SEAHAWKS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW
The NFC playoff race is shaping up to be a blast down the stretch, with the 5-5 Seahawks and the 6-4 Panthers right in the thick of things. Neither team is particularly aggressive on offense — each ranking bottom 10 in pace of play and top 10 in fewest opponent plays allowed per game. Each team leans run-heavy, with Carolina ranking 13th in rush play rate and the Seahawks ranking first as they push for the highest NFL rush play rate in years. Each team also ranks top eight on offense in rushes of 10+ yards, while each defense ranks bottom eight in rush plays of 10+ yards allowed. This run-leaning approach on both sides (and the expected success of the run on both sides) should lead to this game sailing by without a huge number of plays piling up. In addition to each team ranking near the top of the league in fewest opponent plays allowed per game, each team ranks in the bottom half of the league in plays run.
With each team carrying some issues on defense against the run, neither side has been able to notch above-average marks in drive success rate allowed. The Panthers — as noted in this space repeatedly lately — also struggle to prevent these sustained drives from turning into touchdowns, as they rank 31st in red zone touchdown rate allowed. Seattle ranks 18th in this department.
This game has been awarded a healthy Over/Under of 47.5 — a bit surprising given that only four of the Seahawks’ 10 games have gone above 42 points, and each of these teams tend to play to their opponent, essentially opening up the offense only when forced to do so. In order for this game to really pop in the box score, one team will likely have to gain a two score lead and force the other to respond. If this happens, each quarterback is certainly capable of putting the offense on his back and making things happen in a big game for both sides.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
Carolina’s zone-heavy coverage scheme is all about limiting yards after the catch — allowing a middling aDOT, a middling catch rate, and the third lowest YAC/R rate in the league, leading to this team ranking a respectable 12th in yards allowed per pass attempt. There are 11 teams that are allowing more passing yards per game than the Panthers, though only three teams have allowed more passing touchdowns, as the red zone issues for this team continue to affect their bottom line.
From a real-life perspective, this is a fair setup for a quarterback in Russell Wilson who has been asked to throw more than 31 passes only once in his last eight games, and who has not topped even 250 passing yards since Week 1 — but who has managed to toss 23 touchdown passes on the year, with only one game all season under two scores through the air. Now over his early-season hamstring issue, Russ has also run the ball five or more times in four of his last five games (piling up rushing yardage marks across his last five of 20 // 15 // 41 // 92 // 17), creating some opportunity for him to post a strong game in this spot.
With only three games all year of more than 19 completions for Russ, and with this team spreading the ball around, it has been difficult to get excited about any individual pass catcher — with a number of “useful box scores” supported by touchdowns, but with no true upside games from this group all season. Recent target counts among primary pass catchers on the Seahawks look like this:
Since Baldwin returned, the Seahawks have been primarily using him on routes around five to eight yards downfield with only sporadic downfield targets mixed in, while Lockett has been used at all levels (often taking on targets over the deep middle) and Moore has been used to space the defense with downfield routes along the sidelines. Moore quietly has the sixth deepest aDOT in the NFL.
If targeting this passing attack, volume and yardage are not likely to fall in your favor, which leaves you betting on an upside play or a touchdown. Efficiency also matters in a passing attack with such limited volume, which makes it worth noting that Lockett has converted 79.2% of his targets into catches // Baldwin has converted 76.9% of his targets into catches // Moore has converted 56.3% of his targets into catches.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
The Seahawks lead the NFL in rush play rate and in rush attempts, though they continue to make life difficult on the fantasy community — now dividing snaps among all three backs. In this team’s important Week 11 win over the Packers, Chris Carson played 30 snaps, Rashaad Penny played 17, and Mike Davis played 22. Pass routes were divided fairly evenly among the three (eight for Penny and Davis; 12 for Carson), while Carson took the lead in carries (17 — compared to eight for Penny and four for Davis). This team has only produced six games this year of three or more catches for an individual back in this rotation, with Davis seeing three of those games, Penny seeing two, and Carson seeing one, making each guy fairly yardage-and-touchdown dependent.
Your best bet for a useful workload is Carson, who has four games of 17+ carries — to one such game for Davis and none for Penny. All three guys will likely remain involved this week, and touchdown opportunities will be awarded based on who is on the field at the time.
PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE
With Seattle limiting opponent play volume, they have faced the ninth fewest pass attempts in the league, while ranking middle of the pack in both yards allowed per pass attempt and passing touchdowns allowed. This defense has focused on forcing teams to throw short — knocking over 5% off the league-average aDOT, but allowing a middling catch rate and boosting YAC/R rate by over 8%.
This setup meshes fairly well with what has primarily become a short-area passing attack for the Panthers under Norv Turner, who has encouraged Cam Newton to take what the defense gives him more often, leading to Cam notching the eighth lowest average intended air yards in the league. Cam has topped 300 passing yards only twice all season, but he has two or more passing touchdowns in nine consecutive games, and he has rushed for 29 or more yards eight times (while adding four touchdowns on the ground). Another 250 to 270 passing yards with two to three touchdowns and some added value on the ground is a fair expectation in this spot, against a Seahawks team that has been above-average, but ultimately non-threatening vs the pass.
The Panthers continue to spread the ball around among their pass catchers, with recent target counts looking like this:
Torrey Smith returned to practice on Wednesday and could take away some snaps from Moore while taking away two or three targets from this group, though ultimately, Moore has played too well to drop below the five or six targets we can generally expect from him (even in the three games before Smith went down, Moore saw target counts of 4 // 5 // 5). Moore is being used at all levels between five and 20 yards — so while he’ll need another broken play in order to provide big value at his five to six target projection, he has shown us a couple times this year why we have been excited about him since the preseason. You should be fully aware by now of what his floor looks like, but there is talent-driven ceiling as well.
Funchess is what he is: a guy who will catch-and-fall a few times per game, and who will provide value when he scores while disappointing when he doesn’t. He seems to have a lifetime pass in this offense, with guaranteed targets regardless of how he performs, so pencil him in for another five to seven looks.
Samuel’s workload is scary to bet on, given that he has not topped even 19 snaps in the Panthers’ last three games — but when they have him on the field, they usually have a few plays designed to go to him, which will give him an outside shot at hitting.
Olsen has the most challenging matchup against a Seattle team that has allowed the fourth fewest receptions to the tight end position — though he does have four scores in his last five games as Cam’s most trusted weapon near the goal line.
PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE
Only four teams are allowing more yards per carry than the Seahawks, though volume is also a bit of a concern in this spot for the home team, as the Seahawks have slowed down games enough to face the fifth fewest rush attempts in the league, while also allowing the 11th fewest running back receptions. The good news in targeting the Panthers’ backfield is that this team, more than any other in the NFL, is truly a one-man show. Last week, the Panthers played 58 snaps, and Christian McCaffrey was on the field for all 58 of them.
CMC has topped 14 carries only three times all season (17 // 17 // 28 in those three games), he has cracked 80 rushing yards only once, and he has a middling red zone role (only two targets inside the 10; only six carries inside the five), which — as noted in the space ad nauseum — makes it tougher for him to post one of these monster scores we are optimally chasing from our high-priced running backs. But he also has six or more targets and five or more catches in all but two games this year, with at least 50 receiving yards in four of his last five games. This matchup sets up for another high-floor game from McCaffrey, with touchdowns in the mix to give him a shot at a spiked-week score.
Nothing on the Seahawks fits with my style of play (betting on volume and taking players who carry both a high floor and a high ceiling — while optimally targeting explosive, multi-use running backs in the backfield), and while Lockett and Russ, in particular, have been able to consistently post useful lines on the strength of incredible efficiency, neither guy has risen above the “serviceable” level. I’ll be surprised if I end up on any plays on this side of the ball myself (if I do end up on one, Lockett is the likeliest bet, as he may prove to be one of the better options in his price range), though I do expect another solid game from Russ, and I expect one or two of his pass catchers (and probably one of these running backs) to join him.
I like a few things on the Panthers, but don’t love anything, with Cam and CMC standing out as very safe plays with a decent shot at upside, and with Moore and (to a lesser extent) Samuel standing out for their lower-floor upside. If paying down in tourneys to open up salary elsewhere, explosive players on a good offense are always a solid way to go.
That’s about it for me in this game, as I could see a solid output from Olsen or even Funchess, but there are better plays at their respective positions. A best case scenario here would call for Funchess (who missed practice on Wednesday) to miss this game, as this would bump up target projections for Moore, Olsen, and CMC by one or two apiece — though early indications are that Funchess will be fine, which will put him on the field to take away targets from these more explosive players throughout the game on Sunday.