You always hear that you have to be contrarian to win tournaments. What’s it mean? And how do you do it? Well, it means that you have to use players that aren’t obvious. You avoid using all of the players with the most talent in the best matchups and look for guys that are going to be owned by a smaller percentage of the field. That way, if they do well, not everyone benefits and you move past the field toward the top of the leaderboard.
There is a fine line between contrarian and stupid. We want good plays that are under the radar, exploitable situations that not everyone believes are exploitable. A couple of guidelines that I adhere to, and I’m a conservative player for the most part, are as follows: 1) talent trumps matchup and 2) go against the narratives. Who’s too old, who’s in a ‘revenge’ game, who sucks in his (three) primetime games? Use the old player (especially early in the season), fade the revenge game, and ignore small samples.
For Thanksgiving, I’ll give one player for the Thursday only slate and one for Sunday-Monday at each position.
Jay Cutler $6900: Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers will be the chalk for Thanksgiving, with good reason. If you want to differentiate yourself, and this isn’t necessarily about saving money, because that’s not really the hard part on the Thanksgiving Day slate, consider Cutler. He’s faced a slew of tough defensive matchups over the past few weeks and the only one in which he’s really been a let-down was last week vs. Denver. His stock rises with positive news about Alshon Jeffrey, but Green Bay has been a middle-of-the-road matchup for opposing quarterbacks, fantasy-wise, so I’m liking Cutler regardless of Jeffrey’s status.
Ben Roethlisberger $7800: Seattle’s defense is good, but not unbeatable, as Carson Palmer showed a couple of weeks ago. There aren’t a ton of QB-WR groups that can do it, but I think Big Ben, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Marcus Wheaton profile well this week. This should be a fully healthy group coming off the bye week, and PFF gives the CB matchups top-30 rankings for all three WRs. Roethlisberger has as much upside as anyone in football and could smash value at his salary.
Demarco Murray $7700: Murray hasn’t been the easiest player to recommend this season as he’s been really up and down. His value is protected somewhat by his involvement in the passing game, which was still there with Mark Sanchez last week. The matchup with Detroit is one of the best on Thursday, as the Lions have surrendered 12 rushing touchdowns, most in the league. It also helps that Ryan Mathews is listed as doubtful this week.
Doug Martin $7500: Lost in Jameis Winston’s five touchdown game is the fact that Martin ran for 235 yards in Philadelphia last week. He hasn’t gotten into the endzone since Week 5, and is very boom or bust in terms of his yardage/fantasy production which should turn people off. The Colts have allowed the ninth most fantasy points to opposing running backs and 12 total touchdowns. Martin has a good chance to add to that this week as a lower-owned mid-range play.
Randall Cobb $7400: Cobb’s role in this offense certainly hasn’t been what we predicted this year with only one really good game under his belt this year. I think that changes this week. Per Mike Clay’s WR-CB matchup chart, Cobb gets the best matchup among the Green Bay receivers with Chicago’s slot corner, Bryce Callahan. Cobb hasn’t been racking up the yardage, but he has caught two touchdowns in the past three games.
DeSean Jackson $6300: The passing matchup for Washington is great this week, as the Giants have given up more yards through the air than anyone. Jackson appeared fully ‘back’ from his hamstring injury in Week 11, going 5/87/1 against Carolina. Kirk Cousins isn’t afraid to air it out, and Jackson has the speed and hands to beat this secondary. Vegas likes this game to be relatively high scoring and close, and players on both sides could be sneaky values.
Tight end isn’t pretty on the Thursday slate. Does Greg Olsen ($6400) become the contrarian play with Brent Celek ($5800) being a better value coming off two games in which he’s caught 11 passes for over 200 yards? I don’t know, but I’m not stretching too far at tight end and will have one of these two in my lineups this Thursday.
Gary Barnidge $6500: With Josh McCown back under center and facing the Ravens, you have to get some Cleveland exposure. While I also like Travis Benjamin ($5900) as a value play this week, Barnidge has frequently been the top target in this passing offense. The Ravens are a top tier matchup for any receiver, and Barnidge has been nothing but money with McCown playing QB since Week 3.
Detroit $4400: If Mark Sanchez starts again for Philadelphia, I can make a strong case for the Lions defense, as I did last week for the Bucs defense. That argument involves some pretty ugly career TD:INT numbers, along with a too-high fumble rate for a starting quarterback. The Lions have the home field advantage, and are above average in sacks (24) and forced fumbles (11), which could be argued are Sanchez’ specialty.
Cleveland $4600: The Ravens are a disaster right now, with Matt Schaub starting for the first time in two years and injuries throughout the skill positions. This is the lowest projected scoring game of the week, and Cleveland is the small favorite at home. The Browns have not been a strong fantasy defense, but I think we can count on a rusty and/or inexperienced Baltimore offense to help them out Monday night.