Christian McCaffrey needs 67 receiving yards to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players in NFL history with 1k rushing yards and 1k receiving yards in the same season. That’s the main thing the Panthers are playing for here. The Saints, of course, need a win and a 49ers loss or a win and a Packers loss to secure a first-round bye — and given how massive home field advantage is for any team in the playoffs (and especially how important it is for this team), this is a game that the NFC’s eventual Super Bowl representative will be approaching with a “Charlie’s Angels 2” (full-throttle) approach. (Note: I’ve never seen Charlie’s Angels 2; but I did see Superbad a long time ago. “No, no. I’m gonna be there for sure. Full throttle. Charlie’s Angels 2.”)
The Matchup ::
- The Panthers — who rank second in pace on offense, but 19th in drive success rate — have allowed the most opponent drives per game, at 12.14
- The Saints — who rank 29th in pace on offense, but seventh in drive success rate — have scored the fifth most points per drive
- After ranking fifth in rush play rate last year, the Saints rank 12th in pass play rate this year — essentially turning “passes to Michael Thomas” into their run game
- Carolina ranks 32nd in run defense DVOA and ninth in pass defense DVOA, but they rank middle of the pack in opponent pass play rate
- The last time these teams met, Michael Thomas saw 11 targets and went 10-101-1
- Thomas has gone for 100+ yards in eight of his last nine games (in fact, his game against Carolina was his second lowest yardage total in that stretch)
- The Panthers currently appear set to be without D.J. Moore (concussion), who has recent target counts of 10 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 15 // 9 // 12 // 6 // 12; last week, McCaffrey picked up most of the slack in tying his season high with 15 targets
- Only five teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs than the Saints have allowed; CMC still went 9-69-1 on nine targets the last time these teams played
- Will Grier averaged an incredibly low 5.1 yards per pass attempt last week against the Colts’ 17th (DVOA) pass defense; the Saints rank 10th in DVOA against the pass
- Grier managed only five completions on 15 throws to Jarius Wright, Curtis Samuel, and Greg Olsen, for 69 yards
The Game ::
From a “journals of JM” perspective, it’s fun to note that this is my 200th game writeup of the regular season (if my calculations are correct), which makes it fitting that we have two teams in this spot that boast one of my favorite DFS elements :: a concentrated distribution of touches.
We’ll start on the Panthers’ side, where this game should be less about “trying to win” and more about “trying to get CMC to at least 67 receiving yards.” Starting from a place of “raw production,” there isn’t much to dislike for McCaffrey this week, as it’s unlikely this team does anything but hammer targets his way (in spots like this, we sometimes see the player in question enter halftime with less work than you would expect; but by the end of the game, things almost always even out). The biggest obstacle on McCaffrey’s path toward the 1k/1k club is going to be the Panthers’ likely inability to sustain drives against a Saints defense that has allowed the second fewest running back rushing yards and the sixth fewest running back receiving yards this year — with Will Grier looking like a poor bet last week to make up for any holes in CMC’s production to keep drives alive. And this is where our focus should be in DFS :: can Grier do enough to keep the Panthers’ drives alive and give CMC a chance to actually smash at his price? We should head into this game expecting McCaffrey to pile up touches (25+ touches in six of his last eight games), with Grier the biggest obstacle on McCaffrey’s path toward actual slate-winning upside at his elevated price.
Grier’s chances of succeeding in this spot are further limited by the potential absence of D.J. Moore (concussion), and by the opportunity this will give Marshon Lattimore to shadow Curtis Samuel on a good 60% of plays — which could effectively leave Grier working to Chris Hogan, Jarius Wright, and Greg Olsen behind CMC. From a “likeliest to happen” scenario here :: the Panthers will do enough to get CMC into the 1k/1k club (and to allow CMC to produce at his typical elite level — not quite enough to smash at his price, but certainly enough to make him worth the price tag if you can fit him without making sacrifices elsewhere), while not getting enough done in other areas (or scoring enough points as a team) to get any other players going to a level that would make them worthwhile in DFS. If you wanted to play alternate scenarios, however, we can note that it’s not unusual for a young quarterback to look better in his second start — and if Moore misses, we’ll have a narrow distribution of touches on a group of cheap players. The Saints have allowed adequate numbers to wide receivers and tight ends, though this has been more about how tough they have been on running backs than anything else, as teams have been filtered toward these other positions (something we aren’t likely to see here on a Panthers team that should be expected to emphasize McCaffrey). But this is more of a “below-average” matchup than a truly difficult one for the Panthers; and there are ways to make a case for moving outside McCaffrey in tourneys.
The Saints, of course, remain one of the easiest teams to break down, as ceiling expectations for this unit as a whole are lowered by the fact that they are playing away from the Superdome, outdoors, while usage-driven ceiling on individual pieces remains high enough to matter. We are well aware, by now, of just how bad the Panthers have been against the run this year, and we are well aware of the fact that the Saints will still emphasize Michael Thomas enough to make him worthy of consideration. It will be more difficult in this spot for Thomas to pop off for a monster game, though it would be silly at this point to project him for under 90 yards, and if he adds a two-touchdown game to his typical 10 catches for 100+ yards, you won’t mind what you paid for him. As has been the case for weeks: he’s more “fit him if it makes sense” than “go out of your way to prioritize him”; but if it makes sense to fit him, the chances are high that you’ll be happy with his production.
The backfield on the Saints is a bit more convoluted, as Alvin Kamara drew heavy ownership in Week 12 when these teams last played because, “of course he’ll smash against the Panthers” (and because, of course, most of the DFS community cannot properly remove name value and weigh price against expectations when assessing a play). Kamara floated his value in that game with nine receptions (allowing him to produce at a non-awful level, while still landing as a pretty significant price-considered disappointment), but he saw only 11 carries in that game — unsurprising, given that his carry counts since returning from injury now sit at 4 // 13 // 11 // 11 // 13 // 14 // 11. Kamara has still not topped 50 yards through the air since Week 3 and is more of a “bet on touchdowns” play than a “bet on him smashing in the yardage department” option — with a big yardage game considered merely a bonus. Last week’s “big game” gave Kamara his first scoring output since Week 3 that even matched up with what you’re targeting at his price.
Behind Kamara, Latavius Murray (nine or more touches in four of his last six games) continues to soak up enough work to dent expectations for Kamara while not seeing enough work to actually matter. He’s a “bet on outlier output” play.
Behind these core pieces, Jared Cook has been the main player producing — though he has only 10 total targets across his last three games, while his price and ownership are rising off his four touchdowns in this stretch, making him more boom/bust than his recent production makes things appear on the surface.
JM’s Interpretation ::
While I won’t know for certain where I’ll end up on all this until the NFL Edge is completed, it currently appears that there is not enough truly solid value this week for CMC or Thomas to become heavily involved in my rosters at their price tags, while I’ll likely leave the Panthers alone altogether if D.J. Moore plays (assuming that Moore soaks up the most work outside CMC, and that this leaves all players falling shy of price-considered expectations), while I may end up with a small amount of Samuel or Olsen if Moore misses. I actually like Kamara’s chances this week — though that will probably lead more to me “not shaking my head at people who roster him” than to me actually rostering him heavily myself, while Cook’s production has been too unsupported by volume for me to feel comfortable chasing.
Given how good the Saints’ offense is — and how concentrated the touches are on the Panthers — I’ll circle back to this game a number of times on Friday and Saturday as I work through my final thoughts on this slate; but as of right now, I expect to not end up with a whole lot of exposure here; not because there are no pieces I like, but instead because it seems likely that there will just be better ways to allocate salary this week.