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Optimizer Groups: Optimal TNF NFL Daily DraftKings & FanDuel Picks | Cowboys vs. Saints

Terry McBride

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NFL DFS DraftKings Showdown Optimizer Groups FanDuel Single Game Thursday Night Football

Thursday Night Football kicks off the Week 13 NFL DFS slate with an interesting game between the Cowboys and Saints in New Orleans. The game comes in with a middling 46-point total and has the visitors favored by six. Despite the lack of an explosive game total and a seemingly uninteresting outlook on the board in Vegas, the slate’s pricing and ownership projections make it a much more interesting matchup for NFL DFS Showdown purposes. The public appears to be behind the curve on the leading plays, instead over-rostering sub-optimal Captain plays on the DraftKings slate. This creates a leverage bubble that can be targeted at the top of the board with a fair share of lineups and it makes the approach toward creating unique tournament entries with the leading plays somewhat more viable.

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The Awesemo Top Showdown Plays Tool is the best way to find low-owned value and leverage, when using the tool we want to focus on the probability of success but also the degree to which a player is owned when compared with that probability and can indicate if the field is over or underweight to a play. Using all of the Awesemo expert data and tools, let’s find the top NFL DFS optimizer picks for DraftKings and FanDuel Showdown lineups tonight.

NFL DFS Optimizer Picks: Week 13 Thursday Night Football

Small Sample Central — Trends and Notes

Several of the primary lineup construction notes from previous versions of the article will continue to be listed in this space, but each week we will attempt to find parallels based on Vegas data and the general game environment from historical contests in the pool of DraftKings Showdown research from 2019 through this week’s contests. It is important to not get too focused on results-based thinking in such a small sample. Quality lineup construction is always the focus, but historical results can help inform some basic decisions in a pricing and ownership vacuum. A quick summary of that previous content:

  • According to tracking data for DraftKings Showdown contests over 2019 and 2020, only 17 of 95 slates were won with a quarterback Captain.
  • Across the same sample, wide receivers and running backs split the outcomes evenly, with 33 tournament-winning events each.
  • Of the 38 times that a wide receiver or tight end was in the winning Captain position, only three of those builds did not include at least one quarterback in a Flex position.
  • Thirty-five of 95 winning lineups featured at least one defense, but only two of those featured both defenses.
  • Twenty-nine winning lineups featured at least one kicker, but only two of those included both.
  • Only eight winning lineups included at least one defense and one kicker, while one person won a tournament with two defenses and a kicker in 2019.

Looking at games totaled within 1.5 points on either side of tonight’s 46 in our historical pool, we find a list of 27 games, 12 of which saw pass-catchers win the day in Captain roles. The sample includes more 5-1 and 4-2 constructions than it does 3-3, which is the opposite of several of the trendlines we have seen, though the sample remains exceedingly small. The strongest trend we have observed continues in the subset of winning lineups, with all but two including at least one quarterback. In the full 27-lineup sample, only three lineups lack at least one passer, while 10 of them included both quarterbacks. Of those 10, only two featured a quarterback Captain play, putting the position primarily in the flex role once again. In the full sample, only four quarterback Captain plays were victorious, the salary multiplier for the position becomes daunting for quality lineup builds.

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This 27-contest sample includes two kicker Captain victories, one of which came in a game with a spread of six, the other at 13, there are no conclusions to be drawn from this. The more prominent Captain winners in the remainder of the sample are running back plays, which were victorious in nine of the 27 contests. All but one of those lineups included at least one quarterback, while four of them rostered two passers. Only one lineup included a kicker, it also included defense in another flex position and it happened to be the lineup that left out the quarterback play. Overall, four lineups were winners with a running back Captain play and a defense, interestingly with a 50-50 split of whether or not the defense was from the same team as the running back. In the total sample, 25 of the 33 winning lineups that featured a running back Captain play were in games that came in at a total below 50, and 20 of those 25 were in games totaled below 48.

In a 25-game sample of contests that started with a point spread within a point on either side of tonight’s six-point margin, 12 were won by pass-catchers while an additional seven went to running backs. Skill players tend to be the most valuable players for the Captain role in essentially every game format. Only two lineups lacked a quarterback, five featured quarterback Captain plays and two of those included the other signal-caller in a flex role. In total, 10 of the 25 lineups included both quarterbacks, which jibes with the thought process that a game slipping away from one team will lead to an uptick in passing volume as they try to keep pace.

DraftKings + FanDuel Stack Rules

QB with at least one RB/WR/TE from Opposing Team (this will happen naturally in most Showdown constructions, but including the rule will eliminate lineups that feature only an opposing kicker or quarterback)

QB with at least one WR/TE from Same Team (this will happen naturally in a large portion of lineups, but stacking quarterbacks with pass catchers is the easiest way to rack up NFL DFS points. It makes sense to include this rule to force the build, in most situations)

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Limit Rules

Limit rules are slightly less important for Showdown slates as there are only two teams to choose from. They are still useful for preventing suboptimal constructions, however. Including the following will help prevent these less likely builds.

Limit QB/RB/WR/TE/DST/K from Same Team to three unless paired with Captain

Limit RB from Same Team to one (this is a rule that can be toggled on and off over multiple crunches, but the preference for this slate would be to use it)

Limit K from Same Game to one

Limit DEF from Same Game to one

Construction Basics

We will utilize Fantasy Cruncher’s Groups utility to create specific builds. The Groups feature includes the ability to designate players as the key to the group, or the player whose use in a position will trigger the group requirements. For Showdown slates this can be utilized to force specific sets of players or positions along with each type of designated Captain. The example below shows a group that utilizes Ezekiel Elliott in the Captain role as the key player. It will then force all constructions featuring Elliott in the Captain role to include at least three of the players listed in the group including both quarterbacks as well as a mix of positively leveraged skill players from both sides.

NFL DFS Optimizer Groups & Picks

Unlike multi-game slates, when attacking individual potential game scripts, these groups are better deployed individually for separate crunches that can then be combined into a single pool of lineups. Running them all at once is likely to create conflicting scenarios that will either prevent or limit a full crunch.

Quarterback Inclusion

The first wrinkle in utilizing Groups to create specific constructions is that the tool differentiates between a wide receiver or running back and the same player in the Captain or MVP spot. This requires the creation of a group that adds the Captain version of any likely skill player as the key player, with a rule setting that any lineup featuring any of these players must include one of the quarterbacks in a Flex position. The alternate approach to this problem is to remove all but the skill players from potential inclusion at the Captain spot then create a rule that will simply stack the quarterback with the Captain spot, but that approach is likely more flawed. This group does not currently force quarterbacks when defense or a kicker is used at Captain.

Key Players: All primary skill-players as Captain

Setting: At least one

Group: Dak Prescott and Taysom Hill – Standard versions

This group will result in getting one of the quarterbacks whenever any of the listed primary skill-players is utilized at Captain. To force the quarterback from the same team, multiple groups should be created for skill players from each team utilizing just the quarterback from that team. When quarterbacks appear in Flex positions, the rules and limit settings will kick in to force optimal constructions in the other Flex roles.

Game Script – Saints Playing from Behind

Key Player(s): Taysom Hill, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson

Setting: At least

Group: Dak Prescott, Taysom Hill, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Greg Zuerlein

This group focuses on a contrarian Saints squad that will be as hard-pressed to land at the top of fantasy scoring as they will be to hang in this game in real life. In the event that the Cowboys get out to an early lead, New Orleans will be forced to throw the ball with increased urgency, which could elevate members of their unheralded passing attack. This group includes the quarterback and primary pass-catchers as key players, any of whom will trigger a group that includes both quarterbacks, the same receivers over again, as well as the balance of Saints skill personnel not named Mark Ingram and the Cowboys kicker. The group only requires three and will leave room for Ingram and high-priced heavily-owned Cowboys players to round out the lineup.


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Key Player(s): Dalton Schultz and Michael Gallup – Captain versions

Setting: At least four

Group: Dak Prescott, Taysom Hill, Mark Ingram, Greg Zuerlein, Brett Maher, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, Tony Pollard

This group takes advantage of lineups that utilize low-owned positively leveraged plays from the Dallas pass-catching corps in the Captain spot. It will force four players from a pricey group, weaponizing the lower costs of these Captain plays and putting them in a mix with a list that includes both quarterbacks, both kickers, and the positively leveraged premium skill players from both teams.


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Take a look at our inactive player list, starting lineups and NFL depth chart list. View our FanDuel DFS NFL ownership rankings and our DraftKings NFL DFS rankings. We also have FanDuel Single-Game slate tools and NFL DFS single-game ownership projections. If you’re interested in other DFS NFL picks for multiple game slates, head over to NFL DFS projected ownership, Awesemo's NFL Data Central, NFL rankings, and DFS NFL stacking.

Terry used to do other things, now he writes words on the internet. He hopes his more than 20 years’ experience in season-long and daily fantasy sports and his custom models for MLB, NBA, and NFL don't steer you too wrong when he writes columns and makes picks on Awesemo.com. A lifetime of experience keeping odd hours make Terry ideal to cover KBO baseball overnight until the world returns to normal. Most of those late night hours have been spent on the couch watching sports, T.V., and movies; just try to shut him up about any of the above. You can find his pop-culture ramblings and more on Sideaction.

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