Carolina Panthers (2-0, 2-0 ATS) at Houston Texans (1-1, 2-0), 8:20 p.m., TNF
Implied Team Totals: Panthers 25.75, Texans 17.75
Spread/Total Movements: 7 to 8, 44 to 43.5
Panthers Injuries to Watch: OG Pat Elflein (hamstring, IR), DE Yetur Gross-Matos (ankle, out)
Texans Injuries to Watch: QB Tyrod Taylor (hamstring, IR), WR Nico Collins (shoulder, IR), WR Danny Amendola (hamstring, out), CB Terrance Mitchell (concussion, out), DB Justin Reid (knee, questionable)
Brolley’s Panthers Stats and Trends
Carolina has covered in seven straight road games.
The Panthers are 4-1 ATS and 5-0 toward unders in their last five games overall.
The road team has covered in five of the last six Thursday night games.
Christian McCaffrey has totaled 130+ scrimmage yards and 29+ touches in each of his first two games after missing most of last season. Nick Chubb posted 95/1 rushing on just 11 carries last week while Demetric Felton finished with 2/51/1 receiving against this Texans’ defense.
Sam Darnold has looked the part in the early going with 584 passing yards while averaging 20.0 FP and 8.0 YPA. Baker Mayfield posted 213/1 passing and he added a rushing touchdown in a comfortable victory over the Texans last week.
D.J. Moore has firmly established himself as Darnold’s top WR in the early going, dating back to the final preseason game. He owns a 26% target share through two weeks and he’s turned his 19 targets into 14/159/1 receiving. Moore is also back to being an intermediate receiver with an aDOT of 9.5 yards after averaging 13.7 yards last season.
Robby Anderson’s role has been much more fragile this season with an 11% target share and a 57-yard touchdown is the only thing keeping him from fantasy irrelevant in the early going. D.J. Chark went for 3/86/1 receiving on 12 targets in this matchup in Week 1.
Terrace Marshall has just 6/43 receiving through two weeks and he finished a distant third in routes last week with 24 on 41 dropbacks (59%). TE Dan Arnold made the bigger impact with 3/55 receiving on four targets while running 16 routes compared to Ian Thomas’ 13 routes. The Texans have given up the second-most catches (9.0) and receiving yards (88.5) per game to TEs through two weeks.
Brolley’s Texans Stats and Trends
The Texans have covered four straight games as an underdog.
Houston has played over the total in four straight games.
Tyrod Taylor has already been ruled out for Houston’s Week 3 tilt with the Panthers on Thursday Night Football, and he could be looking at an absence of up to four weeks. Third-round pick Davis Mills will make his first NFL start. He completed 8/18 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown, and one INT in two quarters of relief action against the Browns in Week 2. The Panthers’ defense has looked like the real deal with just 21 points and 380 yards allowed (both NFL bests) in victories over the Saints and Jets to open the season.
Brandin Cooks was the only Texans’ receiver to see more than two targets last week and he finished with a 50% target share, and the receiving corps behind him has been thinned out. He’s scored 18+ FP in each of his first two games and he’s fifth in receiving yards (210). The Panthers weren’t tested much last week against the Saints and they’ve allowed just 124.0 yards per game to WRs through two weeks.
Mills will be down two of his top-three WRs with rookie Nico Collins (shoulder) and Danny Amendola (hamstring) out. Chris Conley ran the second-most routes (30) behind Cooks last week and Anthony Miller could get a jersey this week and play out of the slot. Jordan Akins ran more routes than Pharaoh Brown (17 to 12) but he managed just a 17-yard catch on two targets.
Mark Ingram led this backfield in carries (14) and rushing yards (41) last week but Phillip Lindsay scored the only touchdown in the group on a 22-yard pass. David Johnson ran by far the most routes with 15 and the Texans could face a negative gamescript as eight-point home underdogs. The Panthers just limited Alvin Kamara to just 30 scrimmage yards last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Week 1-2 – Pace (seconds in between plays): 30.8 (24th)
Week 1-2 – Plays per game: 65.5 (16th)
Week 1-2 – Pass: 57.1% (23rd) | Run: 42.9% (10th)
Week 1-2 – Pace: 28.6 (21st)
Week 1-2 – Plays per game: 66.5 (12th)
Week 1-2 – Pass: 49.3% (29th) | Run: 50.7% (4th)
Let’s just say that there have been better TNF matchups than this one. Overall, this game is right in the middle of the pack in terms of pace / play between the Panthers and Texans and could end up being even more sluggish with Davis Mills making his first start for Houston. Both teams have leaned heavily on the run to start the year – especially the Panthers. In fact, Carolina is the only team yet to find themselves behind on the scoreboard this season and are in another great position to find themselves in their third-straight positive game-script as 8-point road favorites here. Carolina’s D/ST sets up as one of the best plays of the week because they should be able to pin their ears back and attack with their front-seven that leads the league in pressures and sacks (per SIS) while Houston tries to play catch up.
(Note: We’re dealing with very small sample sizes early in the season – so I’m saving the deep dive into play-calling tendencies until Week 4.)
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
This ain’t the game for the Texan RBs. Carolina has placed its stamp across the foreheads of opposing backfields, limiting RBs to the fewest pure rushing FPG this season (2.9). LB Shaq Thompson will be serving up Mark Ingram II for a late lunch.
As for rookie QB Davis Mills, Houston’s O-line has done a decent job protecting the pocket through two games. And I think the matchup for WR Brandin Cooks is pretty good — he has the third-highest target share in the NFL, and he’ll align against mediocre CB Donte Jackson on about one third of his routes, and he typically does enough against the Panthers’ typical coverage shells to produce.
So my thinking is Mills will do enough to feed Cooks with a nice game, but fall well short of production elsewhere against a defense that has limited opposing QBs to the fifth-fewest pure passing FPG this season, especially given the state of the Texans’ other receivers.
Texan CB Terrance Mitchell will be held out with a concussion. Given that, this spot for D.J. Moore would improve further as 2018 sixth-rounder Tremon Smith will slide in to start on the right side. Houston’s defense has actually played quite well, limiting opposing WR units to the seventh-fewest FPG. But with the 12th-highest target share (28%) out of 102 WRs running at least 25 routes, Moore will easily be the top receiver option on Thursday night, and I like his overall body of work against the Texans’ typical coverage shells.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Let’s start with the Texans for this tilt, because frankly, I think the breakdown is super simple.
QB Davis Mills is starting, and he’s a rookie who our Greg Cosell believes would have benefitted from staying in school longer. He did OK in his first action last week against Cleveland when he was coming in cold, but against this Panther defense that has surprisingly been one of the best at getting to the quarterback — per SIS, it’s been the best, generating a pressure on a staggering 67.6% of opponent dropbacks so far. It’s not a great environment for Mills, with the Texans 8-point underdogs.
There are almost no appealing fantasy options in Houston, but at minimum, Mills did target Brandin Cooks on 9 of his 18 throws last week against Cleveland. One of them did go for a 2-yard TD, which is good news. The bad news is that those 9 targets resulted in just 28 yards and 4 receptions… a monstrous 3.11 yards per target. Again, Mills came in cold, and at least he knew who his best receiver was. But Cooks’ floor and ceiling are likely more volatile than they would be with Tyrod in there. Cooks is a low-end WR3.
With Nico Collins on IR and Danny Amendola out, Mills will be throwing to the likes of Chris Conley, Andre Roberts, and Anthony Miller when not targeting Cooks. May God have mercy on your soul if you’re playing one of them in a season-long league.
In the backfield, the Texans have an absolutely stomach-turning four-man rotation. Here are the snaps through two games: Mark Ingram (55), David Johnson (48), Phillip Lindsay (34), and Rex Burkhead (21). Johnson leads the lot with 27 routes run, while Burkhead is second with 17. Ingram, whom many blew FAAB on after his 26-carry Week 1, has run just 6 routes. With the Texans 8-point underdogs, Johnson is the “best” play, though as a low-end option RB4/FLEX.
Here’s some advice: play Christian McCaffrey. He’s racked up 59 touches in two games and played 71% of the snaps in Week 2… despite having to leave with cramps in order to get hydrated. The Panthers are 8-point favorites. He’s going to explode.
So… is Sam Darnold a fantasy option this week? The Texans have actually done a good job on opposing QBs so far, allowing just 20.3 FPG (18th in the NFL), but they faced rookie Trevor Lawrence and a shorthanded Baker Mayfield. Darnold has far more weapons. Meanwhile, per SIS, the Texans are generating pressure on just 30% of opponents’ dropbacks, 7th-fewest in the NFL.
Why is that important? Well, also per SIS, Darnold is 12th-best in on-target throws (80%) and seventh-best in passer rating (117.5) from a clean pocket out of 31 qualifying QBs. He’s been getting the ball to his weapons efficiently.
That’s good news for WR DJ Moore. He’s been Darnold’s guy so far, with 19 targets to Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall’s 9 a piece. And Moore is getting easier targets, too — last season, Moore was the Panthers primary deep threat and his average depth of target downfield was 13.6 yards. This year? So far, Moore’s aDOT is 9.5 yards. He’s excellent after the catch, and those targets will be much juicier for fantasy. He’s a WR1 in this matchup.
Meanwhile, Anderson has an aDOT of 21.9, third-highest among WRs. If that continues for Robby, he’ll simply need to hit on a big play to produce for fantasy, much like he did in Week 1 (and did not do in Week 2). He’s a dart-throw WR3. The rookie Marshall is playing roughly half of Carolina’s snaps and is splitting action with Brandon Zylstra. He is not a fantasy option until further notice.
If you’re looking for a dart-throw TE, Dan Arnold has run 34 routes, behind the big three WRs and McCaffrey, and has 5/61 through two games. However, he played just 29% of the snaps in Week 2, so buyer beware.