ($3,800) leads the group in both projection and value, followed in both categories by the Vikings Defense ($4,400). On average, Jones has been sacked three times and thrown one interception per game this season. Cousins has thrown eight interceptions and been sacked 27 times through 11 games.

Correlation

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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, often 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 Cousins: Cousins has rushed for a couple touchdowns this year, but averages under ten rushing yards per game. If Cousins is in a lineup, a Vikings pass catcher should also be in the lineup, and preferably multiple if he is in the captain spot. Vikings running backs should not be considered pass catchers.
  • IF you play Jones: Through 24 career games, Jones has rushed for just 210 yards and one touchdown. If he’s in a lineup, a Patriots pass catcher should also be in the lineup, and preferably multiple if he is in the captain spot. Stevenson should be considered a pass catcher.

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 Stevenson 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 Stevenson in the captain spot, you’ve essentially reduced the field of lineups you’re competing with to 20,000. If only 200 lineups have Stevenson 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:

  • Alexander Mattison ($5,000) is clearly too expensive for his role, as he has carried the ball just seven times and been targeted three times over the past three games. Still, he has two touchdowns on the season, and a touchdown is more likely to be enough in a game that is expected to be relatively low scoring.
  • Kendrick Bourne ($2,200) played 38% of snaps for the Patriots in week 11 and could pay off his price tag with one splash play.
  • Jonnu Smith ($3,200) has played at least 54% of snaps in each of the past three Patriots games and has seen 11 targets over that span.
  • Damien Harris ($6,800) is projected for 12% ownership, so he doesn’t fit this section perfectly, but he deserves an honorable mention. Harris has carried the ball 19 times and been targeted four times over the past two games, and it would not be a surprise to see him pay off his price tag.

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 $600 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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