Thursday Night Football: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

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Are you ready for some football?!  Well, in that case we may have to wait until Sunday morning, because this certainly is not one of the finer products that the NFL has provided us for tonight’s action. Since we know that some gamers enjoy getting in some action on the Thursday through Sunday slate, we do need to look at some of the decision points that will be presented to us with this game.

Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback – Unfortunately QB Carson Palmer suffered a concussion last Sunday and he has been ruled out for this week.  That leaves Drew Stanton who is no stranger to filling in for an injured Palmer and in 2014 he had eight games with at least 20+ passing attempts as Palmer’s replacement.  In those games he averaged 16.1 completions on 29.4 attempts with just 203.3 passing yards per game with a mere six touchdowns and five interceptions.  In those eight games the Cardinals went 5 and 3 scoring just 16.5 points per game.  While a fair amount of the personal has changed, highlighted by the addition of RB David Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald is two years older and it is hard to see the Cardinals getting more than three offensive touchdowns in this matchup which is going to temper expectations for everyone involved.

Running Back – This is the first key decision point, do we play or do we “fade” RB David Johnson?  We know that San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly likes to play up-tempo on offense, which in turn has been helping opposing teams run 15-20% more plays than normal when facing his squads.  Veteran running back Chris Johnson has been placed on the injured reserve list and this elevates RB Andre Ellington and WR Larry Fitzgerald as the next two players with the most carries on the active roster with two apiece.  With two division rivals already at 3 and 1 (Seattle and Los Angeles) this game is approaching must win status for Arizona.

We know that Arizona head coach Bruce Arians does not want to wear out his best offensive player with overuse, however, if they fall out of post-season contention, what is the point of that?  San Francisco is allowing opponents to run for 140.5 yards per game which is the worst in the NFL, though they have allowed just three rushing touchdowns.

This is a prime spot for Johnson and he is an excellent option in all formats.  Now we have to factor in his salary and he checks in as the first or second most expensive option on FantasyDraft, FanDuel, DraftKings and Yahoo! where he is on average 6.5% more expensive than the second most expensive option Le’Veon Bell (on FantasyAces and Rosters, Bell is priced about 3.1% higher).

THE VERDICT: If you think Johnson will have at least 27 points on full point per reception sites like FantasyDraft and DraftKings and at least 23 points on half-point per reception sites like Rosters, FantasyAces and Yahoo! then he is a reasonable option.  This works out to a line similar to 20 carries for 85 yards, three receptions for 35 yards and two touchdowns. In case you were wondering, he exceeded that benchmark once this season and once last season.  From a point per dollar perspective, there are a lot of other options this week.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends – Based on Stanton’s averages discussed in the quarterback capsule, there is no reason to play any Arizona pass catcher this week.  Again, Stanton has averaged 0.75 passing touchdowns per start with the Cardinals.

Defense/Special Teams – Okay, now we are talking!  On the season the Cardinals have five interceptions, four fumble recoveries and eleven sacks and while QB Blaine Gabbert has done a pretty good job under center being sacked just three times and through four interceptions in the first four games, this is going to be an uphill battle for the ‘Niners and if getting a piece of this game is a priority for you, playing the Arizona defense/special teams in the hopes of a touchdown and a low scoring game is an acceptable option, even as one of the top priced defenses on most sites this week.

San Francisco 49ers

Quarterback – It is still Blaine Gabbert and even when he inevitably gets relieved this season by Colin Kaepernick we can just avoid this situation.

Running Back Carlos Hyde has actually been a solid option this season averaging 20 combined touches for 83.3 combined yards and his five touchdowns are tied for the second most in the League.  If you think he can reach his season average in yards and get a score, he is actually a better play than his counterpart David Johnson when we factor in their fantasy salaries.

Wide Receiver – If Jeremy Kerley (ankle) plays, he is a solid option operating from the slot as he has averaged eight targets per game and had no fewer than six, courtesy of his quarterback who has been anointed this season’s Captain Checkdown.  If Kerley is out, do not fall into the trap of playing Torrey Smith who needs deep throws to be effective and that is something completely lacking in Gabbert’s tool kit.

Tight End Vance McDonald was inactive last Sunday and he is dealing with a hip injury that limited his practice participation last week and again this week.  If he is out, then Garrett Celek becomes a fine punt option as he should see a half a dozen targets.  In the event WR Jeremy Kerley is out, Celek would also be a discount differentiation option for those gamers looking for a player with 1% popularity and 3-4x upside in tournaments.

Defense/Special Teams – Even though the 49ers have one of two shutouts in the entire League this season (Week 1 at home against the Los Angeles Rams) they have allowed an average of 33.7 points per game in their other three contests.