Carolina Panthers (5-8, 5-8 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (7-6, 6-6-1), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Panthers Stats and Trends
The Panthers are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games.
Carolina has played over the total in four straight games
Chuba Hubbard muscled out 9.3 FP in his first game since taking back over as the team’s lead runner, but he was hardly impressive and he needed a touchdown to avoid falling flat in Carolina’s loss to the Falcons in Week 14. Hubbard finished with 10/33/1 rushing without a target on 39% of the snaps while Ameer Abdullah led the backfield with a 59% snap share with the Panthers playing from behind for most of the game. Abdullah managed just 4/16 rushing and 2/17 receiving on four targets, but the snap distribution is notable since the Panthers will be underdogs against good run defenses in each of their final four games (@Buf, TB, @NO, @TB). Abdullah is going to be on the field more than expected as Carolina’s receiving back, and Hubbard is setting up to be a dangerous low-end RB2 who will be relying on touchdowns moving forward. That’s even more dangerous considering the only thing Cam is good at is scoring near the goal line at this stage of his career.
Cam Newton has now lost 11 straight games as Carolina’s starting quarterback dating back to 2018 after throwing another pick-six for the second straight game. He has three different in-game benchings over his last two games, but he does have rushing touchdowns in each of his first four games with the Panthers. HC Matt Rhule pulled Cam twice for P.J. Walker when the Panthers were in pass-heavy mode at the end of the first half and when they were losing by multiple scores late in the game. Rhule said after the game that Cam would remain the starter, but it’s clear Newton could be pulled more in the future with the Panthers entering their final four games as underdogs, including this week against a Bills’ pass defense that’s giving up the fewest FPG (12.6) to the position.
D.J. Moore played through a hamstring injury last week but he still posted 6/84 receiving on 10 targets against the Falcons. He’s now posted between 14.3-16.0 FP in each of his last three games since Cam took over and with Christian McCaffrey out of the mix. The Bills have been stingy against WRs all season, but Mike Evans went for 6/91/1 receiving in Buffalo’s first real test without Tre’Davious White at cornerback.
Robby Anderson is back and dominating in December once again after posting season-highs in targets (12), target share (34%), catches (7), receiving yards (84), and FP (21.4) in a loss to the Falcons in Week 14. The Panthers came out slinging it to Robby in their first game after firing OC Joe Brady during their bye in Week 13. He could take on a bigger role if Moore is out or limited with his hamstring injury this week, but this is a tough matchup against a Bills’ defense that’s giving up the fewest FPG (26.5) to WRs.
Brolley’s Bills Stats and Trends
Buffalo is 2-5-1 ATS in its last eight games.
The Bills are 5-2 toward unders in their last seven home games.
The Bills waited a week too long to get Josh Allen more involved in their rushing attack, but we may have seen why Buffalo was hesitant to run him more against the Patriots. He held his Week 14 post-game press conference with a boot on after spraining his foot in their loss to the Buccaneers. The injury didn’t slow him down in the game as he registered his third performance with 36+ FP this season. He completed 36/54 passes for 308 yards (5.7 YPA), two TDs, and one INT and he added a season-high 12/109/1 rushing with OC Brian Daboll featuring him on five designed runs — he averaged 1.8 designed runs per game in his 12 contests. Allen may miss and/or be limited in practice this week, but he’s fully expected to play through his injury with the Bills fighting for their playoff lives. The Panthers have allowed just one quarterback (Taylor Heinicke) to reach 18+ FP against them in their last seven games.
Stefon Diggs’s downfield timing with Allen has been off the last two weeks with several missed connections for potential big plays/touchdowns, and he didn’t get much help from the officials last week. He still finished with 7/74 receiving on 13 targets against the Buccaneers, which gives him 14+ FP in seven of his last eight games — the one dud game in the wind game against the Patriots. The Panthers are giving up the fifth-fewest FPG (29.6) to WRs this season, but they struggled with the last #1 WR they faced as Jaylen Waddle went off for 9/137/1 receiving.
With Emmanuel Sanders going down with a knee injury last week, Gabriel Davis stepped into a more prominent role with 5/43/1 receiving on eight targets (15% share) on a season-high 87% snap share against the Buccaneers. Davis has reached double-digit FP in three of his last five games and he has two red-zone touchdowns in his last two games. The Panthers had given up four TDs to WRs in their previous two games in Weeks 11-12 before going against Atlanta’s weak receiving corps last week.
Cole Beasley failed to reach double-digit FP in four straight games before busting out with 9/64 receiving on 11 targets in an extremely pass-heavy script against the Buccaneers last week. He should also see a slight uptick in targets with Sanders out of the lineup. Russell Gage posted 4/64 receiving on six targets in this matchup last week.
Dawson Knox has reached 14+ FP in three of his last four games after finishing with 7/60/1 receiving on nine targets against the Buccaneers. Knox is now two scores away from reaching double-digit touchdowns and doubling his career total in two seasons entering this season. Kyle Pitts managed 5/61 receiving and Hayden Hurst scored a touchdown in this matchup last week.
Devin Singletary is the best option in this rough backfield with double-digit touches in three straight games. Zack Moss has been a healthy scratch in two of the last three games while Matt Breida has just five touches in the last two games. Singletary is coming off his second-best yardage game of the season with 4/52 rushing and 6/37 receiving, which resulted in his second-best fantasy game of the year with 14.9 FP. It’s difficult to trust anyone in this backfield, especially against a Panthers’ defense that’s giving up the third-fewest FPG (20.0) to RBs.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.4 (18th)
Plays per game: 60.9 (22nd)
Pass: 57.6% (24th) | Run: 42.4% (9th)
Pace: 27.1 (7th)
Plays per game: 62.0 (21st)
Pass: 67.2% (4th) | Run: 32.8% (29th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
After dropping three of their last four, the Bills are in a prime get-right spot here as 11-point favorites over the Panthers. This will mark the fifth time that Buffalo has been a double-digit favorite this season and they have covered in three of those 4 previous games with the lone exception being that weird Week 9 game against the Jaguars.
The Bills are going to do what they do here regardless of the score: Throw the ball. Over the last eight weeks, the Bills are the second-most pass-heavy team in close games, they are fourth in pass rate when trailing, and fifth when leading.
HC Matt Rhule fired Joe Brady and gave his Baylor buddy Jeff Nixon the OC job last week under the guise that Brady wasn’t running the ball enough. Well, the Panthers had to get away from the run last week once again because they trailed throughout and Chubba Hubbard is, well, Chubba Hubbard. Carolina ended up calling 36 passes to 26 runs against Atlanta. Even though Cam Newton struggled badly last week, I still think he is by far and away their best option to try and win games because of his running ability.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
The individual who should always be the first focus of our attention in the Bills offense is Stefon Diggs. However, he’s likely to draw coverage from Stephon Gilmore this week. If Gilmore’s metrics qualified, his 0.09 FP/CS would tie A.J. Terrell for the second-fewest this season. With Donte Jackson landing on IR prior to Week 14, Carolina re-signed Rashaan Melvin – released earlier in the season – and paired him with C.J. Henderson to man the right sideline. We still need more coverage data collected on Melvin. For Henderson, he’s allowing 1.94 YPCS and 0.48 FP/CS, averages that would pace all outside CBs for the most, if qualified.
With Emmanuel Sanders out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury, Gabriel Davis is going to step into an every-snap role on the outside.
The Bills have had their run defense exploited recently by Jonathan Taylor and Leonard Fournette, so Chuba Hubbard should not be immediately discounted. It appears he’s going to take on around 65-to-75% of the carry share, with Ameer Abdullah working in the change-of-pace role. Buffalo has gifted opposing RBs with 5.0 RZ touches/game during the last four weeks (eighth-most). But I would proceed with caution. The Bills dropped to 7-6 after losing to Tampa Bay last week. They are going to welcome the Panthers into their house with homicidal intentions.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Panthers are a complete mess offensively, so much so that they’re actively in a QB platoon — both Cam Newton and PJ Walker played last week, and both are expected to continue playing moving forward.
#Panthers HC Matt Rhule said they will continue to use both Cam Newton and PJ Walker at QB. Rhule also said Sam Darnold is getting close to returning and that could play a factor, but there's still time for that.— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 13, 2021
Yeah, the Panthers have initiated Sam Darnold’s (shoulder) window to return from IR, though there is apparently no guarantee he will play again this year.
Matt Rhule added that he's not really sure if Darnold will be able to return this season. https://t.co/HZ1cfWutiB— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) December 15, 2021
Rhule did mention that WR DJ Moore (hamstring) should be able to play on Sunday, but I thought one of the more interesting tidbits from our Adam Caplan’s weekly insider column last week was one of the reasons Joe Brady was fired: his inability to get Robby Anderson involved. Caplan insinuated the Panthers were unhappy with Brady not scheming Anderson and rookie Terrace Marshall enough, and he had a stagnated gameplan. Interestingly, in Jeff Dixon’s first game as OC, Anderson set a season high in targets (12), receptions (7), and yards (84). He also scored just his fourth TD of the season.
Here’s Graham with more from Stat-Pack on this offense:
DJ Moore has come back to life without Sam Darnold gone and has 14.9 FPG over his last three games.
Moore was averaging 9.6 FPG over his previous four games.
Ameer Abdullah out-snapped Chubba Hubbard (59% to 39%), but Hubbard got 10 carries to Abdullah’s 4.
Chuba has no upside as a receiver, though. He ran 9 routes to Abdullah’s 23 vs. Atlanta.
The Bills’ entire offense is QB Josh Allen, and now Allen is dealing with turf toe, which is exceptionally painful but is not expected to keep him out this week.
Sean McDermott on why he's confident Josh Allen should be ready to go Sunday: "They're [the training staff] comfortable with where he's at and he continues to trend in the right direction. He seems able to execute the job description that goes along w/the quarterback position."— Heather Prusak (@haprusak) December 17, 2021
Against the Bucs last week, Allen became the fourth QB all-time to have 50+ attempts and 10+ carries in a game vs. the Buccaneers. Our Greg Cosell called it a “warrior” performance.
Why? Because their RBs are utterly incapable of doing anything. Buffalo didn’t even try to run the ball with them against Tampa, as Zack Moss was inactive while Devin Singletary and Matt Breida combined for 7 carries. The Bills didn’t hand the ball off until the third quarter, and it came on a fake punt.
The knee injury to Emmanuel Sanders makes Gabriel Davis one of the most interesting WR3 options of the week, especially if we presume Stephon Gilmore will preoccupy himself with Stefon Diggs on Sunday. Here’s Scott Barrett from the XFP Report on Davis:
“Emmanuel Sanders suffered a knee injury last week, which is likely to cause him to miss this week’s game against the Panthers. That injury capped Sanders at just 32% of the team’s snaps, but catapulted Davis into a season-high 80% route share. And Davis proceeded to hit season-highs by a number of other metrics.
He scored 15.3 fantasy points (season-high) on 9 targets (season-high). 2 of those targets came in the end zone and 3 came inside the 5-yard-line, netting 18.6 XFP. That wasn’t just a season-high, but it also ranked 18th-most among all WRs on the week.
So, now, the question is — what’s the expectation for Davis this week without Sanders?
Despite the handicap of his part-time role, Davis has touchdowns in back-to-back games, and a 100-yard in Week 10 (39% route share). He’s run a route on only 40% of the team’s dropbacks this season, and he’s averaging 3.4 targets, 6.9 XFP, and 7.2 FPG. So, without Sanders, do we just double those numbers to get 14.4 FPG (~WR15 on the slate)? Or do we assume he gets 100% of the work? For posterity, that would come out to 8.5 targets, 18.0 XFP, and 17.3 FPG (~WR6).
Or do we just look at his numbers from last year? Davis has played on at least 66% of the snaps only 9 times (and only once in 2021). In those games, Davis averaged 5.6 targets and 10.4 FPG (~WR34).
Or do we treat him as exactly we would Sanders, who ranked 38th among all WRs in XFP/G?
Or is it exactly the sort of numbers he put up last week — 18th in XFP (18.6), 27th in fantasy points scored (15.3)?”
The Bills are simple for me. I’m certainly playing Allen, Diggs, and Cole Beasley. I like Davis as a WR3 for the reasons Scott outlined above. And I doubt you have a better TE option than Dawson Knox on your roster.