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Optimizer Groups: Optimal TNF NFL Daily DraftKings & FanDuel Picks | Panthers vs. Texans

Terry McBride

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Week 3 of NFL DFS kicks off with a Thursday night contest between the Panthers and Texans. The game will be an extremely quick turnaround for newly minted Texans quarterback Davis Mills, who took over for injured Tyrod Taylor last week. The slate also features Carolina superstar Christian McCaffrey, who is pulling in nearly a 60% probability of being the top scorer on the DraftKings Showdown slate. McCaffrey will justifiably be wildly popular on this slate, but he comes in with slightly positive leverage to his probability of being the optimal play in the Captain spot according to the Top Showdown Plays Tool. This article will look at various approaches to utilizing the optimizer to create groups that follow specific game scripts to create unique lineups that will be in play given certain outcomes. Creating lineups with premium Thursday Night Football NFL DFS optimizer picks, with a weather eye on the ownership and leverage columns, is the best approach to finding a winning lineup for the Panthers vs. Texans game.

NFL DFS Optimizer Groups: 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.

The total is at just 42.5, and the Panthers are 8-point favorites. Using the sample from last Thursday that included all games totaled at 43 points or lower, an 18-game pool, four of the five times a Captain defense has won in the last two years have come in games of this nature. Though none of those lineups featured both defenses and three of the four games finished under the Vegas total. With a rookie quarterback at the wheel for the Texans, there should be a consideration to the viability of the Panthers’ defense as a Captain play in some shares. 15 of 32 contests totaled at 45 or lower saw at least one defense included, though only one winner had both defenses. Kickers appear in eight of 32 entries, with two of those featuring both kickers, but somewhat surprisingly only one winning lineup featured both a kicker and a defense.

Running backs have been the winning Captain play in 12 of 32 contests totaled at 45 points or less, while wideouts have managed the trick just eight times. Just one of the eight games that saw a wide receiver Captain play in the tournament-winning lineup ended up hitting the over in Vegas, while five of 12 running back wins were over their game total, with the favored team winning the majority of contests. With a ridiculously talented running back soaking up the lion’s share of the probability of being the top play on this slate, McCaffrey Captain lineups seem like a no-brainer, but that is exactly what even the brainless in the public will do with their first click, making it very difficult to build unique lineups.

Within the 32-game sample, there are 11 instances of a point spread of eight or greater. A quarterback Captain play has won only one of those contests, while three defense wins are in the same pool, with the balance split between wide receivers and running backs. Only two winning lineups in the sample included no quarterback, while four of the 11 included both quarterbacks. Four 5-1 stacks were victorious in the 11-game sample, they were the lone quarterback win and all three defensive victories.

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)

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 Robby Anderson in the Captain role as the key player. It will then force all constructions featuring Anderson in the Captain role to include at least four of the players listed in the group that includes both quarterbacks, as well as a mix of stars and less popular players.

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NFL DFS optimizer picks Thursday Night Football Week 3 Panthers vs. Texans optimal lineup tournament strategy advice tips cheat sheet free expert rankings projections ownership top stacks

NFL DFS Optimizer Groups

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.

NFL DFS optimizer picks Thursday Night Football Week 3 Panthers vs. Texans optimal lineup tournament strategy advice tips cheat sheet free expert rankings projections ownership top stacks

Key Players: All primary skill-players as Captain

Setting: At least one

Group: Sam Darnold & Davis Mills (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.

Concept — Less McCaffrey with Carolina Skill Captains

NFL DFS optimizer picks Thursday Night Football Week 3 Panthers vs. Texans optimal lineup tournament strategy advice tips cheat sheet free expert rankings projections ownership top stacks

Key Players: All likely Carolina skill players except McCaffrey – Captain versions

Setting: We will use the highlighted checkbox to eliminate the requirement to use the grouped player and instead have the application only apply the boost, which in this case is a -50%

Group: Christian McCaffrey – Standard version

This group can be utilized to winnow, but not eradicate, the pool of lineups that would include McCaffrey in a Flex role when another Carolina skill player lands in the Captain spot. The elite running back is trending over 50% popularity in the Flex position on DraftKings, which is viable and relatively level with his probability of being an optimal play, which is to say that he should be in the majority of well-built lineups prior to lock. Limiting the running back would be viable if another Carolina player does the bulk of the touchdown scoring in a tight low-scoring game that caps the running back’s overall upside to a degree, though he will still have plenty of touches in any version of this game. This group utilizes the boost function to lower McCaffrey’s projection by 50% when any of the listed skill player teammates land as a Captain. This still allows him to appear in some lineups, but he will not be the overwhelming force he otherwise would be.

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Game Script — McCaffrey Takes Over

Key Player: Christian McCaffrey – Captain version

Setting: At least three

Group: Sam Darnold, Terrace Marshall Jr., Panthers Defense, Dan Arnold, Chuba Hubbard, Zane Gonzalez, David Johnson, Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Davis Mills

This group utilizes McCaffrey as the Captain as its key and attempts to force several lower owned, but still viable, players into the lineup while leaving room for additional pieces with higher upside. This will help lead to lineups that leave salary on the table and create a higher chance at building unique lineups. This is a tournament construction that will attempt to follow a game script that is more oriented toward the running game and limited passes to backs and tight ends, while largely ignoring the highly owned higher probability wide receivers.

Game Script — Defense

Key Players: Both Defenses – Captain versions

Setting: At least three

Group: Sam Darnold, Davis Mills, D.J. Moore, Brandin Cooks, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Dan Arnold, Mark Ingram, Pharaoh Brown, Jordan Akins

This group assumes that McCaffrey shares will take care of themselves in one of the other available lineup slots. The goal here is to force portions of the passing attack and a few lesser-owned options into the equation at Flex when Captain defenses appear. Playing a Captain defense does not preclude from rostering portions of the opposing team, two of the five defense victories were 3-3 stacks while the other three were 5-1 stacks. When the more likely Carolina defense is selected, this group should push numerous 5-1 constructions that include McCaffrey and several players from the group.


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If you’re interested in other DFS NFL football picks for multiple game slates, head over to DFS NFL projected ownership, Awesemo's NFL Data Central, NFL daily fantasy football rankings, and daily fantasy football stacking. Take a look at our starting line-ups, inactives and depth charts for NFL games.

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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