Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4, 7-7 ATS) at Carolina Panthers (5-9, 5-9), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Buccaneers Stats and Trends
The Buccaneers are 4-1 ATS in their last five games.
Tampa is 2-5 ATS in its last seven road games.
The Buccaneers have played under the total in five straight games against a team with a losing record.
A Tom Brady-led offense got shut out last week for just the third time in his career and for the first time since 2006. Brady posted season-lows in YPA (4.5) and in passer rating (57.1), but he played severely undermanned with Mike Evans (hamstring) and Leonard Fournette (hamstring, IR) both leaving. The biggest injury of the night came when Chris Godwin tore his ACL on a low hit, which is a major blow for this offense moving forward. The Panthers have given up 21+ FP and three passing TDs to Josh Allen and Taylor Heinicke in two of the four games since Cam started putting their defense in bad spots.
Mike Evans is the one injured Buccaneer who could have a chance to play this week, but the organization will take the long view if he isn’t close to full strength. Evans had 12+ FP in six of his last seven games before he left last week with just one catch. Breshad Perriman and Scotty Miller could take on bigger roles if he’s unable to play this week.
Antonio Brown is set to make his return against the Panthers after sitting out the last nine weeks for a foot injury and for a three-game suspension for a fake vaccination card. AB had 13+ FP in four of his first five games this season, including 7+ catches in his final three games before his extended absence. Brown could be on a snap count this week after missing more than two months of action, but at least Brady has chemistry with him if he’s down some of his top options this week. Stefon Diggs posted 4/35/1 receiving on seven targets in this matchup last week.
Tyler Johnson should step into Godwin’s spot in the slot moving forward. Godwin is entering free agency this off-season and he’s not guaranteed to be ready for the start of next season, so this is a mini-audition for Johnson through the end of the season after underwhelming while AB was out of the lineup. He saw a season-high seven targets last week, which he turned into 4/41 receiving against the Saints. Cole Beasley posted 4/35 receiving on eight targets in this matchup last week.
Rob Gronkowski had a miserable night against the Saints last week, mustering just 2/29 receiving and a season-low 4.9 FP despite seeing a season-high 11 targets. He should continue to have a large role this week no matter who suits up for the Buccaneers, as he’s seen 8+ targets in five straight games since he returned to the lineup. Dawson Knox posted 4/38 receiving in this matchup last week, and the Panthers are giving up the 11th-fewest FPG (11.5) to the position this season.
Ronald Jones will get a crack at the lead runner role for the next three weeks with Lenny landing on the injured reserve this week. RoJo is averaging an excellent 4.7 YPC in limited work (71/337/3 receiving) this season, and this week’s potential gamescript and Tampa’s WR injuries are setting him up for potentially a sizable role in his first game as the top back. Ke’Shawn Vaughn will also factor in this week after he played 26% of the snaps last week compared to RoJo’s 30% share. The Bucs also signed Le’Veon Bell for insurance if RoJo and Vaughn continue to disappoint Brady and this coaching staff. The Panthers gave up 22/86/1 rushing to Devin Singletary last week, and they’re giving up a fairly generous 100.2 rushing yards per game (10th-most) and 4.2 YPC to RBs this season.
Brolley’s Panthers Stats and Trends
Cam Newton has now lost 12 straight games as Carolina’s starting quarterback dating back to 2018, and he’s yet to cover a spread in four starts this season.
The Panthers have played over the total in five straight games.
Cam Newton has a rushing touchdown in each of his first five games with the Panthers. HC Matt Rhule stuck with Cam for the entire game in a 17-point loss to the Bills in Week 15, and he turned in 24.3 FP with yet another rushing TD and a passing TD. He completed just 47.4% of his passes while averaging a miserable 4.1 YPA, but he went down as one of the top fantasy QBs in Week 15. Sam Darnold could also see playing time this week, which certainly makes Cam a risky fantasy option. The Bucs just smothered Taysom Hill last week, limiting him to 154 scoreless yards and 11/33 rushing for 9.5 FP.
D.J. Moore is hanging in there with Cam at quarterback, posting 12+ FP in each of his first four starts. He’s seen 10+ targets in three straight games and he’s posted 4+ catches in 13-of-14 games. Moore has scored just once in his last 10 games to cap his upside. Marquez Callaway erupted for 6/112 receiving on nine targets in this matchup last week, and Moore posted 95+ yards and 20+ FP in both matchups with Tampa Bay last season.
Robby Anderson turned 12 targets into a season-high 21.4 FP in Week 14 against the Falcons, but he couldn’t quite keep it up in Week 15 with just 3/29 receiving on eight targets (21% share). He at least added 33 rushing yards to finish with 9.2 FP in a difficult matchup with the Bills. The Buccaneers limited Tre’Quan Smith to 2/17 receiving on three targets last week.
Chuba Hubbard finished with 8/40 rushing with a one-yard catch on his only target 47% of the snaps against the Bills last week. Meanwhile, Ameer Abdullah led the backfield for a second straight week with 53% snap share with the Panthers playing from behind for most of the game. He caught all four of his targets for 48 yards and a TD and he added 4/7 rushing for 15.5 FP. The Panthers enter this week as 11.5-point home underdogs and the Buccaneers are giving up a league-low 63.8 rushing yards per game, so this game is setting up much better for Abdullah. It doesn’t hurt that the Bucs are giving up the second-most catches per game (7.2) to RBs.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.5 (3rd)
Plays per game: 66.0 (6th)
Pass: 69.3% (1st) | Run: 30.7% (32nd)
Pace: 28.6 (18th)
Plays per game: 62.1 (22nd)
Pass: 55.6% (26th) | Run: 44.4% (7th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
As is the case for every game this week, availability is a huge cause for concern. The Bucs (-10) are getting a ton of deserved respect from the markets, but Tom Brady is going to be down three of his main weapons. At least AB is back, but it does bring into question whether or not Tampa remains as the most pass-heavy offense in the league since they’re down Chris Godwin and likely Mike Evans, too.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are averaging a measly 16.5 points per game over their last four games with Cam Newton (mostly) under center. Carolina has been forced to undergo a massive, philosophical change with Cam being so scattershot. After an efficient first start against Washington in Week 11 where Cam completed 78% of his passes for 7.0 YPA, he’s cratered to a 46% completion rate and 5.2 YPA over the last three weeks. As a result, the Panthers have all but scrapped their passing game and are now tied with the Eagles in run rate (55.4%) when the game is within a score. Obviously, keeping this game close will be a tall task for the Panthers regardless of the Bucs’ injury woes. I’d suspect we’ll see a near copy of last week’s script for Carolina where Cam had to drop back to pass 42 times in their loss to Buffalo.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Antonio Brown and Mike Edwards returned from suspension for violating the joint COVID protocols set forth by the NFL and NFLPA. Le’Veon Bell was signed to the roster. And Breshad Perriman should be ready to be re-inserted into the lineup after he’s activated from the COVID list. With an underwhelming wideout rotation consisting of Perriman, Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller, and ‘21 fourth-rounder Jaelon Darden, the return of Brown provides the Bucs with its featured playmaker. When he injured his ankle in Week 6, AB81 paced Tampa Bay WRs with 34 receptions, 2.82 YPRR, a 122.9 TPR, was tied with Evans with four TDs, and only trailed Evans by two receiving yards for the team lead. You can’t help but draw parallels from TB’s current situation without Godwin and Evans to both being injured back in 2019 when Perriman closed out the season averaging 5.7 receptions, 116.3 receiving YPG – eclipsing 100 yards in each, 1.3 TDs/game, and 28.4/22.6 FPG over the final three games.
The alignment percentages actually indicate that Brown’s station on the right sideline will place him into the coverage rotation of C.J. Henderson and Rashaan Melvin. But I am confident enough in Brown this week and in his role in this offense that, even if Phil Snow chooses to shadow Brown with Stephon Gilmore, my view of the matchup for AB is unaltered. In fact, I’m counting on Gilmore in coverage.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
It’s getting hard to trust any Panthers for fantasy. The one guy who was somewhat consistent — and I stress somewhat — was WR DJ Moore, who is dealing with a hamstring injury and is questionable.
Matt Rhule says he thinks DJ Moore will be a game-time decision on Sunday.— Jonathan M Alexander (@jonmalexander) December 22, 2021
Oh, and if Moore does play… we don’t know who will be throwing him the ball. Coach Matt Rhule is bringing back the QB platoon! But now, instead of PJ Walker as the #2 with Cam Newton, it’ll be Sam Darnold.
While I think we know the answer to the question, it does from one perspective make sense for the Panthers to get some reps for Darnold.
Matt Rhule says they have a plan for Sam Darnold Sunday but is not ready to unveil it until Sunday.— Jonathan M Alexander (@jonmalexander) December 24, 2021
Cam Newton will start.
Panthers are on the hook for $19M for Darnold next season and nothing for Newton, who hasn't played himself into another season. May as well give Darnold a few starts even if the results will probably only re-enforce the need to find another option in 2022 https://t.co/VdXskoJDNy— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) December 22, 2021
It’s just bad news for fantasy overall. It’s not like Newton was playing well, but Darnold’s performance was horrific. If Moore can’t play, that would open up options for Robby Anderson. But Anderson has averaged nearly double the FPG (11.2) in games without Darnold this year as opposed to games with Darnold (5.9). Given this QB situation, the Bucs’ run defense, and the overall mediocrity of RB Chuba Hubbard, I wouldn’t be opposed to benching every Panther this week if Moore doesn’t play.
The Bucs are in a world of hurt after last week. QB Tom Brady got shut out for the first time since 2006, while the Bucs lost WR Chris Godwin (ACL) for the remainder of the year and beyond, RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring) for the rest of the regular season, and WR Mike Evans (hamstring) for potentially a game or two — he’s out this week at least. That could make things dicey here.
Fortunately for the Bucs, they have a pretty damn good backup option in WR Antonio Brown. AB hasn’t played since Week 6, when he suffered a pretty severe ankle injury. He might have returned by now if he didn’t also get suspended for faking his vaccination status, an incident that absolutely pissed off Bruce Arians and led many to speculate if Arians would flat-out cut the WR. But winning always matters, and on the heels of the Buccaneers losing two star WRs to injury in Week 15 the Bucs will welcome the, *ahem*, mercurial receiver back with open arms. We presume, however, he’ll have his hands full with top CB Stephon Gilmore, making him a WR2.
Brady will also likely throw the ball a bunch to TE Rob Gronkowski, which we’ve seen before!
Here’s Jake Tribbey from the DFS Early Look on Gronk:
“Chris Godwin is out for the year with a torn ACL, Mike Evans is questionable with a hamstring injury, and Antonio Brown hasn’t practiced since Week 6. There’s a real chance the Buccaneers offense will run through Rob Gronkowski in Week 16.
Last night, with both Godwin and Evans injured mid-game, Gronk set a season-high in targets at 11. Granted, it translated to just 4.9 fantasy points, but Tampa Bay was shut out in their worst performance of the Tom Brady era, so Gronk’s underperformance isn’t without reason. And prior to Week 15, Gronk still ranked 2nd among all TEs in FPG (15.5), 1st in red zone targets per game (1.3), and 1st in end zone targets per game (1.0). Now, Chris Godwin leaves behind 2.1 red zone targets per game (2nd among WRs) and 0.8 end zone targets per game (tied for 1st among WRs). Just how many of those high-value targets end up going Gronk’s way is anyone’s guess, but as an all-time red zone threat, he’s sure to benefit from Tampa Bay losing their top weapon in and near the end zone.
Carolina ranks as a neutral matchup for opposing TEs in the metrics that matter to me, but they have funneled targets to TEs this season, allowing 25.7% of their opponents targets to go to TEs (9th-most). So, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect one of Gronkowski’s highest-volume games of the season this week. Prior to Week 15, Gronk has averaged 17.3 FPG in the six games he’s earned 8 or more targets, a mark that’s just 1% less than the slate-leading TE (Mark Andrews).”
In the backfield, I have no interest in the recently signed Le’Veon Bell. He just provides insurance over the inexperienced and mistake-prone Ke’Shawn Vaughn. The guy I want, as frustrating as he’s been for fantasy… is Ronald Jones. RoJo made four spot starts with Fournette out or limited last season and was extremely productive…
Week 4 vs. Chargers – 26 touches, 128 scrimmage yards, 0 TDs.
Week 5 vs. Bears – 20 touches, 125 scrimmage yards, 0 TDs.
Week 6 vs. Packers – 25 touches, 121 scrimmage yards, 2 TDs.
Week 14 vs. Vikings – 19 touches, 84 scrimmage yards, 1 TD.
So as much as I hate to admit it, I can rank RoJo as an RB1 this week.
If you’re looking for an immediate fill-in for Godwin, the Bucs have a ready-made one — second-year man Tyler Johnson. Johnson was a Slot God at Minnesota in college, but fell to the fifth round in the 2020 NFL Draft because of athleticism concerns.
#Bucs HC Bruce Arians says there’s no doubt that Chris Godwin is one of the hardest guys to replace in this offense. They’ll need guys like Tyler Johnson to step up.— PewterReport (@PewterReport) December 22, 2021
However, Arians has also been very open about where Johnson needs to get better.
Some excellent detail from Bruce Arians on Bucs Total Access in here, including his thoughts on Scotty Miller's struggles and how Tyler Johnson needs to be betterhttps://t.co/YpNpYp3bqN— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) December 22, 2021
From the Pewter Report piece linked above:
Johnson was the receiver most expected to step into a bigger role. He’ll need to now, with the injury to Chris Godwin. But Johnson has really failed to impress despite ample opportunity this season. He has just 27 catches for 288 yards and zero touchdowns on the year. Against the Saints, Johnson caught four of seven targets for 41 yards.
“Tyler played ok,” Arians said. “He can block a whole lot better. And he needs to do a better job of getting open when Tom needs him. He got covered too many times one-on-one in that game.”
Johnson is a tenuous WR3, but Brady might have no choice but to target him.