Thursday vs. Sunday contests
By Phil Alexander
Thursday night contests use the same rules and scoring systems as Sunday-Monday contests but allow you to build rosters with players from every game on the weekly slate.
Though the Thursday night contest adds only one game and a few players to your preparation, there are important reasons why Thursday contests require an approach different from that of the Sunday-Monday contests:
Thursday contests mean Thursday night roster locks. Your roster cannot be changed once the Thursday night game kicks off. Breaking developments impact player values between Thursday night and game time on Sunday, presenting you with an obvious dilemma: Should you chance using a player if you're uncertain about his playing status?
Thursday contests test your discipline. Once football season is in full swing, three days without an NFL game can feel like an eternity. By the time Thursday rolls around, it's natural to be craving a little action—and what better way to scratch the itch than watching your fantasy players in the Thursday night game? Here's where you have to be careful with Thursday tournaments. If you allow the urge to get some skin in the game to cloud your judgment, you may make poor roster decisions and sink your lineups.
Thursday Night Football can be ugly football. Whether it's because the schedule makers just have a knack for showcasing lousy or mismatched teams, the teams don't have enough time to prepare, or the players don't have long enough to recover from the previous game, Thursday Night Football can be dreadful. There are enough data to suggest that Thursday games are detrimental to fantasy performance, with those involved in the passing game at highest risk.
Fortunately, there are several strategies you can employ to avoid the traps of Thursday contests, capitalize on the mistakes of others, and consistently turn a profit.
The Thursday Night Fade
If you take only one lesson from this section, make it this one:
In large-field tournaments, it will almost always be correct to avoid players from the Thursday night game.
Novice and casual DFS users cannot resist watching their fantasy players on national TV. Their thirst for action (and disregard for good process) will typically inflate the ownership percentages of Thursday players, regardless of whether or not the circumstances actually warrant it.
As you read in the earlier section on tournament play, there's some value to owning unique players. For this reason alone, fading the Thursday night game will generally be the correct play in tournaments.
Perhaps more importantly, recent trends show fantasy scoring to be worse on Thursday night. This is particularly true for passing production. Unless the Thursday night game includes at least one elite passing offense, it makes sense to fade these players.
Since 2012, when the NFL expanded its Thursday night package from eight to 13 games, fantasy production in the passing game is down about 6.75% on Thursday nights compared to other games. That's nothing to sneeze at.
A Positive Note on Thursday Running Backs
If you can't resist the urge to use a player from the Thursday game in your lineup, choose a running back. Over the last three years, fantasy production in the running game is about 8.5% higher in Thursday games than in Sunday games. Rushing touchdowns have been especially common on Thursday nights: across the three-year sample, there were 1.98 rushing touchdowns per game scored on Thursday versus 1.53 per game on Sunday. That's 29% more rushing touchdowns (per game) on Thursday.
Avoid Questionable Players...Most of the Time
Since you cannot make any changes to your lineup after the Thursday game kicks off, you are forced into an early decision on players whose injury statuses are still unknown. You must decide on Thursday whether an injured player is worth risking in your lineup. You're also forced to decide whether to take a chance on the players who stand to benefit most if the injured player is inactive or ineffective.
It's hard enough to set a winning lineup when you have all the information you need readily available. When you're essentially flying blind regarding a player's Sunday availability, the correct play is to fade both the injured player and his teammates. If you include an injured player in your lineup and he ends up sitting out, your roster will be dealt a crippling blow.
A zero in your lineup almost guarantees you'll have no shot at a deep run in a GPP, and makes it very likely you'll fall below the cash line as well. Likewise, if the injured player suits up on Sunday and you rostered his backup (or a teammate who was in line for a bigger role), your lineup's ceiling has been lowered appreciably.
This isn't to say that taking a chance on players with injury concerns or questionable workloads in a Thursday GPP can't pay off in a big way. Most DFS players will take the conservative approach and avoid using players with unclear Sunday outlooks. If you're one of the few who takes a big swing, and the Sunday morning news works out in your favor, you'll be rewarded with a lesser-owned player with huge upside. Which strategy you decide to use should depend on your risk tolerance and percentage of bankroll devoted to the contest.
Gaining Intel for Sunday Tournaments
When you enter a large-field Thursday tournament on FanDuel, you're getting more for your entry fee than just a chance to win a share of the guaranteed prize pool. You're also gaining an invaluable research tool to help you make educated guesses at player ownership percentages in Sunday tournaments.
After the Thursday night game kicks off, you'll be able to see the ownership percentages of all players on your roster. While Thursday ownership percentages will not exactly match the ownership percentages of Sunday contests, they provide a reliable guide to how the crowd values particular players in any given week.
A winning GPP lineup often includes one or two lesser-owned players, and you'll now have an easier time identifying which players are flying under your opponents' collective radar. You'll only be able to see ownership percentages for players on your own roster. To collect ownership data for lots of players, you'll need to enter multiple lineups that include all the players you're curious about.
If this sounds too expensive, remember that FanDuel offers multi-entry tournaments that begin on Thursday night for as little as a dollar. If you construct your lineups carefully, there's a strong chance these "exploratory" lineups will cash (or at least break even).
If you'd rather not invest a percentage of your bankroll in Thursday tournaments to gauge ownership rates (or lack the time to organize the data), you'll have access to this valuable information with a Footballguys subscription. Our team collects and analyzes Thursday ownership data and explains how to best use it in clear and concise articles every week.