Kickoff Sunday, Oct 28th 1:00pm Eastern

Ravens (
23.5) at

Panthers (
21)

Over/Under 44.5

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Notes

Key Matchups
Ravens Run D
23rd DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O
9th DVOA/20th Yards per carry
Ravens Pass D
15th DVOA/32nd Yards allowed per pass
Panthers Pass O
30th DVOA/29th Yards per pass
Panthers Run D
13th DVOA/18th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O
19th DVOA/3rd Yards per carry
Panthers Pass D
17th DVOA/4th Yards allowed per pass
Ravens Pass O
1st DVOA/13th Yards per pass

RAVENS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW

When I first set up this game in the document where I write the NFL Edge, I said, “This is a good game.” Every year when I was a kid, my goal was to watch at least one game from all 32 teams. This is a game I would have circled for these two teams. The Ravens sit at 4-3 right now, while the Panthers sit at 4-2. Each team is clearly a playoff-caliber unit, but each is also fighting for their life in a difficult division.

While this is a great matchup from an “NFL” perspective, this game is less immediately appealing from a DFS perspective, with an early-week Over/Under of 43.0. The Ravens play at the third fastest pace in the NFL, but they are allowing the fewest yards per game and the fewest points per game. Carolina also ranks 13th in fewest yards allowed and 10th in fewest points allowed.

Baltimore has the edge on offense, ranking ninth in yards per game (18th for Carolina) and 15th in points per game (Carolina ranks 18th again), while each team is above-average at drive success rate (15th for Baltimore; 9th for Carolina). Baltimore, of course, is lethal on defense (first in DSR), while Carolina is easier to move the ball on (22nd in DSR). If patterns from the first seven weeks of the season hold, Baltimore should have a fairly easy time scoring when they reach the red zone, as they rank fourth in red zone touchdown rate on offense, while Carolina ranks 29th on defense.

RAVENS PASS OFFENSE

Through the first seven weeks of the season, Michael Crabtree has worked the sidelines for the Ravens in a possession-type role, while Willie Snead has worked the middle of the field in a possession-type role — leading to an aDOT of 10.2 for Crabtree on an eye-popping 9.14 targets per game, with Snead seeing 7.14 targets per game and an aDOT of 8.5. Crabtree has topped 66 yards only once this season, and Snead has not yet topped 60 yards, but the targets have been consistent, as the Ravens have filtered over 80% of their air yards through Crabtree, Snead, and John Brown.

Brown saw encouraging usage last week — in terms of his ability to be viewed as a matchup-proof guy — as zero of his seven looks came 20+ yards downfield. Typically, we prefer “lots of targets on deep balls” over “lots of targets on short passes,” as deep passes create more opportunity for upside — but given that Brown had averaged over 20 yards per target on the year (leading the league coming into last week), his seven targets of under 20 yards were a reminder that he can be used effectively at all levels of the field. JB came out of that game with a 7-134-1 line — catching every pass that came his way.

Each of these three receivers has such a clearly-defined role that matchup has not mattered much for their usage — with Brown seeing seven or more targets in five of seven games, Crabtree seeing eight or more targets in six consecutive games, and Snead seeing seven or more targets in four straight games (with target counts of 6 // 8 // 5 in the three weeks prior). Each guy has elements in his route tree that play well against the Panthers — but with the Panthers shining in YAC allowed per reception (no team in the league has been better), upside is capped on the guys in Crabtree and Snead who see most of their work closer to the line of scrimmage.

While Carolina has been average in catch rate allowed, only five teams have allowed a deeper average depth of target — with the Panthers increasing opponent aDOT more than 9% above the league average. This bodes well for Brown, who ranks second in the NFL in aDOT, and who leads the team with seven red zone targets (to go with his big-play scoring ability). Carolina has allowed the seventh most pass plays of 20+ yards, in spite of the early bye.

Behind the wide receivers, the Ravens are running a four-way timeshare at tight end.

With Carolina allowing the sixth fewest opponent plays per game, they rank middle of the pack in passing yards allowed per game and in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, creating middling expectations for Joe Flacco in this spot.

RAVENS RUN OFFENSE

Only three teams in the NFL have faced fewer rush attempts than the Panthers, and only four teams have allowed fewer yards — in spite of Carolina ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry. Much like the Eagles, teams prefer to attack through the air against this team. (Last year, the Eagles were the only team in the league that faced fewer rush attempts than Carolina.)

When the Ravens do run the ball, they will be working behind an offensive line that ranks bottom eight in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards (Carolina ranks sixth in adjusted line yards on defense), giving the ball to a running back in Alex Collins who is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry on the season, and who has yet to top 68 rushing yards in a game. Collins is averaging two receptions per game, and can be counted on for a respectable stat line when he scores, and for a likely dud when he doesn’t. The Panthers have allowed only two rushing touchdowns to running backs. (Only three teams have allowed fewer.)

Javorius Allen will continue to handle passing downs, with target counts on the year as low as two and as high as eight. Only two teams have allowed fewer passing yards to running backs this year.

PANTHERS OFFENSE

This is an extremely difficult matchup for a Carolina offense that flows first and foremost through Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton. Starting with CMC: No team in the NFL has allowed fewer receiving yards per game to running backs than the Ravens, and only two teams have allowed fewer receptions per game to enemy backs. Only five teams have allowed fewer rushing yards per game to running backs. Only four teams have allowed fewer yards per carry. No team has allowed fewer touchdowns to the position.

Baltimore has also been elite against quarterbacks, allowing the second fewest fantasy point per game to the position, while allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt, the second fewest passing yards per game, the lowest catch rate in the league, and the fifth-lowest YAC per reception. Quarterbacks have had moderate success running against the Ravens, averaging 16.0 yards per game. Cam will have a tough time through the air and on the ground, but he should be able to at least double that mark of 16; he has at least 29 yards rushing in every game this year, with three touchdowns on the ground (to go with 11 through the air). Baltimore, of course, has allowed only 11 total touchdowns all season.

Through the air, Carolina is essentially a slower-paced, less-effective version of the Saints — with several speed guys (Curtis Samuel, Torrey Smith, and Damiere Byrd) who can open things deep, with a tight end in Greg Olsen who can work the seams and intermediate out routes, and with a big-bodied number one receiver in Devin Funchess. As with the Saints: volume on Carolina away from the backfield and the “big-bodied number one receiver” is a tossup. Samuel has seen recent target counts of 4 // 0 // 1. Byrd has only one target all year. Smith has produced 43 and 61 yards the last two games, but he is still a part-time player and is dealing with a knee injury. Alongside all these guys, Carolina still has Jarius Wright soaking up short-area looks and D.J. Moore mixing in for roughly 50% of the team’s snaps (with recent target counts of 4 // 5 // 5). Because this team is playing the Ravens, I imagine only half of you are actually reading this. If for some reason you feel compelled to attack in this spot, the most bankable workloads belong to Devin Funchess (recent target counts of 9 // 7 // 7 // 8 // 11) and Olsen (7 // 5 targets since he returned). None of these guys boast an above-average matchup, vs a Ravens team that has allowed fewer yards per game and fewer points per game than any other team in football. The Ravens are weakest against tight end (ranking bottom 10 in yards and receptions allowed) — though of course, they have allowed only one touchdown to the position (only two teams have allowed fewer).

JM’S INTERPRETATION

There is not a thing that jumps out at me in this game — and after poking around at the slate before starting the NFL Edge, it appears there will be much better spots than this. With that said, John Brown will surely make my early-week list, and if I go with a multi-entry tourney strategy this week in lower-dollar stuff, I’ll at least sprinkle in some of him for his big-play upside.

I don’t have interest in the possession pieces of the Ravens, as the great tackling of the Panthers leaves these guys as touchdown-dependent options — and even then, it would likely take multiple scores for Snead or Crabtree to be a true difference-maker.

The Baltimore rushing attack has not been of interest to me all season, and that won’t change in a tough spot. Rostering players against the Ravens is also something I have avoided, and it has worked out well so far. I expect to stick to that plan this week.