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Thanksgiving Day fantasy football guide: The must starts, the skips, and a few tweeners



Can a holiday be a fantasy football blindspot? Can we prioritize the wrong information as we get swept up in the most important day of the year? If you love Thanksgiving as much as I do, the answer is probably yes. With the pride and joy and craziness of putting a perfect turkey and all the right side dishes on the table, I’m actually more worried about messing up my Week 12 lineups this year.

I have nothing but fondness for this upcoming Thursday. I love the food, I love the family and friends, I love the three sequential football games. It’s all rolled together in one big positive feeling. Rationally, I know that the Thanksgiving football games are not more likely to be closer nor higher scoring than any others. That players who play on Thanksgiving are not more likely to score more fantasy points than those who play on Sunday. Still, the carryover of the general joy can lead to higher expectations for them when setting lineups during this critical time.

Think of it as a cognitive bias like Primacy Bias, where the first game of the season still influences our decision making in Week 10. Our overall positive vibe around Thanksgiving might cause us to overvalue Lions, Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Seahawks and Commanders when choosing between similar players. For those of us who like to watch our fantasy players play, it’s doubly dangerous.

But it’s also possible to go entirely the other way with Thanksgiving games. You might be saying, “I just want to enjoy my family, my food and my football without any fantasy sweats.” And then you don’t start a player you should be starting because you just don’t want to have to think about it on this perfect, relaxing day. Just like there are no hard and fast “rules” or trends on Thanksgiving football – the Cowboys don’t always win, the Lions don’t always lose, the night game isn’t always high scoring – the solution is not as easy as simply play all your Thanksgiving guys or sit all your Thanksgiving guys.

So, for 2023, I offer my guide to avoiding bias on the best day of the year. Consider it a logical plan to keep your momentum going into the playoffs, or maybe just to ruin someone else’s week if you’re firmly in or out of postseason contention. Consider playing the holiday DFS slate too — it’s a great and fun way to try out daily fantasy if you want to have some stake in the Thursday games but don’t want to force your season long rosters to conform.

Stuffing, turkey, gravy, apple pie: The must-haves

CeeDee Lamb, DAL — Lamb’s yardage total wasn’t as gaudy in Week 11, but he still scored his fourth touchdown in as many games and hauled in 6 of 9 targets in the easy win. Washington is the league’s best WR matchup for fantasy.

Christian McCaffrey, SF – Fantasy’s RB1 in the sixth-best RB matchup. Seattle has given up an average of 1.1 rushing touchdowns per game (T-seventh most) and CMC is far more dangerous than your average back. He leads all RBs in receiving yards (364) and receiving touchdowns (5).

Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET — Averaging over 10 targets and 8 catches per game, St. Brown and our other Lions’ must-start, David Montgomery, have been as instrumental for fantasy managers’ winning records as they have for the 8-2 Lions. With the Packers showing some signs of offense in Week 11, a competitive game environment would be great for ARSB.

David Montgomery, DET — He’s back and as good as ever. Currently the RB6 in half-PPR scoring (per game), he gets a Green Bay defense that he posted his best numbers of the year against in Week 4 — 121 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns plus 2 catches for 20 yards. We’d be happy with half of that.

DK Metcalf , SEA — He’s been the workhorse of the Seattle offense and, with Kenneth Walker questionable for the game,  he’s an even higher priority start. The 49ers are a great defense but have sneakily allowed opposing wide receivers the sixth-most fantasy points. His upside takes a hit if Geno Smith isn’t ready for Thursday night, but I’d still start Metcalf.

George Kittle, SF — All the 49ers, ok? No one has the tight end depth to not start Kittle, but I didn’t have him here at first and so now it’s official.

Sweet potatoes (marshmallow-free), cranberry sauce, roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie: Works for some, not for all

Brock Purdy, SF — Purdy’s underdog/Mr. Irrelevant narrative has endeared him to many a football fan, but it’s his consistent fantasy production that warms my heart. He’s failed to throw a touchdown pass only once in his career, but he made up for it by rushing for a TD in that game. Most of the time he’s a lock for multiple TDs, which should be the case in a fantasy-friendly matchup with Seattle in prime time.

Jahmyr Gibbs, DET — He’d be an every week starter for me but I can see how some managers could have tough flex decisions around Gibbs. He’s coming off a 6 catch (on six targets), 90+ total yard game with a rushing touchdown, his fifth in the past four games.

Brian Robinson, WAS — Robinson’s usage is super encouraging (17 carries and 9 targets in Week 11) but his matchup leaves a lot to be desired. The Cowboys, at home, allow the sixth-fewest rushing yards and are tied at fourth for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed. Unfortunately for the dual-threat back, their pass defense is their real strength. Use him if you must, but prepare for an underwhelming performance in Week 12.

Brandon Aiyuk, SF — Deebo Samuel is a great receiver and has been the de facto WR1 for the 49ers in our minds for some time, but it’s actually Aiyuk who’s been the more valuable option. Averaging 14.3 half-PPR points per game, Aiyuk is in the conversation for best draft values of 2023. He’s coming off back-to-back touchdown-scoring games into another favorable environment.

Jayden Reed, GB — If you have Week 12 matchup concerns about your Dolphins, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, or Commanders, Reed might be the answer. He’s made the most of his opportunities, and despite Christian Watson finally getting in the end zone for the first time since Week 4, it’s been Reed keeping this offense moving. The Packers let him show off a new side with three rushing attempts in Week 11, one of which went for a long touchdown. He’s an undeniable playmaker.

Tony Pollard, DAL — The Cowboys are expected to win this game handily (they’re minus-11 to open) which, in theory, means a good game script for Pollard. That hasn’t been borne out by how the Cowboys have (or have not) utilized Pollard this season. He is coming off his best game since Week 3, but let’s be real — it wasn’t even Top 10 in half-PPR scoring. You know I’m a long-suffering Pollard backer and I’ll be starting him in one league, but it certainly isn’t mandatory if you have other options.

Zach Charbonnet, SEA — Opportunity alone might make Charbonnet the toast of the Turkey Day but it’s his explosiveness out of the backfield that would make me turn a blind eye to the matchup with San Francisco. There aren’t any byes this week, but injuries have more than made up for it. If your roster is thin, consider giving Charbonnet a shot Thursday night.

Salad, creamed onions, green bean casserole, pecan pie: Skip ‘em

Tyler Lockett, SEA — Aside from the concerns about Smith’s elbow, Lockett is dealing with a hamstring injury of his own. He’s played through it so far, but the short week isn’t going to do his healing any favors. I’m avoiding Lockett (and Smith) if at all possible.

Jahan Dotson, Terry McLaurin, WAS — Sam Howell was on a tear there for a while, and Dotson found his way into the end zone in Week 11 despite it not being one of Howell’s (or the offensive line’s) best efforts vs. the Giants. McLaurin is still the leading target-earner in Washington but I’m more comfortable avoiding the Commanders’ pass game vs. Dallas this week.

Deebo Samuel, SF — The usage since his shoulder injury has been concerning to say the least. He’s a talented player but perhaps not playing at 100 percent? The team has enough options to not put him in positions to get hurt. Always dangerous with the ball in his hands, I’d prefer to hedge my season-long lineups without Samuel by using him in a DFS tournament lineup or two.

Hopefully this clears up any impending holiday biases you might entertain. Have a very happy Thanksgiving, regardless of your fantasy outcome. I’m thankful for you guys being great readers and commenters this season!

(Photo of Amon-Ra St. Brown, David Montgomery: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

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