BUCCANEERS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW
The impressive 5-2 Panthers will host the always-entertaining, but never-very-good 3-4 Buccaneers this week, in a game that should draw plenty of DFS attention as a strong consolation prize to the guaranteed shootout in New Orleans. Most of the games we have looked at so far this week have not had much to love from an offensive perspective. This is one of the few spots on the slate that breaks away from that trend.
Sustained drives should be the name of the game in this spot, as Carolina ranks sixth in the NFL in drive success rate on offense, while Tampa ranks fifth. On the other side of the ball, Carolina’s defense ranks 24th in drive success rate allowed, while Tampa’s defense ranks 28th.
This inability to slow down drives stretches all the way to the goal line, as the Panthers rank 31st in red zone touchdown rate allowed, and the Bucs rank 32nd. Each team is also above-average in the red zone on offense, with the Panthers ranked seventh in red zone touchdown rate and the Bucs ranked 13th.
This is not quite the beautiful shootout environment we spotted last week in Cincinnati (where the game turned into a 37-34 masterpiece with 978 combined yards…no thanks to Jameis), as Carolina does a good job limiting opponent plays — leading to them ranking 11th in fewest points allowed per game. But with an Over/Under of 55.0, there will be plenty of opportunities for DFS goodness.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
The Buccaneers are the most downfield-oriented passing attack in the league, and they match up perfectly against a Carolina team that has allowed the fifth deepest aDOT in the NFL, with an average catch rate allowed, and with their sole strength being their ability to limit YAC — with no defense in the league allowing a lower YAC/R rate on the year. This “low YAC allowed” shouldn’t bother us much in our exploration of the Tampa passing attack, as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are not big YAC guys to begin with, and even DeSean Jackson has provided minimal value this year as a YAC-upside guy.
As always in this offense, the biggest issue is that there are so many mouths to feed. We can effectively remove Cameron Brate from the “so many weapons” discussion, as he has not topped four targets on the year, and he has only seven total targets across his last three games; but recent target counts in other spots on this roster have looked like this:
Over the last couple weeks, Jackson has quietly played the fewest snaps in this group, though that hardly seems to matter, as this vertical-oriented attack is going to feature him on a handful of looks most weeks, and he even has four carries across the last three weeks. As noted last week: he has shown a higher floor than most realize, making him a boom/bust play with a higher floor than most guys who carry this description.
Evans has seen double-digit targets in four of his last six games, and he has four 100-yard games on the year (after topping 100 yards only one time last season). He also has eight red zone targets — only one behind team leader Godwin. As long as the looks are there, he’ll have an opportunity to produce this week.
Godwin disappointed with only two catches on seven targets last week, but with DeSean and Evans clearing out the defense and Godwin often crossing the field underneath, his looks are typically of the high-percentage variety, as evidenced by him hauling in 13 of 17 targets across his previous three games. He has topped 60 yards only oncer this year (74 yards on 10 targets in Week 3 against Pittsburgh), so you are banking on touchdowns if you roster him — but only four players in football have more targets inside the 10-yard-line, giving him sneaky touchdown opportunity week in and week out.
Humphries is the most frustrating player in this offense, as the fantasy community is always begging for him to find his way onto the bench, but he is a genuinely valuable real-life player. In truth, his fantasy production has been better lately than most probably realize. Last week, five of Humphries’ 10 targets came more than 10 yards downfield, and he has seven or more targets in three of his last four games. If we take away red zone usage, he essentially carries the same role in this offense right now as Godwin (his targets come a bit shorter, but with more room for YAC afterward), making him a respectable floor play, with “who knows, maybe he’ll score” upside.
Finally, there is Howard, who has a pristine matchup against a Carolina defense that has gotten routinely trucked for big stat lines by tight ends, allowing the third most receptions, the fifth most yards, and the most touchdowns to the position. Howard has only two games all season north of four targets, but he has topped 50 yards in all but one game, as he genuinely looks like one of the top four or five tight ends in football every time the ball comes his way.
Tampa ranks eighth in pass play rate, and only four teams have faced a higher pass play rate than the Panthers, as opponents prefer to attack this team through the air. The only major drawback in this spot is that the Panthers’ offense is great at putting together long, sustained drives (they rank ninth in plays per drive and sixth in time of possession per drive), and their defense is bad at stopping drives (24th in plays allowed per drive; 25th in time of possession allowed per drive), which has led to Carolina facing the sixth fewest plays per game in the league. With that said: the worst “Tampa QB” performance came against Chicago…with Jameis and Ryan Fitzpatrick combining for 271 yards and only one touchdown. In their other six games, these two have individually or “combo” produced passing yardage totals of 417 // 402 // 411 // 395 // 365 // 470. Fitz has touchdown totals on the year in his start-to-finish games of 4 // 4 // 3, and he tossed two more touchdowns in barely more than a quarter last week.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
As beautiful as this Bucs passing attack is, their rushing attack is equal parts ugly, with lead back Peyton Barber averaging only 3.7 yards per carry, and with Carolina facing the third fewest rush attempts in the NFL. Much like the Eagles: the Panthers have not actually been a menace against enemy attacks, but their talent up front is such that teams regularly check out of run plays against them, instead choosing to attack through the air. Barber has yet to reach 20 carries this year, and he has only two touchdowns all season. With a limited role in the pass game (and with only one reception in Fitzpatrick’s three starts), he’s a low-floor play with only moderate upside.
Even with Tampa dealing with injuries the last few weeks (and regularly playing from behind), teams have avoided attacking them on the ground — with the Bucs facing the sixth fewest rush attempts on the year and facing the eighth highest pass play rate. This week, the Bucs appear set to return Gerald McCoy to the field, which will further strengthen this unit that has allowed the eighth fewest running back rushing yards in the league.
All of which we love…as this should push the ball into the hands of Cam Newton, in a matchup against a Tampa defense that has allowed the most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position. Last year, Cam earned a reputation as a guy who was always viable in tourneys, but who could not be trusted in cash games, as he had a tendency to perform poorly in above-average matchups, with no discernible, predictive elements to help us see his “down” games coming. This year, Cam has flipped the script under Norv Turner, throwing for at least two touchdowns in six consecutive games, and rushing for 40 or more yards in all but two games on the year. He has topped 300 passing yards only once this season, but his rushing role (including four rushing touchdowns) has more than offset the lack of yardage upside.
Cam will be working with a full deck of weapons this week, with Devin Funchess (only three targets last week in a challenging spot against the Ravens, but seven-plus targets in five straight games before that), Greg Olsen (target counts since returning of 7 // 5 // 4), Christian McCaffrey (six or more targets in all but one game this year), and D.J. Moore (with Torrey Smith on the sidelines last week, Moore played 46 of a possible 65 snaps (70.8%), running 30 of a possible 37 pass routes and hauling in five of six targets for 90 yards — while adding two carries for 39 yards on the ground).
Tampa continues to allow the highest catch rate in the NFL, which elevates expectations for all of these guys, with the only drawback being that the Bucs can be attacked successfully with all four of these weapons — making it impossible to narrow the group down to a single “preferred play.”
The most exciting player in this group is Moore, especially as we have been waiting all year for the Panthers to get him involved. As long as Smith misses again, Moore should be in line for five to seven looks, giving him a strong price-considered floor (he costs under 9% of the salary cap on all three sites, with a low-water mark of 7.9% on FantasyDraft), with plenty of ceiling in this spot.
Funchess will likely go overlooked by the masses after his dud last week — but we can keep in mind the fact that this dud came against the Ravens, and we can expect his usage to return to its previous level. Incredibly, Funchess has topped 100 yards only once in his entire career, but he makes up for the yardage shortage with the occasional touchdown.
Olsen has not emerged as a spiked-target guy just yet, but Tampa has allowed the eighth most receptions and the third most yards to the tight end position. It’s only a matter of time until Olsen has one of his 10+ target games, which come a few times per year. In 2016, Olsen had a 9-181-0 game against the Bucs — and while these spikes are never predictable for Olsen (his game against Tampa later in that same year produced a 3-22-0 line), his floor is generally high enough at a thin position that he’s not a bad guy to chase.
Finally, there is McCaffrey, whose upside is being capped by his incredibly thin red zone role (one target inside the 10; one carry inside the five), and who is nevertheless still priced around major red zone threats (Kamara, Hunt, Gordon, Conner, etc.). His role does not justify his price, but he does still carry enough upside from receptions and big plays to post a score that can hang with the other guys in his range.
One thing we love in DFS is certainty. And while we are certain that points will pile up in the Rams/Saints game, we are uncertain how many of these points will come from running backs and how many will come from quarterbacks. In this game, on the other hand, it is all but certain that each team’s offensive production will flow through the quarterback position, which makes both Fitzpatrick and Cam stand out on this slate. I’m sure that Goff and Brees will end up high on my list this week, but these two will absolutely land on my list as well.
On the Bucs’ side, I also like Evans as a solid play, with the only major drawbacks being A) volume concerns for this offense as a whole, and B) the elite price tag on a guy without a major to-date red zone role.
Elsewhere, I also like Jackson as a “ceiling play with a non-awful floor”; I like Godwin and Humphries as solid point-per-dollar guys on DraftKings and FantasyDraft; and I love Howard’s talent and upside in this matchup, with volume being the only concern. If he sees seven or more looks this week, he’ll smash. If he sees his typical four looks, he’ll likely post a strong game (while still carrying upside), but his chances of a dud will obviously be heightened.
On the Panthers (outside of Cam), I like all of Funchess, McCaffrey, Olsen, and Moore, with none of them popping off the page in this passing attack that rarely piles up yards. In large-field tourneys or multi-entry play, I would be fine taking a shot on any of these guys, as it is likely that one of them posts a really nice game. In cash games, single-entry, and smaller-field play (i.e., “Main Team” play), Moore stands out the most, given his price. If Smith misses, Moore will be difficult to ignore, given how cheap he is and how secure his role is likely to be (even before Smith missed time — when Moore was playing about half the snaps — he saw target counts of 4 // 5 // 5). He’ll have a place on my early-week list as a strong value option.