Kickoff Sunday, Dec 9th 1:00pm Eastern

Panthers (
24.5) at

Browns (
23.5)

Over/Under 48.0

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Notes

Key Matchups
Panthers Run D
10th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O
3rd DVOA/4th Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
19th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Browns Pass O
11th DVOA/27th Yards per pass
Browns Run D
30th DVOA/12th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
16th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Browns Pass D
18th DVOA/5th Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
31st DVOA/29th Yards per pass

PANTHERS // BROWNS OVERVIEW

The Panthers have tumbled to a 6-6 record with four consecutive losses, and they are now traveling to take on an improving, 4-7-1 Browns team that is 1-5 on the road but 3-2-1 at home. This game pairs contrasting styles, with a slow-paced Panthers offense taking on an aggressive Browns defense, and with a fast-paced Browns offense taking on a play-it-back Panthers defense that ranks 15th in takeaways and 20th in sacks, and that aims to keep the ball in front of them and take away big plays. The Panthers need a win and the Browns are continuing to play hard, which should create a solid start-to-finish setup. Both offenses are above-average with solid pieces, leading to a quietly attractive Over/Under of 47.0. The Panthers have been installed as early-week 2.0 point favorites on the road.

PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE

Gregg Williams’ aggressive Browns defense has continued to improve throughout the year, and they have currently allowed the seventh fewest yards per pass attempt, on the strength of a below-average aDOT, a below-average YAC/R rate allowed, and the third lowest catch rate allowed in the league. With the Browns playing at the sixth fastest pace in the league and allowing the most opponent plays per game, however, they have faced the third most wide receiver targets — allowing the fifth most catches and the sixth most yards.

The toughest matchup will likely go to D.J. Moore, who is expected to draw shadow coverage from impressive rookie Denzel Ward. Ward has allowed a completion rate on throws into his coverage of only 53.2%, with a quarterback rating allowed of only 70.0. He is also allowing an impressively low YAC/R of 3.3 — making life difficult on a player in Moore who draws a lot of his upside from the 5.1 YAC/R that he has paired with his below-average aDOT of 9.1. Moore is a strong route-runner, and he has truly exciting after-catch ability, keeping his upside visible; but this is a tough draw.

Moore’s matchup against Ward should filter one or two extra targets elsewhere — with another four to six targets missing from the loss of Greg Olsen (foot). Snap counts on this team last week among wide receivers looked like this:

:: Moore — 66
:: Curtis Samuel — 58
:: Jarius Wright — 39
:: Devin Funchess — 32
:: Torrey Smith — 9

Smith appears to be healthy and “phased out of the offense” at the moment. Funchess’ limited snaps were expected last week as the Panthers looked to ease him back in — though there is a decent chance that this was simply Carolina’s excuse to limit his snaps in favor of Moore and Samuel. At this point, Moore is very clearly locked in as the top option. Samuel may drop to a smaller snap share this week, but after he was fed 11 targets last week, he’s clearly going to maintain a role. With Ian Thomas soaking up five targets last week at tight end, there is danger that this team spreads the ball around too much behind McCaffrey for anyone to matter. Wright is the lowest-upside play as the Panthers’ possession-only receiver — requiring a broken play or a touchdown to matter. Funchess is touchdown-dependent with an iffy workload. Samuel is risky, but high-upside; he has a chance to pop a couple more times down the stretch if the targets remain in the six-and-above range. Thomas is a wildcard after failing to top three targets when Olsen missed earlier in the year, in spite of constantly running pass routes in that stretch. The safest bet is to consider last week’s five-target game to have been fluky…but with the Browns facing (by far) the most tight end targets in the NFL, Thomas is going to be a cheap name to consider this week.

PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE

After having almost no red zone role through the first eight weeks of the season, Christian McCaffrey has exploded over the Panthers’ last five games — soaring up to fifth in the NFL in red zone carries (ahead of Zeke, and just barely behind Conner, Saquon, and Kamara), while getting involved in the pass game near the goal line as well. The play-calling on this team saw a sharp and sudden shift in Week 9 against the Bucs, and they haven’t looked back since. CMC has incredibly scored 10 of his 11 touchdowns from Week 8 on. He has still topped 19 touches in only four of 12 games, but his pass game role makes him one of the safest plays on the slate, and his rise in red zone usage has locked him in as one of the highest-ceiling plays as well. Matchup has hardly mattered for CMC, but it doesn’t hurt that the Browns have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the ninth most receiving yards to enemy backs. If the Browns do give the Panthers more plays than normal, CMC will likely see a boost in the volume department, as he is playing a full 100% of the Panthers’ snaps at the moment.

BROWNS PASS OFFENSE

The Browns are spreading out the field and taking full advantage of the unique skills of Baker Mayfield — but they are also being run by a defensive coach, and in two of their last three games we have seen them shut down the passing attack in favor of the run as soon as they gained a lead. In wins over Atlanta and Cincinnati, Baker threw the ball only 20 and 26 times. In order for this passing attack to maximize its potential, the Panthers will likely have to grab an early lead — which is worth keeping in mind if trying to figure out how to optimize your exposure to this game.

This is a good matchup for Baker and a passing attack that has not relied too heavily on YAC for their production, as YAC prevention is the only thing this Panthers unit really does well. Carolina has allowed the fourth lowest YAC/R rate in the league, but they have allowed a 4.9% increase on the league-average aDOT and a 2.4% increase on the league-average catch rate. Baker has an awesome 71.8% completion rate over his last four games in this ball-out-quick spread attack, and he’ll have a shot to pile up another solid game here.

While it is easy to see production from the Browns’ quarterback, it is more difficult to pinpoint pass catchers to bet on in this spread-the-wealth attack. It is always most favorable to bet on attacks with a narrow target distribution and a downfield style. This offense has continually spread the ball to eight or more pass catchers over the last four weeks, with a decent chunk of these passes coming short (and with very few coming more than 20 yards downfield).

If you are set on betting on Mayfield: a high-volume game from him should lead to another seven to nine looks for Jarvis Landry, who was used extremely well last week — seeing targets on: a deep crossing route, a drag route, a corner route, and a wheel route — all in addition to a few other quick-out looks. This was the first “upside” usage for Landry in recent weeks — giving him more hope than he had on the type of usage he was seeing earlier in the season. Antonio Callaway and David Njoku would be the next most appealing options, as they are locked into a joint share of number two duties behind Landry. Callaway has been steadily improving, and it won’t be surprising if he has one or two more nice games down the stretch. Rashard Higgins wraps up this group of viable Browns as the lowest-usage piece. Higgins quietly has seven games this year with a 20+ yard reception (in nine games played), and his trustworthy hands have earned him three touchdowns, so he’s not a total loss — though he is a dud on weeks when he catches only one or two balls.

BROWNS RUN OFFENSE

The Panthers rank eight in yards allowed per carry and eighth in run defense DVOA. Only six teams have allowed fewer yards to running backs this year.

Nick Chubb should see his 18+ carries as long as the Browns are able to keep this game close. He has added exactly three receptions in three consecutive games. A bet on Chubb this week is a bet on A) the Browns playing this game close, and B) Chubb beating a tough matchup. He’ll have to do a lot of the work on his own, as his offensive line ranks 21st in adjusted line yards, while the Panthers’ defense ranks second.

JM’S INTERPRETATION

With the Panthers likelier than normal to run 70 plays, I’ll have some interest in this side of the ball, though it’s difficult to fall in love with much away from the backfield. With Ward on Moore, he’s a tourney-only play for me; and the rest of the pass catchers are a bit thin from a “certainty” perspective. Thomas is an interesting salary saver, though we have yet to see any upside from him. Samuel is a favorite play of mine — and with six touchdowns on the year, one carry in four of his last five games, and 20 targets across his last three games, I may mix him into large-field play and hope that the Panthers view him as too valuable to remove from the field. The clearest plays on this side of the ball, of course, are Christian McCaffrey (one of the safest, highest-upside plays on the slate) and Cam Newton, who is a good bet to bounce back in a must-win game.

I like the idea of betting on Baker this week in large-field tourneys. He comes with the risk of a rookie and he is not exactly being offered at a big discount compared to the safer names this week, but it’s not crazy to think he could top some of those more popular names in a home game against a below-average pass defense. In order for Mayfield to truly shine, the Panthers will likely have to grab a lead — so rosters with Baker at quarterback would optimally pair him with a piece or two on the Panthers. He can also be paired with Landry, Callaway, Njoku, or Higgins — though he does spread the ball around enough that it is possible for him become a strong tourney play on his own.

Chubb has the ability to beat a tough matchup, but it is easy enough to pin down high-floor/high-ceiling plays at the running back position that I am likelier to search for my differentiation in higher-variance spots.