Thanksgiving Week is always when it feels like things are getting serious in the NFL, for both the actual games and fantasy.
This year, not only do we have our typical three-game Thursday slate, but the first-ever Black Friday standalone game. All four games are divisional matchups, so despite the slate not being perfect, there is some added intrigue because divisional games often produce some wild results.
Thanksgiving is also a tough time for content, since we’re trying to pack in a good bit of analysis into a tighter window as those of us who have sold our souls to the NFL attempt to enjoy some semblance of a holiday. Meanwhile, I also want my readers to feel like they have some insight into the games they’re watching.
So for this week, I’ve chosen to analyze the Thanksgiving/Black Friday four-game slate using a lot of the criteria I use in my typical Mismatch Report, ranking the best and worst matchups from the week. My regular Mismatch Report, in which I identify the biggest trench and secondary mismatches in every game, will be published on Friday this week, one day later than usual.
The games I’m covering here are Packers at Lions, Commanders at Cowboys, 49ers at Seahawks, and Dolphins at Jets.
First, a note on some of the tools I’m using here.
All offensive/defensive line data is from the last five weeks, unless otherwise noted, in an attempt to reduce noise.
Our “RUSH GRADE” offensive line stat is based simply on a formula measuring an offense’s average yardage before contact allowed on running plays — not including out-of-structure scrambles, trick plays, QB kneels, or QB sneaks. We call this statistic “adjusted yards before contact per attempt” (aYBC/A), and the Rush Grade applies to both an offense’s aYBC/A created and a defense’s aYBC/A allowed.
The darker the green, the better the matchup. The darker the red, the worse the matchup.
Our “PASS GRADE” is a formula developed using “QB Pressure Rate Over Expectation.” It measures how much a quarterback should be expected to face pressure, adjusted for the quarterback’s average time to throw (a quarterback with a 3.0-second aT2T should be expected to be pressured more than one with a 2.0-second aT2T, for instance).
The higher the QBPROE number, the worse it is for an offense, and the better it is for a defense.
The darker the green, the better the matchup. The darker the red, the worse the matchup.
Our WR/CB Matchup Tool is sortable with loads of matchup data.
A note on our process: there are very few situations in the NFL in which one receiver will match up with one corner for the vast majority of his routes. So honestly, WR/CB matchups in the traditional sense are perhaps the most overrated form of fantasy analysis.
We aim to do them better: our process breaks down how many routes a receiver runs from a certain alignment, and assigns a weighted score based on how much that receiver is expected to see a given defender based on those alignments. So it will measure how often we expect a receiver to face all defenders in a matchup, not just one particular defender, and weigh a score by those expected percentages.
If I do believe there will be a “shadow CB” situation, I’ll mention it and break down the matchup.
All times Eastern
Lions OL vs. Packers DL in the run game
The Lions have been absolutely mauling teams in the run game. Their 2.70 aYBC/A over the last five weeks is not just — by far — the highest among teams on the Thanksgiving slate, but it’s also the highest of any team in the entirety of Week 12. The Lions’ offensive line has opened up at least 2.25 yards before contact in each of their last four games, which happen to be the four best games in that department for them on the entire season. Green Bay’s rush defense has actually been the best on the slate at the point of attack — 0.89 aYBC/A allowed over the last five weeks — but this is a defense that gave up 183 non-scramble rush yards to the Steelers two weeks ago, and also gave up an explosive run to Austin Ekeler last week, on which Ekeler looked like he was carrying a refrigerator on his back. Moreover, LB De’Vondre Campbell is questionable to play with a stinger. Long story short, you’ve gotta like the Lions backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs in this one, with Detroit 7.5-point home favorites.
Dolphins defense vs. Jets OL
Normally, I separate out Rush Grade and Pass Grade, but the Jets feature our worst of each on this four-game slate, which is not surprising given their offensive line is completely decimated — now T Mekhi Becton could miss the game with an ankle injury, and Duane Brown (shoulder) is no guarantee to return either. It took the Jets way too long to decide to bench Zach Wilson, because they should have done so before the trade deadline and made an effort to upgrade the position. But now they’ve benched him on a short week for Tim Boyle, who might end up proving to be worse than Wilson (who has now been demoted to third-string QB, behind Boyle and Trevor Siemian). Boyle isn’t likely to be helped by Breece Hall and the run game, as the Jets haven’t run for more than 60 non-scramble rush yards since Week 5, and they have precisely zero explosive runs in that span. And the Dolphins are coming off a game in which they set season highs in total pressures (19) and pressure rate (44.2%) against Aidan O’Connell and the Raiders last week. Miami has feasted on bad teams this year, and the Jets absolutely qualify.
Tim Boyle (NCAA Career): 12-26 TD:INT ratio, 5.6 YPA— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) November 20, 2023
Tim Boyle (NFL Career): 3-9 TD:INT ratio, 5.1 YPA
Congrats Jets fans. Your team found the only QB in the league worse than Zach Wilson https://t.co/aUhQ9qPj4W
Jets pass rush vs. Dolphins OL
The Jets not looking to actively upgrade on Zach Wilson prior to the trade deadline was criminal for multiple reasons, but the biggest such reason is the fact that their defense is elite. Yes, they had a couple give-up moments against the Bills last week, but it’s defensible (no pun intended) given how much Wilson and this offense have let them down over the course of the season. Nonetheless, the Jets have generated a pressure rate above expectation in every game this year, including at least 10% over expectation in each of their last four games. The Dolphins have, generally, done a great job protecting Tua Tagovailoa and getting the ball out of his hands, which is why he’s 2nd in the NFL in ANY/A, at 8.04 (behind only Brock Purdy… that Shanahan scheme, man). However, Tua’s ANY/A in the two games in which he’s been pressured above expectation were two of his three worst of the season — 5.17 against Philly, and 5.79 against Buffalo — games in which he’s combined for 2 TD and 2 INT. For context, 5.17 ANY/A on the year would rank below Desmond Ridder. Moreover, the Dolphins have a couple of injuries on the interior of the offensive line, with starting guards Robert Jones and Robert Hunt each missing last week’s game against the Raiders. So if the Jets are going to pull the upset, they’ll have to do it with Quinnen Williams and the boys generating interior pressure.
Cowboys OL vs. Commanders DL in the run game
Tony Pollard finally got off the schneid in Week 11 against the hapless Panthers, scoring his first rushing touchdown since Week 1, and per our data, has another juicy matchup looming with the Commanders. The Commanders’ 1.68 aYBC/A on the ground allowed over the last five weeks is 2nd-highest on the slate, with two of their three worst games of the entire year coming over the last two weeks against the Giants and Seahawks… notably, after they traded away Montez Sweat and Chase Young. And from a fantasy points perspective, the Commanders have allowed a league-high +7.6 schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to running backs over that span, with a significant portion of that coming in the passing game, where Pollard can also make an impact. He’s been frustrating, but Pollard has a fantastic outlook for this game with the Cowboys 11-point home favorites, and Rico Dowdle (ankle) questionable.
Seahawks outside WRs vs. 49ers perimeter CBs
Of the games on the Thanksgiving slate, this is the one that is the most “evenly matched,” from both the point spread (49ers by 6.5) and our Fantasy Points Data metrics. But if there’s a matchup I think is best exploited, it’s DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett against Charvarius Ward and Ambry Thomas. Over the last five weeks, the 49ers have surrendered +5.5 schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing outside WRs, which is 4th-most on the entire Week 12 slate. Over that span, Ward has allowed 244 yards in coverage, 6th-most among all CBs, and 3rd-most among CBs who have had a bye in that span. Thomas, meanwhile, has started to play more outside as the Niners have moved Deommodore Lenoir — their best corner — inside in nickel packages. Thomas gave up a touchdown to Mike Evans on a slant last week. Despite the Seahawks featuring two great outside WRs and a 1st-round rookie slot in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, they use 11 personnel just 62.6% of the time over the last five weeks, a bottom-half rate in the league. But given that personnel moves Lenoir into the slot and gets the exploitable Thomas onto the field, I think using it more would be a wise approach in this matchup for Waldron. Hopefully, Lockett’s hamstring feels better after a season-low 55% snap rate in Week 11.