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NFL DFS Picks: Optimizer Groups-Think + Two-Game Thanksgiving Slate Strategy – Updated

Terry McBride



NFL DFS picks for Thanksgiving DFS on FanDuel and DraftKings

In case you missed the news, the Thanksgiving NFL DFS slate has been reduced from a three game to a two game affair on both DraftKings and FanDuel. The Ravens vs Steelers game was postponed, following numerous positive COVID-19 tests on the Ravens roster which dramatically concentrates the pool of available NFL DFS picks. With the change in slate comes a cornucopia of correlation plays that we can focus on as we put together stacks from among just four teams. With limited options and massive fields in GPPs, it is going to be extremely difficult to create a viable unique lineup. There are some important details in this intro section and the rules and settings section, so give it a quick read.

There are multiple approaches to getting different. You can leave salary on the table, which is almost mandatory to at least some degree already, but that path leads to a limited set of lineups that are not total dart throws. They will all be owned. Another way to approach this is to look for alternate angles into the most popular players. Full game stacks can work for this, as can allowing multiple offensive players against your defense. You can also simply choose to embrace the longshot nature of some of the lower owned plays at the skill positions. Even at this point, it likely won’t be a matter of just using one very low owned player, you’re going to have to work on getting a few offbeat plays into the lineup.

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An important consideration when deciding on your approach is what is important to you. If your goal is to get lineups over the cash line, focus on some of the popular constructions that might allow for leaving some salary on the table or using alternate angles. If you’re comfortable with less security but more potential upside, start working on some of those very low-owned less likely players. Optimizers are going to naturally favor the former approach, my inclination is more toward the latter. The boosts and groups below will reflect that, although the overall strategy will include elements of everything mentioned. The goal is to get to a more equitably distributed set of NFL DFS picks for GPP play while still utilizing primary options from the core of “good chalk.”

I’ve made several slate-specific changes to the rules and settings below, for clarity I’m simply crossing out the existing rules that you should have, wherever applicable. New additions are included in bold. Be sure to take a look even if you’ve just been running with what we set in Week 1. Most notably, we have to account for the players against defense decision, which Fantasy Cruncher will tell you about in a pop-up window when you open the slate.

We’re also adding a bit of Groups 201 Level content. Instead of adding running backs to our main groups, I’m creating yet another tier of groups that will serve only to limit those running backs who are coming up too frequently when set outside of stacks. I want to do this because we’re getting to those backs naturally to the point that adding them to groups creates overkill. Keeping them separate and using the “only apply +/-” function works nicely to help us dial in the appropriate amounts of running backs. Most of this will need additional work if D’Andre Swift does not play.

NFL DFS Picks – Optimizer Groups-Think: Thanksgiving DFS

DraftKings + FanDuel Stack Rules:

QB with at least one RB/WR/TE from Opposing Team

QB with at least one WR/TE from Same Team (note: It’s fine to make this two or to utilize two of these, one with WR/TE and one with RB/WR/TE, but we can refine that and get it exactly how we want it via Groups)

QB with at most zero DST from Same Team (personal preference) we’re going to have to allow this to happen on a two-game slate.

Limit Rules: 

Limit QB/RB/WR/TE from Same Team to three my preference is still to not put too much weight into a single team, but we have to allow for multiple skill players with just a two game Thanksgiving DFS slate.

Limit RB/WR/TE from Same Team to one unless paired with QB from Same Team OR Opposing Team  We need to allow for multiple skill players from a team to loosen up lineup restrictions.

Limit RB from Same Team to one (I’m also doing this with WR in a separate rule that adds an “unless paired with QB or opposing QB” but it’s personal preference for NFL DFS) My preference is still to get only one running back from a team, but I want to allow for multiple receivers regardless of a stack with their QB in this situation.

Players vs Defense:

I’m letting the optimizer rip in terms of how many players it allows against defense. With only four options on the slate, I would prefer to get to more combinations of skill player upside than to guess at which defense might stay above the five point line or put up an actually necessary score.

Flex Positions:

I typically restrict Cruncher from allowing the tight end FLEX option on both DraftKings and FanDuel but for this slate I will let it happen. I don’t expect to get it very much, I will deploy it even less.


Add players to groups. Select the quarterback (or otherwise indicated player) as the Key Player for both his team’s group and the recommended opposing group. This is a different group than the group that will stack the other side of this game. For example, I will have four groups for the Detroit at Arizona game: Detroit, Detroit Opposing, Arizona and Arizona Opposing.

Thanksgiving Day Update: Read Me

So, something critical happened. D’Andre Swift is going to sit this one out as he recovers from his concussion. The bad news is, all the work we put into the limiters for him specifically is now moot. The good news is all we really need to do is remove him from those limiters and leave everything else the same and we should get a very good distribution of running backs with each stack. This includes a good amount of each Detroit back in appropriate order.

If you have a particularly strong stance on one of the Detroit running backs, I would recommend running the full initial crunch then (on the left in Fantasy Cruncher) filtering to each quarterback in the results one at a time to review distributions within that set of stacks. Adjust the limiters and boosts accordingly. Keep in mind that you’ll have to check again and make additional adjustments. Each time you tell the optimizer to give you more or less of one specific player it will naturally also result in getting more or less of other players as lineups are built. Going through the process and making sure you aren’t accidentally forcing too much or too little of other plays is important.

A few people have asked recently, so it seems important to address quickly. All of these groups are intended to be used with randomness turned on in your optimizer. I use very heavy randomness at the wide receiver position and a good amount at the other spots, but the exact amounts come down to personal preference and whether you use the Standard or Pro version if you’re in Fantasy Cruncher. Ultimately, you want to have enough to at least shake up your results from the straight-line highest mean projected lineups. If you run crunches for this slate with randomness turned off you will get 100% Watson and Fuller to start with. That’s not the result we want.

Lastly, if you’re looking to shake things up for GPP play, take a look at Kyle Dvorchak’s piece on leverage plays for the Thanksgiving NFL DFS slate and add some additional boost to those players within your groups to force more of them into lineups.

NFL DFS Team Groups:

Note: Most of these boosts should apply on both DraftKings and FanDuel slates, but be sure to monitor your own distributions. Things can change dramatically based on pricing as well as the projection set, randomness and individual player caps utilized.

Dallas Cowboys

Key Player: Andy Dalton

Setting: At least one

Group: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, Cedric Wilson (+25%), Tony Pollard (+25%) (I’m deliberately leaving Ezekiel Elliott out of the group because we’ll get to plenty of him anyway. I think including Pollard is interesting because our running backs limiter will force non-Zeke constructions for those lineups for differentiation purposes. Cedric Wilson makes the list as a dart throw receiver who has a very low projection but limited touchdown upside).

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Terry McLaurin, J.D. McKissic, Logan Thomas, Dontrelle Inman, Cam Sims (Antonio Gibson is out of the group because we get him naturally. I am including McKissic based on his volume in the passing game. Inman and Sims are differentiators).

Limiter Key Player: Andy Dalton (note: be sure to check the box to only apply the +/-, we don’t want to create another roster requirement by mistake)

Limiter Group: Ezekiel Elliott (-15%), Duke Johnson (-15%) (This should create a nicely balanced set of running back options across Dalton stacks with Elliott still coming up in roughly 50% of them).

Detroit Lions

Key Player: Matt Stafford

Setting: At least one

Group: Marvin Jones, T.J. HockensonMarvin Hall, Jamal Agnew (+15%), Quintez Cephus (+25%), Mohammed Sanu (+25%) (Kenny Golladay is out again for Thanksgiving DFS action. He will be joined by Danny Amendola, taking a few key weapons away from this Lions receiving corps. D’Andre Swift is out, Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson will share backfield duties. Johnson saw more touches playing from behind last week, Peterson is projected for lower ownership and has more history of being a primary running back).

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Keke Coutee, Jordan Akins, Darren Fells (Duke Johnson is a good running back option for run-backs given his involvement in the passing game, though he will be very popular on the Thanksgiving DFS slate. We will get to plenty of him without including him in the group, see the limiters below for more).

Limiter Key Player: Matt Stafford (note: be sure to check the box to only apply the +/-, we don’t want to create another roster requirement by mistake)

Limiter Group: Duke Johnson (-25%) (This should keep several backs in the 35% range with Stafford lineups, providing a good mix for GPP play).

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Houston Texans

Key Player: Deshaun Watson

Setting: At least two

Group: Will Fuller, Duke Johnson (-15%), Brandin Cooks, Keke Coutee (+15%), Jordan Akins (+10%), Darren Fells

Opposing setting: At most one

Group: Marvin Jones, T.J. Hockenson, Marvin Hall, Jamal Agnew, Quintez Cephus (I’m keeping the running back situation out of this run-back spot, we’ll get plenty of Swift on his own if he goes. See the limiter groups below for more if you’re feeling like getting advanced about things. I also don’t want to stretch it to Sanu at the wideout spot for primary runs).

Limiter Key Player: Deshaun Watson (note: be sure to check the box to only apply the +/-, we don’t want to create another roster requirement by mistake)

Limiter Group: (I was surprised to not necessarily need a limiter on either Detroit back here. If you don’t like the distributions you’re seeing in your Watson stacks this is where to make the change. If your goal is to reduce either player’s exposure, I would start at a -15% and work up from there depending on what you’re looking to do).

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Washington Football Team

Key Player: Alex Smith

Setting: At most one

Group: Terry McLaurin, J.D. McKissic, Logan Thomas, Dontrelle Inman (+25%), Cam Sims (+25%) (Antonio Gibson is out of the group because we’ll get him anyway. McKissic is in on volume in the passing game. Inman and Sims are dart throws).

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz (We’ll get Ezekiel Elliott about half the time on his own, I don’t want to stretch to Cedric Wilson or Pollard on the run-back for primary crunches, though I could see running some with that set).

Limiter Key Player: Alex Smith (note: be sure to check the box to only apply the +/-, we don’t want to create another roster requirement by mistake)

Limiter Group: Ezekiel Elliott (-15%), Duke Johnson (-15%) (Removing Swift from this equation actually allowed for a smoother distribution between running backs from the Detroit and Houston game along with Smith stacks)

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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 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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    November 26, 2020 at 7:51 am

    Thanks for putting this tgether as it gave me more group options to consider, I wont go as deep on some of those wrs lol, but this is quality information. Thanks and Happy Thanks Giving

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