Thursday night has the Falcons visiting the Panthers in a 49 point total game with Carolina currently favored by a field goal. The big news is if Christian McCaffrey will return. He practiced on Monday but has not yet been designated to return from injured reserve. The beat news I’ve seen seems to think it’s possible but not likely that he plays, so I’m going to write this up as if he’s out and will adjust if we get news before Thursday.
The Panthers are one of the easiest teams to figure out (and as such I wish they played more Showdowns). Their RB1, in this case Mike Davis, gets basically all the running back work; no split backfields here. Davis has performed well in CMC’s absence, with three 20+ Draftkings point games before running into the elite defenses of the Bears and the Saints the last two weeks. The Falcons are a major pass funnel, ranking eighth in run defense DVOA but 30th against the pass, but Davis’ expectation is boosted here. Both by his locked-in volume as a three-down home favorite and by a Falcons defensive scheme that allows for more passes to running backs over the past few years than any other team in the NFL. He’s a rock-solid play who should be priced closer to $10k than $8.8k. Behind Davis you could take an MME shot at Trenton Cannon, a gadget back who would need to break a long touchdown to be relevant but has the speed to do it.
The Panthers passing game is nearly as simple: it’s Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore, followed (a fair distance back) by Curtis Samuel and Ian Thomas. Rotational pieces Chris Manhertz and Seth Roberts have a total of five and six targets on the year, respectively, and are thin MME dart throws. Anderson is slightly ahead of Moore in targets on the season, while Moore is well ahead in air yards; both are great plays in this matchup against Atlanta’s horrible secondary. I prefer Moore at $1,000 less but both are solid. Samuel is priced up a little bit from where I was hoping to find him after his big game last week and is in a weird price point as the only player between $4,200 and $6,400. I expect that will lead to him carrying slightly higher ownership than otherwise as rosters that find themselves in that zone for their final player will shove him in. Ian Thomas is tempting in a great matchup at just $2,600 as a full-time receiver, but while he’s on the field a lot, he’s only seen more than two targets in one game; the Panthers just aren’t using him, rendering him just an MME punt play (but, if you’re going to punt, I prefer punting with someone who’s on the field a lot rather than someone like Cannon). The matchup is so strong and the volume is so concentrated that the Panthers passing attack is an all-around fantastic play, but expect the field to recognize that as well and for all of these core Panthers plays to carry very high ownership.
On the Falcons side, they’ll be taking on a Panthers defense that is a run funnel, ranked 13th in DVOA against the pass but just 26th against the run. Todd Gurley has been getting plenty of work, seeing 20 or more carries in three games so far. His pass game work is coming along as well lately with 12 targets in his last three games. Gurley is also second in the league in red-zone carries behind only Derrick Henry. He’s a road underdog, but if you think Atlanta can keep the game close and not have to abandon the run, he’s a great play here. Behind Gurley, Brian Hill has taken over the backup role from Ito Smith, which has come along with two or three targets in every game. Hill has only seen three red-zone touches, so the ceiling is really limited, but he’s a strong floor play who has at least some slim paths to upside. If you want to get really off the wall, Keith Smith is a guy who nobody will be on but who has seen at a target in four of six games so far - this is obviously super thin but the value plays are pretty dubious in this one.
In the air, Calvin Ridley has been the leading Atlanta receiver so far, seemingly taking the WR1 role away from Julio Jones. Aside from a very strange zero against Green Bay, Ridley has scored at least 18.9 Draftkings points in every single game, including 24.6 when these two teams met in Week 5. However, since Julio Jones returned in Week 6, Julio has out-targeted Ridley 19 to 14. That’s a fairly small sample size so I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from it, but I think Ridley is the more popular play right now so there’s leverage in being overweight to Julio. At $4,200 Russell Gage brings a reasonable floor and some optimism for ceiling as the Panthers defense has limited deep passing, playing to his slot role skillset. Gage missed some time with an injury in Week 7 but returned to the game and still caught seven balls. Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake, and Brandon Powell (who stepped in when Gage was hurt) are your MME punts, with Zaccheaus at least flashing some upside in the Packers game when Julio left early. At tight end Hayden Hurst is a bit on the pricey side for his volume and role; he has enough upside that you’ll want exposure in tournaments, but Samuel and Gage are stronger plays at a cheaper price.
The way this plays out is going to be dictated by the Falcons, who have all the offensive pieces to put up a lot of points but who have, in three of the last four weeks, failed to get much going against fairly mediocre defenses (including these same Panthers in Week 5). If the Falcons can get it going, the Panthers will be attacking their atrocious defense all game along. If the Falcons stumble, the Panthers will be able to play more conservatively. I’ll lean on Vegas for the “likeliest outcome” and think the Falcons score well enough to at least keep it competitive, which really matters more for Todd Gurley than anyone else. Some other ways the game could play out:
In Week 5 these teams played to a 23-16 Panthers victory. In the second meeting of the year, so close to the first one, a similar lower-scoring game is certainly on the table, and it would not surprise me at all to see the Panthers stomp the Falcons easily.
I also want to talk a bit about salary and roster construction in this one. Both teams feature very focused offenses and there aren’t a lot of viable plays priced below the kickers, which means we’re going to see some very narrow roster constructions in tournaments. Think about how you want to attack this: if you’re trying to be unique, that’s going to mean either using some really thin punt plays, or leaving a lot of salary on the table to try and differentiate. Or, if you’re happy playing for first with a “what’s likeliest to win” approach and don’t care how many people you might split it with, the constructions are pretty straightforward.
My cash game pool is the QBs, Davis, Gurley, Moore, Gage, the kickers, and maybe Hill. Value is tough here - I certainly love Anderson, Ridley, and Julio as well, but it’s tough to get to them without more value available.
In tournaments, my favorite captains are Davis, Moore, and Gurley in that order, though given how narrow these offenses are I will have exposure to all the main guys.
SOME GROUPS TO CONSIDER:
At most 1 kicker and most 1 defense as (almost) always
Pair captain receivers with their QBs (or consider boosting the QB if using a captain receiver if you don’t want 100% exposure to this pairing - discussed in further detail in the 2020 update to my Advanced Showdowns course)
If using an RB captain, apply a negative correlation to the opposing defense and kicker (you can see how to do so in my FantasyLabs tutorial video)
Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
At most 1 of Hill and the Smiths (Ito and Keith)
At most 1 of the ancillary receiving options for each team
WANT MORE XANDAMERE?
From JM: If you’re taking Showdowns seriously this year, I strongly encourage you to check out X’s Unfound Optimals and Single-Game Mastery. These two courses are legitimate game-changers for Showdown players (as always, the first lesson of each is free, and can be found in the Marketplace). If you didn’t pick up X’s Advanced Showdowns last year, the Everything Xandamere bundle also saves you over 15%!