PANTHERS // EAGLES OVERVIEW
This game gives us a fun matchup between two teams with legitimate playoff aspirations that each need this win, with the 3-2 Panthers traveling to take on the 3-3 Eagles. The Eagles have been installed as early five-point favorites, with plenty of faith being shown in the rhythm of Carson Wentz and his pass catchers.
Each team prefers to slow down the pace, with Philadelphia ranking 23rd in pace of play and Carolina ranking 28th. The Eagles have run the fourth-most plays per game in the NFL, but the Panthers have allowed the fourth-fewest, driven by their slow pace and their solid drive success rate on offense (10th in the league). Play volume for the Eagles projects to come in below their typical level, but this shouldn’t be a major concern, as the Eagles capitalize more on efficiency than on volume.
For all the reputation the Eagles have as an awful pass defense, it is worth noting that everything that’s “bad” about them has to do with volume. The Eagles are actually an above-average pass defense on a per-attempt basis, having forced an aDOT 7% below the league average, alongside an average catch rate and average YAC per reception allowed. In all, Philly ranks 12th in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt, and their expected yards allowed per target is more than 5% below the league average.
The challenge for Philly is that teams do not like to run on them — and so, they face an above-average number of pass attempts. Philly has faced the fewest rush attempts per game in the NFL, but only five teams have faced more pass attempts this year.
Wide receivers who gain an additional boost against the Eagles (a boost that goes above purely “volume”) tend to be either A) sharp route-runners who can take advantage of the poor technique Ronald Darby sometimes slips into or B) guys who can burn Jalen Mills on double moves. Devin Funchess is the clear alpha in this passing attack, and as a guy who lacks quick-twitch skills, he is rarely used on double-moves, and he is not the most polished route runner. To sum all that up: expect this to play like an average matchup for Funchess, but his volume should be locked in place, even with Greg Olsen on the field, as teams always get pushed pass-heavy vs the Eagles’ front. Funchess’ regular seven to nine targets is a strong bet. He has five inches and almost 50 pounds on Darby, and four inches and 40 pounds on Mills.
Last week, Olsen played 59 out of 60 snaps, and he looked surprisingly healthy and ready to contribute — hauling in four catches on seven targets, for 48 yards. He provides far more upside than most tight ends and is underpriced for his upside on all three sites, though the matchup gives him a scary-low floor. The Saints are the only team that has allowed fewer receptions to the position.
Behind Funchess, Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey, targets will be split among Torrey Smith (42 snaps last week), Jarius Wright (37 snaps last week), and D.J. Moore (27 snaps last week). Moore has seen four and five targets the last two weeks with his role continuing to grow, and he has genuine upside in this matchup as a guy whose game should give Mills and Darby fits (his floor is low, of course — but he is priced for his floor, rather than for his ceiling). Smith has seen strange usage this year, with two games of two or fewer targets, and with five to seven targets in his other three games. His aDOT is barely higher than Funchess’, as the Panthers have been targeting him more as an intermediate receiver than as a downfield guy. Projections are difficult to nail down on a guy like Smith, but speed guys always carry upside, and five to seven targets seem like a fair projection once again.
PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE
The Panthers’ run offense begins with Cam Newton, whose worst rushing game this year was 8-29-0. He has three rushing touchdowns on the year, and he may be needed near the end zone against a Philly team that has allowed only eight passing touchdowns, and that ranks first in red zone scoring. Overall scoring expectations are not high for this team, and if Cam runs one or two in, he’ll likely be doing so at the cost of passing touchdowns, so take that information for whatever you feel it is worth.
Alongside Cam will be Christian McCaffrey, in a difficult matchup against this stout Eagles front. Rushing volume projects to suffer for CMC in this spot, though the Eagles have allowed the fourth-most running back receptions in the league. Outside of his 28-carry, two-target outlier against the Bengals, CMC has target counts on the year of 9 // 15 // 6 // 8, and as passing volume rises for the Panthers, target volume should be locked in for the Panthers’ back. Yardage on the ground will be difficult to come by, and McCaffrey has only one total touchdown on the year, with zero targets inside the 10 and only one carry inside the five; but the receiving work should keep his floor fairly solid. On a week like this, he is much better on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where his PPR skill set plays better.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
The Panthers essentially define the league average in expected yards per target and yards allowed per pass attempt — allowing one of the higher aDOT marks in the league, with a league average catch rate allowed and with the lowest YAC per reception mark in the NFL. Essentially: You attack the Panthers downfield, and your guys get tackled as soon as they catch the ball.
To take thingsne a step further: you attack the Panthers downfield with routes that move receivers diagonally or horizontally across the field, rather than vertically — an approach that plays poorly to the responsibilities of Alshon Jeffery, who is typically asked to run his routes either downfield or toward the sideline. Alshon has seen target counts since returning to the field of 9 // 8 // 12. It’s not as if these looks will dry up, and it’s not as if this is an impossible matchup, so peg this as a “slightly below-average spot” for him, with his big workload and his surprisingly low price (under 13% of the cap on all three sites) keeping him in play. He already has seven red zone targets through three games.
Nelson Agholor sets up better in this matchup, but he has topped five targets in only one of his last four games, and his routes are typically run too close to the line of scrimmage for five targets to provide much room for upside. There is a chance his targets spike this week if the Eagles decide to attack on crossing routes, but keep in mind that Carolina allows a below-average number of plays, so you would essentially be banking on the Eagles proactively scheming the ball to Agholor if you choose to roster him.
The most reliable piece in this attack has been Zach Ertz, with only one game all season under double-digit targets — when he saw nine looks last week. Carolina has been middling against tight ends this year, and a hundred matchups of “Ertz vs Panthers” would neither raise nor lower our average expectations for him. Ertz has 11 targets in the red zone, good for seventh in the league.
Behind these three, guys like Dallas Goedert, DeAndre Carter, Jordan Matthews, Kamar Aiken, Shelton Gibson, and Josh Perkins are all seeing time on the field, though none of these guys have been proactively schemed the ball since Alshon returned.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
Last week, the Eagles gave 44 snaps to Wendell Smallwood and 26 snaps to Corey Clement, though it’s dangerous to try to read too much into usage patterns in the Philly backfield, as this is a team that likes to attack each opponent in a unique way. It looks like Darren Sproles will return this week to soak up some action as well.
The Panthers are below-average against the run, ranking 23rd in yards allowed per carry and 17th in DVOA — though because they do such a strong job limiting opponent plays, they are facing only 22.2 rush attempts per game.
The biggest advantage the Eagles have this week is their matchup against a Panthers red zone defense that ranks 31st in touchdown rate allowed, trailing only Tampa Bay. Since returning to the field in Week 2, Wentz already has nine pass attempts inside the 10-yard-line (leading to three touchdowns), and he has an additional 21 pass attempts (and four touchdowns) inside the 20. Smallwood and Clement each have only two carries apiece inside the 10 and one target apiece inside the 10 on the year, as this offense prefers to lean on its superstar quarterback and pass catchers when close to the goal line.
If choosing one of these guys as a salary saver who “could provide a starting-caliber score,” it will likely come down to touchdowns. Each guy has two touchdowns on the year.
Nothing pops off the page in this game, but as I’m looking through the games available on the main slate on FanDuel and DraftKings, it strikes me that this is a week in which our next-level research is going to become extremely valuable compared to what the field is working with, as there are no real “gimme” spots. This is the sort of week in which guys like Devin Funchess and Alshon Jeffery get added to your early-week player grid, to at least be compared to the other plays that come available on the slate. I have no idea at this point if either of these guys will remain on my list deep into the week, but in glancing over the 10 games we have to work with, it seems likely that these two — who are each priced too low for their role — will prove to be worthwhile guys to consider.
This is not a week on which I’ll be interested in chasing McCaffrey or Cam, but their upside obviously remains, even in a matchup that makes it tougher for them to hit.
The Eagles’ running backs are interesting in tourneys for the starter-score they can provide at a low price. It is purely a guess as to which guy will see more work and/or be given an opportunity to score, but if one of them pops in a touchdown and you guessed right, you’ll be in strong shape at one of your salary-saver spots.
Agholor is a consideration, but is not a guy I’m hoping to play, as there is just too much usage guesswork for me, and the ceiling has not proved to be high enough for this guesswork to be worth it against a team that tackles so well after the catch.
Wentz has obvious upside, and is a piece to consider even in a lower-volume game (he’s so efficient, he can often post a top score on around 35 pass attempts — something he did over and over again last year). Ertz projects as one of the safer plays on the slate, with strong ceiling to go with his floor.