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Week 14 DraftKings Thursday Night Football Showdown: Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The changing DFS and fantasy football landscape is shifting toward single-game contests. At DraftKings Sportsbook, the biggest is their Showdown Captain Mode format. The format blends the ease of focusing on a single game with the ability to differentiate yourself from the competition by choosing six players.

The biggest wrinkle of the format is the ability to choose one captain (CPT), who costs and is scored at 1.5 times the standard values. The CPT designation opens up another layer of strategy while exponentially increasing the number of possible lineup combinations, which is important for reducing duplicate winners and split prizes. I wrote a primer on playing this format, with details on historical positional trends and salary usage.

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This season, I will analyze all of the NFL’s “island” games (TNF, SNF and MNF) and playoff matchups, utilizing PFF’s weekly projections, current betting lines, and millions of simulated historical combinations to identify the best and worst values for an upcoming matchup.

There are five main components to this Week 14 Showdown slate analysis that you’ll find below:

1. A breakdown of methodology and the most similar historical matchup to Minnesota VikingsPittsburgh Steelers as an illustration of the matching process: 2016 Week 8 Tampa Bay BuccaneersOakland Raiders, featuring Jameis Winston as Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr playing the role of Ben Roethlisberger.

2. Optimal lineup allocations (CPT and total roster) for both teams based on the results of similar historical matchups.

3. Comparison of player ownership projections for FLEX and CPT produced by a model trained on 2018-2020 Showdown contest results to optimal allocations.

4. Recent CPT ownership trends illustrated for both starting lineups.

5. A table showing the most common players on optimal lineups for each player. This lets you see which other players are commonly found on the same optimal lineups as a player you’re interested in rostering.


To analyze this specific Showdown slate, I looked through thousands of NFL matchups from 2014 to 2021 and found the closest analogies to this contest according to the following parameters: Betting spread, over/under and average fantasy points scoring for the top-ranked positional players of both rosters (QB1, RB1, WR1, TE1).

I won’t detail every matchup that falls into the top 100 for this game, but for illustration purposes, let’s look at the most similar matchup:

Historical Current
Player Pos Team Player Pos Team
Jameis Winston QB TB Kirk Cousins QB MIN
Jacquizz Rodgers RB TB Dalvin Cook RB MIN
Mike Evans WR TB Justin Jefferson WR MIN
Cameron Brate TE TB Tyler Conklin TE MIN
Derek Carr QB OAK Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT
Latavius Murray RB OAK Najee Harris RB PIT
Michael Crabtree WR OAK Diontae Johnson WR PIT
Clive Walford TE OAK Pat Freiermuth TE PIT

The spread and over/under are similar in these matchups (Buccaneers PK 48 O/U versus this matchup at Vikings -3, 43.5 O/U). All the players aren’t perfect matches, but that’s why we use 100 similar matchups and not just the single most similar.

The optimal roster for that historical matchup, assuming positional salaries equaled what they are for this showdown slate, would have been:

Player Team Position Roster Position Fantasy Pts
Derek Carr OAK QB CPT 39.8
Amari Cooper OAK WR FLEX 38.3
Michael Crabtree OAK WR FLEX 21.8
Jameis Winston TB QB FLEX 16.8
Seth Roberts OAK WR FLEX 15.9
Jacquizz Rodgers TB RB FLEX 14.8

For this game and 99 other similar matchups, I calculated every possible combination that fits with Showdown rules (one CPT, at least one offensive player from each team) and would fall under the $50K salary threshold, assuming the salaries for the historical similar matchups are the same as those for this contest.


The most unique part of the format, and therefore the biggest opportunity for a competitive advantage, is choosing your CPT. Should you always choose a QB who typically has the highest absolute fantasy scoring? Are defenses and kickers viable options? RB versus WR?

I went through the millions of possible lineup combinations for the 100 most similar matchups and found who the CPT selections were on the top-five scoring lineups for each matchup. Here are the 500 CPT choices from those matchups by position rank according to salary.


This graph illustrates the full range of allocations for the different positions to measure how many of the 500 optimal rosters had exactly zero, one or two of the given positions.


The boxplot above shows the ranges for CPT ownership for each starting player in contests since 2019.

Projected ownership versus optimal

This is where the analysis comes together and becomes actionable. What’s most important when viewing these numbers is to contrast them to the optimal numbers taken from the analysis above for different positions. Then, we see where the leverage may exist.

The two tables below compare the optimal allocations above, with adjustments for the personnel of this particular matchup, to our ownership projections for CPT and FLEX.


Player Team Pos Salary Optimal Ownership Diff Leverage
Justin Jefferson MIN WR $16,500 15.0% 15.2% -0.2% 98.7%
Dalvin Cook MIN QB $16,200 7.8% 8.0% -0.2% 97.5%
Kirk Cousins MIN QB $15,600 9.7% 8.7% 1.0% 111.5%
Diontae Johnson PIT WR $15,300 12.7% 13.0% -0.3% 97.7%
Najee Harris PIT RB $15,000 11.5% 11.6% -0.1% 99.1%
Alexander Mattison MIN RB $14,700 3.0% 3.2% -0.2% 93.8%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT QB $13,500 7.0% 6.9% 0.1% 101.4%
Chase Claypool PIT WR $11,100 6.2% 6.1% 0.1% 101.6%
Pat Freiermuth PIT TE $9,900 4.9% 5.1% -0.2% 96.1%
Tyler Conklin MIN TE $9,300 1.6% 1.7% -0.1% 94.1%
K.J. Osborn MIN WR $8,400 3.0% 3.2% -0.2% 93.8%
James Washington PIT WR $7,500 0.5% 0.4% 0.1% 125.0%
Vikings MIN DST $6,600 4.2% 4.1% 0.1% 102.4%
Steelers PIT DST $6,300 2.6% 2.8% -0.2% 92.9%
Greg Joseph MIN K $6,000 1.0% 1.0% 0.0% 100.0%
Chris Boswell PIT K $5,700 1.0% 1.0% 0.0% 100.0%
Ray-Ray McCloud III PIT WR $4,800 0.7% 0.8% -0.1% 87.5%
Zach Gentry PIT TE $3,900 0.4% 0.7% -0.3% 57.1%
Dede Westbrook MIN WR $3,300 0.3% 0.2% 0.1% 150.0%
Kene Nwangwu MIN RB $2,400 0.2% 0.2% 0.0% 100.0%
C.J. Ham MIN RB $900 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Anthony McFarland Jr. PIT RB $300 0.3% 0.2% 0.1% 150.0%
Chris Herndon MIN TE $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Kevin Rader PIT TE $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Kalen Ballage PIT RB $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Luke Stocker MIN TE $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Derek Watt PIT RB $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Cody White PIT WR $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%
Dan Chisena MIN WR $300 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 100.0%


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