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TNF DFS Preview, Week 17: Cowboys at Titans




The Week 17 matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennesee Titans might not mean anything for the latter team, but Dallas has every incentive to keep winning. They could still achieve the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Meanwwhile, Tennessee can lose this game but still beat the Jaguars next week and win the AFC South. We need to be very careful on that side of the ball game with reports already swirling about players being rested, so let’s dig in for our DFS lineups. 


Be sure to check out David Jones’ “General Rules” article for Showdown Strategy and his piece for each game, along with the DFS Showdown Strategy articles for each slate. Additionally, the FTN Livestream every game night will provide the latest insight for each slate. 

NFL DFS Thursday Night Breakdown: Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans 

Cowboys -12.5, O/U 40 (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)

Dallas Cowboys Plays for Week 17 DFS – TNF Showdown and Primetime Slates

Notable Injuries – LB Leighton Vander Esch (O), LB Micah Parsons (Q), RB Tony Pollard (Q, reports are he’s “in doubt”)


The easiest way to move the ball against the Titans is through the air, which should open up the avenues for Dak Prescott to have a big game. They rank 27th in DVOA against the pass, 30th in points per game allowed, 32nd in yards per game, and tied for 31st in touchdown passes allowed per game. Prescott is coming off a massive game with 347 passing yards and three touchdown passes and he was exceptional after he threw a hideous early interception. Throws like that could have derailed the game but Prescott wouldn’t allow it and the Cowboys still need to keep winning. The NFC East is up for grabs and Prescott is ninth in points per dropback, 11th in points per game, and sixth in yards per attempt. 

That latter number could be a big deal because the Titans are in the bottom two of the league in total passing yards allowed and they’re still dead last in deep yards allowed and are the only team with double-digit touchdowns allowed. There is an avenue for Prescott to struggle since the Titans can generate pressure at a 28% rate and Prescott hasn’t fared as well when he gets pressured with a passer rating under 80.0. It’s an interesting dynamic here because the spread is large and Prescott shouldn’t have to pass a lot to win but Tennessee can stop the run among the best teams in the league. 

Running Back 

The Dallas running backs have a challenge in front of them because Tennessee is one of the best run defenses in football. They only allow the fourth-most points per game, they’re second in DVOA against the run, first in stuff rate and second in rushing yards allowed per game. The calculations could shift if Tony Pollard is not active for this one and Ezekiel Elliott is left to take the whole workload by himself, but the reports are Pollard is expected to play. The question is certainly if that will bother his explosiveness since he’s averaging the sixth-most yards per touch and the eighth-most yards per touch. Pollard is also third in breakaway run rate and second in breakaway runs overall, so if he’s not 100% that could be a big deal.

He needs that portion of his game because the red zone touches are still slanted toward Zeke at 36-27. Tennessee is tied for the third-most receptions allowed per game and Pollard would have the better odds at making them pay through the air with 39/371 on 54 targets compared to 17/92 on 21 targets for Elliott. It comes down to what it normally does with this backfield – touchdowns. All aspects being equal, Pollard is the better back as far as generating yards but Zeke can outscore him in any game by just falling into the end zone. The matchup would favor Pollard but if he’s not right, Malik Davis would be the next man up for touches. He’s had 23 carries for 103 yards and four receptions this season but he’s the minimum salary. Even just 8-10 total touches is likely a major win at that salary, despite the difficult matchup at hand. 

Update – With Pollard being in doubt, Davis jumps into play for me and I would have no issues playing both Zeke and Davis in the same lineup. Tennessee has decided to sit key members of their team, including on the defense so the matchup is not as bad as it looks on paper. The spread has jumped three points for Dallas from where it opened as well. 

Wide Receiver 

It’s easy to build the case to eschew the run game and just stack up Prescott with both CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. Lamb went bonkers last week and saw another 11 targets compared to seven for Gallup, and Lamb is eighth in points per game, sixth in touchdowns, seventh in yards, fifth in receptions, and sixth in yards run per route. Since Lambe is still running 65% of his routes from the slot, he’s going to face most of Joshua Kalu. He’s now covered nearly 300 routes and the points per route are very strong at 0.12 but he’s allowing an 82% catch rate. I believe lamb is my most likely captain as far as who I want to be in that slot, but the chalk levels could be a deciding factor here. His matchup far and away grades out the best in the WR/CB Matchup Tool on the Dallas side.

Gallup was up to an 83.6% snap share and while the yardage still wasn’t fun, he did cash in a touchdown and had two red zone targets, the same amount as Lamb. He continues to get further away from his ACL injury and we’ve seen with other receivers that it can take a few games to get all the way back, with Chris Godwin being a prime example this season. Gallup is sitting at a 12.0-yard aDOT on the year and even in his limited time, he has 12 red zone targets and has scored four times. The matchups on the boundary are very generous as well, be it Tre Avery (0.37 points per route, 55% catch rate) or Roger McCreary (o.23 points per route, 73% catch rate). The odds are I’m double and/or even triple stacking with Prescott with Lamb and 1-2 other options and Gallup is fully in that player pool. 

I was sort of hoping T.Y. Hilton might be cheaper, but such is life. Hilton played about 18% of the snaps in his first game since last season. Hilton only saw one target but it was a deep shot, and it’s not hard to imagine him breaking loose against this secondary. It’s also very encouraging to hear this from coach Mike McCarthy – 

I find this relatively easy to believe since they have been very vocal about finding a third receiver, so it shouldn’t take much to start pushing Brown out of the rotation. Hilton is not going to see 8-10 targets but his work is going to be valuable from the sense of getting downfield and there is not a better matchup than this one, especially if Tennessee already has eyes on next week. I really like Hilton’s chances to hit a long score this week and am prepared to be over the field, while Brown may drop to about half of the snaps. 

Tight End 

It’s been a quiet two weeks for Dalton Schultz, but this is a strong bounceback spot since the Titans are allowing the fifth-most points per game and the highest amount of targets per game at 8.2. Schultz also still leads in red zone targets since Week 7 (when Prescott came back) with 12, scoring three times. That’s tied for the second-most on the team in that span and Schultz still has the second-most points scored in the past nine games among the Dallas pass-catchers. Schultz is only 16th in points per game and 12th in yards but he’s also seventh in red zone targets so the three touchdowns feel low. Something like that can break at any time so Schultz is a perfectly fine stacking partner for Prescott. 

Defense/Special Teams 

I have a feeling that this Cowboys DST might wind up being so rostered that I may back off and just hope they’re average but this is certainly an excellent spot for the Dallas defense. They lead in sack rate, sixth in points allowed per game, second in total DVOA and first in takeaways by four. Malik Willis already has five total turnovers while Tennesse is already 27th in points per game. That average has gone down in the three games Willis has started so the Cowboys look like a great play in a vacuum, especially if Derrick Henry is not going to play the full game as is being reported. I just want to see how popular they are. 


I would have expected Brett Maher to be more expensive than $4,200 but I’ll take it. He’s scoring 10.1 points per game and 14 of his 27 conversions are from 40 yards or more, including nine from 50 yards. He’s only tied for 13th in attempts but he’s tacked on 47 extra points since he’s attached to one of the highest-scoring offenses in football. The Titans are 17th in red zone conversion rate and 23rd in yards allowed per game so with the stakes still high for Dallas, they should be able to move the ball and get Maher plenty of chances in this game. 


Tennessee Titans Plays for Week 17 TNF DFS – TNF Showdown and Primetime Slates 

Notable Injuries – DL Jeffery Simmons, LB Bud Dupree, LB Zach Cunningham, S Amani Hooker, QB Ryan Tannehill (O)
RB Derrick Henry, CB Kristian Fulton, DE Denico Autry (D)


It’s a showdown format, and he’s super cheap, but Malik Willis looks terrifying to play in this game. He’s now had three starts and has capped out at 12.3 DK points as the rushing touchdown last week did a lot of the work. Through his 61 attempts, he’s only at 4.5 yards per attempt and he’s averaged under 7.5 DK points in his three starts. Willis has a tough matchup here as the Dallas defense is still second in DVOA against the pass and eighth in points per game, not to mention they generate one of the highest pressure rates in football. Willis has been atrocious when he’s pressured (admittedly a very small sample size) with a passer rating well under 25.0. Dallas is also in the top 10 in yards per attempt allowed and Willis has some upside with his legs, but he could turn into the Nick Foles of Thursday night with a score under 5.0 DK points. Watching his three starts paints a fairly grim picture for Willis because he just doesn’t appear to be an NFL-caliber player at this juncture. Even when the Titans have been down by eight or more points, Tennessee is just 28th in pass rate. 

Update – This is pure speculation but with so many folks sitting out, I’ll be keeping an ear open leading into the game for the possibility of Tennessee playing Josh Dobbs. He has shown a little bit of rushing upside and as poorly as Willis has played, they need him healthy next week. 

Running Back 

It’s a little worrisome to play Derrick Henry as nearly an 11-point underdog even though he does lead the league in carries and is second in rushing yards. Henry has also racked up fourth in points per game, third in touchdowns, third in red zone touches and fifth in evaded tackles. The matchup is a little bit mixed because Dallas only allows the third-fewest points per game and fifth in DVOA against the run but they also allow 102.5 rushing yards per game. That’s 22nd in the league so there is a window there for Henry but there can be no doubt that Dallas will load the box with eight or nine players to force Willis to beat them. It does help the floor for Henry that he’s been targeted so much more but even that comes with a catch since he fell to just two in this past game. With Willis less likely to check down than Ryan Tannehill was, it could leave Henry at only 1-2 targets again. We have all of these warts plus now there are rumors the Titans aren’t going to play him much so he’s fresh for next week – 

I feel relatively confident that I won’t be rostering Henry this week. Hassan Haskins would be the next man up even though he only has 11 carries and seven receptions on the season. It doesn’t make the matchup any better but he’s also just $3,000 and is much easier to build with. If the reports are wrong and Henry gets a full run, he could wreck your lineup but the Titans truly have nothing to lay for here. The only concern is the rushing title since Henry is trailing Josh Jacobs but the team achievement is more important than the individual one.

Update – Reports are saying Haskins is in for a big workload tonight and he might well be my favorite Titan option. 

Wide Receiver

If we don’t expect Willis to produce in the passing game, we can’t expect anyone here to do well either. Treylon Burks made his return last week and the Titans played him right about 82% of the snaps but he was only targeted twice. That was only two away from the team lead of four, accomplished by Robert Woods and Austin Hooper. Woods and Burks took the most snaps while Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was at 75$ and earned three targets in the game. Having Willis at quarterback has been a death sentence for receivers in fantasy in his limited sample and I’m not convinced that’s going to change this week. The matchups don’t do them a ton of favors, although the cornerback room for Dallas has been bitten by the injury bug lately. I would suspect that Trevon Diggs will be asked to shadow Burks in this game and he’s done that more in recent weeks. Diggs has shadowed in Weeks 10, 11, 13 and 16 and Burks is certainly the most dangerous receiving option on this team. He’s only seen a total of 39 targets in a season marred by injury but has 359 yards and two touchdowns. Diggs is at 0.25 points per route and a 70% catch rate allowed, so it’s going to be a tough road for Burks. 

Woods should get a much less experienced corner this week with Nahshon Wright on the other side. He’s only covered 49 routes and has allowed just 0.23 points per route but Woods has just not gotten back to his old self after an ACL injury. He’s the WR89 in points per game and on 76 targets, has just 89 more receiving yards than Burks does. Westbrook-Ikhine is the WR94 in points per game and is still under 400 receiving yards while he faces DaRon Bland in the slot. The 75% catch rate and 0.34 points per route look rough but before the Eagles game, Bland was starting to make more plays and may not be as bad as he appears. 

Tight End 

Both Austin Hooper and Chigoziem Okonkwo dropped down to about 45% of the snaps and that is far from ideal. Hooper was the player that took the target lead, even though it was just 4-2 and it falls under the same umbrella of Willis crushing any value they have. The matchup doesn’t do them any favors either since Dallas is fourth in points per game, allowing just 40.5 yards on 4.8 receptions. Having a split workload with these two was sort of sustainable with Tannehill playing but it’s not with Willis, at least with what he’s shown to this point. Okonkwo is a very exciting player moving forward and had three straight games with 10+ DK points and he had 21 targets in the past four games before last week. Okonkwo is also leading the position in yards run per route and yards per reception but he may not be able to show it off this week. 

Defense/Special Teams 

It’s always tough to play Tennessee against a strong passing game because it’s such a major weakness and they’re down to 17th in total DVOA. Dallas is also tied for the fourth-fewest turnovers this year while the Titans have only forced 16 all year. Tennesse generates a pressure rate of over 25% but the 5.8% sack rate is just 24th on the year. They are very affordable but they aren’t an option that I’m actively chasing. 


You certainly worry about the spread because the Titans may not be able to kick a lot of field goals, although that would be par for the course. Randy Bullock has played 13 games but only has 15 attempts and that may not shift this week. Dallas is just 14th in yards per game allowed and 18th in red zone conversion rate but Tennessee has to move the ball for that to matter. I don’t believe that’s going to happen often enough and it’s not like Bullock will have his work cut into more than it already was.

Core Plays 

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