The crumbling Panthers will host the Seattle Seahawks this week in a game the Seahawks need to win in order to hold up their end of the bargain for a do-or-die Week 17 showdown with the 49ers (the winner of that game – if each wins this week and next – would not only grab the division, but would also likely grab a first-round bye, while the loser would have to play one week later on the road). The Seahawks are unsurprisingly six point road favorites in a game that sets up well for their desired approach: exerting their will with a physical run game, and using this run game to set up a few shots downfield.
Early in this game, we should see the Seahawks focus on the ground game – leaning on Chris Carson (eight games this year of 20+ touches, including six games of 24 or more touches) in an effort to chew up clock and race toward a fourth-quarter lead in a matchup they should be able to close out fairly easily down the stretch. On the other side of the ball, however, will be a fairly aggressive Panthers offense that ranks second in pace of play and is perfectly willing to take shots downfield. This creates an interesting setup, in that there is a very clear scenario in which the first few Panthers drives stall out, while the Seahawks comfortably eat up clock with multiple long, run-focused drives that end in points and put the Panthers in a hole. From there, the Seahawks would be able to continue chewing up clock while the Panthers struggle to come back with a one-dimensional offense. There is also a scenario, however, in which the Panthers are able to find holes in the Seattle zone defense, and are able to keep pace as a result. The Seahawks rank 17th in DVOA on defense and have allowed the seventh most yards per game and 11th most points per game, while their tendency to push opponents to the air (third highest opponent pass play rate in the league) has led to above-average production piling up against them in the pass game. Seattle has allowed the following notable stat lines to pass catchers on the year ::
No matter how this game plays out, Chris Carson is one of the more interesting options on the slate: a fairly yardage and touchdown dependent running back, but in a tremendous matchup with what should be a locked in role. Carson isn’t quite game flow independent, but most scenarios for this game have him heavily involved, especially with Rashaad Penny now on I.R. (it would likely take the Panthers grabbing a commanding early lead for Carson to not get his touches).
On the Panthers side, Christian McCaffrey is entirely game flow independent, as he will be heavily involved in the pass game against a Seattle defense that is middling against running backs both on the ground and through the air. Even if the Panthers fall behind, CMC will be the engine of the offense, keeping him (as always) in the floor/ceiling mix. D.J. Moore is in the same boat as Chris Carson, in that there are game flow scenarios in which he would be mothballed and fail to see his recent levels of volume (recent target counts of 9 // 10 // 11 // 15 // 9 // 12 // 6), but most setups for this game have Moore heavily involved once again. Moore has posted at least 70 yards in eight of his last nine games, and his new downfield role in this offense (as explored in the space for weeks on end) has given him plenty of upside. The price has finally caught up with the usage, but in terms of raw expectations he has clear paths to production in this game. Ian Thomas (61 out of 71 snaps last week) saw 10 targets a week ago, and while that level of volume shouldn’t be expected here (Greg Olsen only reached 10 targets in a game once all season), the matchup is solid against a Seattle defense that has allowed the second most catches and the most yards to tight ends. Curtis Samuel has become the forgotten man, and it is interesting to at least keep in mind that the Panthers had a new play caller last week in Scott Turner, when Samuel saw only four targets (tied for his fewest on the year). Before last week, Samuel had seen recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 6 // 4 // 7, and he is certainly still in the “big play for upside” conversation.
The rest of the Seattle attack is far more heavily dependent on game flow – requiring the Panthers to keep pace, and otherwise leaving you to simply bet on big plays or hope to guess right on touchdowns. Russell Wilson has been fairly dependent on shootouts to get his receivers enough points to justify their price tags (Tyler Lockett’s only truly useful games against his Week 15 price tag came in a 40-34 game vs the Bucs and a 27-33 game against the Saints, while DK Metcalf’s only useful price-considered game also came in that game against Tampa), so if betting on the Seattle passing attack, you should also bet on how you think the Panthers will jump out to that big lead. Russ, on the other hand, has shown an ability to produce at a high level in a few spots without pulling his receivers up with him, so while he is likeliest to only end up on a tournament winning roster with a shootout developing around him, the Seahawks tendency to turn to the air near the end zone (as well as the Seahawks tendency to lean on the deep ball) do open paths to Russ producing a big game himself without an elite game environment around him (and without any of his pass catchers rising up the ranks with him). If choosing to bet on Russ and wanting to pair him with a pass catcher while not paying the elite price tags of Metcalf and Lockett, Jacob Hollister is also in play, even in a tough matchup (no team has allowed fewer receptions to the tight end position than Carolina) – with recent target counts of 6 // 10 // 4 // 8 // 6.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It’s not as if Chris Carson is underpriced for his role and for the matchup, as both of these factors have been weighed into the pricing already; however, he does stand out in this spot as a solid floor, high ceiling guy – a player who has a shot to rank among the more important plays on the slate. I doubt he will quite be a staple piece for me, but I will certainly have some Carson mixed in, and depending on where the field ends up on this play, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself a bit overweight against the field myself. The rest of the Seahawks are less likely to be in the rotation for me, though I will always be willing to compare Russ against whatever else is available at the quarterback position.
On the Panthers side, I like McCaffrey and Moore in the same way I have liked them for the last month and a half: as strong plays for the upside, though not exactly necessary when compared against their price tags. There are enough other high-end, high-priced receivers available this week that Moore is unlikely to be a priority for me, but I don’t yet have as good of a feel for running back, and McCaffrey is always in the mix. I’m also up for keeping Ian Thomas in mind if Olsen misses (with Olsen attractive as well if he plays), while Curtis Samuel seems to go on my list every week, though he also seems to be drawing less and less actual attention from me when I go through my builds.
The likeliest scenario in this spot has the Seahawks taking a lead and then shortening up this game from there — but there are enough paths to production for the fast-paced, concentrated Panthers at home that I’ll mix these guys through my late-week thought process to see how they stack up against the other available pieces on the slate.