BENGALS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW
While each of these teams features an at-times-explosive offense, each team also ranks bottom eight in pace of play. This has led to Carolina allowing the sixth-fewest opponent plays per game…while the Bengals’ slowed-down pace has led to them running the eighth-fewest plays per game themselves. The Bengals’ team mark should rise as the season moves forward, but ultimately this should be viewed as a slow-paced game — still leaving room for points on both sides, but limiting the volume we can bank on (and therefore introducing some question marks) for our rosters this week. Vegas has this game pegged with a modest Over/Under of 43.5 (as of this writing), and we should filter our perception of this game through that lens.
BENGALS RUN OFFENSE
Last season, in Weeks 13 through 17, Giovani Bernard took over this Bengals backfield, averaging 52.2 snaps per game, running 27 pass routes per game, averaging 14.2 carries per game, and hauling in 4.8 catches per game on 6.4 targets. He averaged 101.4 total yards across those five games, while scoring a pair of touchdowns on the ground. Joe Mixon only missed two of those games, but the larger sample size gives us a great feel for how Bill Lazor will look to use Gio this week, with Mixon on the sidelines.
We should expect Gio to be on the field about 75% of the time this week, and we can expect him to get anywhere from 12 to 20 carries, with his pass game role likely to spike if his carries hit that lower end. As noted last week, the Panthers are a difficult run matchup after ranking fifth in DVOA last year and 11th in yards allowed per carry, and they impressively allowed only seven rushing touchdowns to running backs last season (good for the eighth-best mark in the league). But last week the Falcons used stretch plays and spacing to take advantage of Tevin Coleman’s speed against this defense, and Gio is well-suited to a similar style of success. His touch expectation is exactly in the range that Tevin Coleman had last week, and his improved offensive line play (the Bengals are seventh in adjusted line yards at the moment) will give him a chance to hit for a similarly effective game.
BENGALS PASS OFFENSE
In those final five games last year in which Gio saw heavy usage, the Bengals threw the ball on 63.7% of their plays, up slightly from their season-long rate of 59.3%. Ultimately, the shift over to Gio will not impact the approach of this offense as much as some will imagine — and we need to remember that this shapes up as a low-volume game — but “Gio on the field” certainly creates more opportunities for a pass-leaning approach; and as the Bengals have had the deep ball working early in the season, this warrants some attention in tourneys, even in a low-scoring spot.
A.J. Green has started the season hot, with four touchdowns in two games; though he has disappointingly totaled only 161 yards and 17 total targets. His 24.3% target share is very strong, but it is not nearly high enough to support the sort of production we are seeing. Green projects for around 8.5 targets in this spot, and with his average depth of target coming in at 12.0 yards, he’ll need a big play or another touchdown-heavy game to really pay off. He does have 46.64% of the Bengals’ air yards (good for fifth in the league), in what is otherwise a dink-and-dunk attack. Andy Dalton’s average intended air yards of 6.2 is barely above Mitchell Trubisky and Alex Smith.
With Green receiving only 24% of the team’s targets, but nearly 47% of the team’s air yards, we need to note that many of the other pass catchers on this offense are seeing low-value targets. With that said: Tyler Boyd has quietly seen 14 targets across the last two weeks (20%), working on the outside in two-wide sets and kicking into the slot in three-wide sets. He’s a sneaky value play this week. His targets are coming farther downfield (9.7 aDOT) than most probably realize, and he has a healthy 31.3% share of the Bengals’ air yards. This chart from Week 2 gives a good idea of how the Bengals are using Boyd in this offense.
John Ross has seen only six targets, for two catches and 11 yards. He’s a threat with the ball in his hands, but he’s little more than that. Tyler Eifert has caught five passes for 67 yards and run a pass route on 64.2% of Dalton’s drop-backs. He’ll have a touchdown-spiked week at some point, but it will be difficult to see it coming.
PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE
The Bengals have done a good job so far this season forcing teams to throw short passes — but when teams have been able to push the ball downfield, the Bengals have had some issues, particularly struggling in the range of 10 to 15 yards downfield. This bodes well for Devin Funchess, who is often targeted 10 or more yards downfield. In his first game without Greg Olsen last week, Funchess saw nine targets, catching five for 77 yards. It is disappointing that he only saw 20% of the total throws from Cam Newton (and Cam will not unleash 45 passes every week), but we can pencil in Funchess for six to eight looks. It’s not exciting, but his price somehow remains below 10.4% of the salary cap on all three sites (with the low-water mark coming on FantasyDraft, at 9.4%).
Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith both soaked up seven targets of their own last week against the Falcons, but those will be volatile numbers to chase. Wright’s average target this year has come only 4.6 yards downfield, and explosive rookie D.J. Moore is expected to start seeing more snaps moving forward.
PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE
Christian McCaffrey has 18 carries through two games, but he has 24 targets and 20 receptions. No matter how this game goes, he is going to be involved, as the Panthers will hand him the ball if they somehow build a big lead, and they will attack with him through the air either way. It is probably worth noting that the Bengals have allowed the most opponent plays per game this season; and while that is somewhat fluky, given their slow pace of play, this was a problem for them last year as well. Volume should be on CMC’s side, and while it would seem like we saw a “ceiling” game from him last week, it’s worth mentioning that he did not even score a touchdown. Although he is not the primary weapon near the end zone for this team, some touchdowns will come. This is a fine spot for McCaffrey, with strong floor and strong ceiling.
Last week, I had Coleman’s range on DraftKings pegged at 11 to 25 points, and on FanDuel at 10 to 22 points. This week, in a very similar setup, I have Gio at 10 to 24 on DraftKings and nine to 20 on FanDuel. It will be interesting to see how the rest of this slate shakes out as we move through it, but Gio will at least come out of this writeup as a guy on the Tier 1/2 borderline for me. After I research and write the entire week (and then read the Edge back on Thursday…and then do some more study, and then talk through the slate with Levitan on Friday night, etc.), I’ll have a better idea of exactly where Gio lands for me this week, but he’s a sharp play regardless, as a starting running back in a decent spot at a suppressed price. He’ll cost only 10.67% of the salary cap on FanDuel, 11.8% on DraftKings, and an awesome 10.4% on PPR site FantasyDraft. (If you still haven’t played FantasyDraft yet, I have strategy broken down for you here. It’s similar to DraftKings, and it has more overlay and softer player pools, as the contests are too small to draw the sharks, and are just the right size for building bankroll.)
A.J. Green is an upside play for me, and Tyler Boyd is a surprisingly intriguing floor play. Green will almost always be far away from my cash game rosters, as he simply does not see enough guaranteed targets to justify his price tag; but the upside is all the way there in tourneys. Boyd will be in early salary-saver consideration for me as a guy seeing regular work and doing good things with it. I’ll otherwise leave the Bengals’ passing attack alone.
I am going to set aside Funchess as a strong value play at the moment. He has a solid floor for his price, and he’s enough of a red zone weapon to create ceiling. Otherwise, I’ll be leaving the Panthers’ pass catchers alone — though there is some deep tourney appeal on Ian Thomas, who should see his usage increase this week in a much friendlier tight end matchup, after seeing only three targets last week on a whopping 45 pass routes run.
Cam Newton is always in play in tourneys. That never changes. Honestly, given his price drop this week on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, he’s also in play in cash — though I’m hoping I’ll be able to fit in a less volatile play at the position.
I never like playing McCaffrey, and I am even more opposed to the idea of paying up for him, given his lower-than-elite scoring position usage; but he is absolutely a strong play yet again this week, in spite of the expected low-scoring nature of this game.