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Fantasy Football Picks: Falcons vs. Panthers DraftKings NFL DFS TNF Showdown Strategy

Garion Thorne preps you for Thursday’s 8:20 p.m. ET contest between the Falcons and the Panthers with game-script analysis and Captain’s Picks.

You might want to be sitting down for the news I’m about to deliver. No, it’s not about the reports that Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is likely not going to be activated from the IR prior to tonight’s contest — it’s worse than that. Somehow, despite featuring a 1-6 Falcons squad, this evening’s matchup between Atlanta and Carolina is going to be the best primetime football we get all week. I can’t stress this enough, please stop putting the NFC East on Sunday Night Football, NFL schedule makers.

Let’s dive into the action from a Showdown perspective.

Set your DraftKings fantasy football lineups here: NFL $2.25M Thursday Night Millionaire [$1M to 1st] (ATL vs CAR)


Captain’s Picks

Matt Ryan ($16,500 CP) - In 2020, the formula for Ryan’s success has been very clear. In the four games where both Calvin Ridley ($10,200) and Julio Jones ($9,800) have been healthy enough to play a majority of Atlanta’s offensive snaps, Ryan’s averaged an impressive 28.1 DKFP. In his three starts where that hasn’t been the case — a stretch of time where Jones was dealing with a nagging hamstring issue — the QB has produced just 10.9 DKFP per contest. In fact, the worst performance that Ryan has had all season came against this same Panthers D/ST ($3,400) in Week 5, when the veteran was limited to only 226 passing yards with no touchdowns. Still, if that draws people away from Ryan as an asset on tonight’s slate, all the better. The former first-round pick currently leads the league in yards (2,181), he’s fourth in drop backs (309) and he’s fifth in aDOT (9.5). Volume is rarely going to be an issue and, with Jones not carrying a designation into Thursday’s matchup, efficiency shouldn’t be, either.

Mike Davis ($13,200 CP) - With the reports that McCaffrey is likely to miss another game this evening, Davis’ window of fantasy viability will remain open for another week. It hasn’t looked overly pretty as of late — as tough matchups with the Bears and the Saints have stifled the 27-year-old — but I’d expect things to soften up against the Falcons. It’s not like Davis’ circumstances have changed, either. He’s logged at least 70% of Carolina’s offensive snaps since taking over as the starting RB and his 37 receptions since the beginning of Week 3 sit second to only Robby Anderson ($9,200) on the team across that span. Heck, Davis’ 36.0% target share inside the red zone is the highest of any running back in the entire league and the fourth-highest mark among all skill-position players. Considering Atlanta comes into Thursday’s action surrendering the second-most catches per game to opponent RBs (7.3) and the most receiving touchdowns (0.6), Davis should be in a position to absolutely eat.

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FLEX Plays

Todd Gurley ($8,400) - Gurley has been filling a classic DFS archetype in his brief time in Atlanta. While the outputs have been decent — he’s managed to exceed 19.0 DKFP in three of his last four starts — the path hasn’t exactly been aesthetically pleasing. However, though I doubt the Panthers will be willingly letting Gurley score a touchdown this evening, the veteran’s recent performances have been slightly less flawed than his incredibly underwhelming role from back in September. To wit, Gurley’s caught nine passes going back to Week 5, this after making just four total receptions in the first four games of the schedule. It’s worth noting that this change in approach came after the Falcons’ last meeting with the Panthers — a matchup where Gurley set season-highs in catches (4), receiving yards (29), rushing yards (121) and DKFP (28.0). It’s also probably worth nothing that no team has conceded more fantasy points to opposing RBs in 2020 than Carolina.

Hayden Hurst ($6,400) - While Hurst can’t claim to be the Falcons’ No. 1 red zone target — a role that is very obviously filled by the aforementioned Ridley — he comes into this game as an actual involved element of Atlanta’s passing attack. He’s currently tied with Jones for the third-most targets on the team (39) and his 73.4% snap rate is among the highest at his position across the league. Outside of personal achievement, I think this is also a better matchup for Hurst than some of the season-long numbers might suggest. Though the Panthers have done a good job limiting opposing TEs so far in 2020, they’ve still allowed the eighth-most raw targets to the position (53). Additionally, they’ve conceded a touchdown to a tight end in three of their last four contests.

Curtis Samuel ($5,400) - I expect that Samuel will carry a decent amount of ownership on this slate due solely to the fact that his salary is digestible. However, that’s not to say that he hasn’t also been having some success as of late. Samuel’s hauled in all 11 of his targets in his past two games, a stretch of time where the wideout is averaging 8.0 touches per contest. If that seems like wonky math, understand that Samuel has been seeing a lot of work as a faux running back for Carolina, even scoring a five-yard rushing touchdown in Week 7’s loss to New Orleans. While that isn’t exactly a dependable source of fantasy production, the Falcons are surrendering the third-most DKFP to opponent WRs this season. This is the type of matchup that can raise any wideout’s ceiling.


Ian Thomas ($2,600) - Under normal circumstances, I don’t think I’d have to warn people about the dangers of utilizing a TE with just two catches in his past three games. Yet, in this specific spot, it’s worth discussing the merits of matchup versus role. This is, without question, one of the best situations a tight end could find themselves in. Not only are the Falcons allowing the most opponent TE touchdowns per game in 2020 (1.1), but they’re also surrendering the most receiving yards per contest to the position (71.4). However, this is a pretty standard “chicken and the egg” scenario. Does an exploitable matchup matter to a team that doesn’t feature it’s tight ends at all? I say no. Carolina’s TEs have a league-low 7% target share through seven weeks. I don’t expect the Panthers to reinvent their offense when Atlanta’s defense has so many holes to take advantage of.


It’s the consensus opinion, but it’s difficult not to trust the Panthers more than the Falcons as we enter play in Week 8. Even without McCaffrey at its disposal, Carolina’s managed to go 4-1 ATS in its past five games, while Atlanta continues to find new ways to bungle fourth quarter leads. I’ll continue backing Teddy Bridgewater ($10,600) and Matt Rhule, in what has been fine start to his NFL head coaching career.

Final Score: Carolina 30, Atlanta 24

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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.