Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire
Each week, our writers will take a look at the fantasy-relevant things to watch for in every upcoming game. Today, it’s the Thursday night Week 10 matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Can McCaffrey replicate his performance from Sunday’s game?
As much as I would love to see it happen, this matchup poses more problems than you would expect from the 22nd ranked pass defense. C Ryan Kalil is currently listed as questionable for tonight’s game, with Ron Rivera saying he will be a “game-time decision,” which leave the Panthers without a five time Pro Bowl center who’s the main reason Carolina is ranked #5 at blocking defenders coming up the middle. To make matters worse for RB Christian McCaffrey, the Steelers rank #1 at covering running backs in the passing game, so the versatile weapon could have trouble getting it going on both fronts. Despite the matchup situational not being favorable, McCaffrey has seen the same number of rushing attempts in goal-to-go situations in Weeks 8 and 9 as he did in Weeks 1-7, so there’s a greater likelihood for him to score than his track record for the entire season would suggest. His lowest fantasy output this season is 13.5 points, which is what RB Joe Mixon and RB Phillip Lindsay have been averaging this season, so there’s no reason to consider benching McCaffrey unless you play in 1RB leagues.
What can we expect from the Panthers’ receiving options?
Owners of WR Devin Funchess can groan in unison knowing that the Steelers are a top ten defense at covering opposing #1 wide receivers thanks to the play of CB Joe Haden. As you’ve probably read on a lot of other sites, it’s a very good time to trade for Funchess because of the schedule following this game, but you can likely wait until after this week if you’re not able to stash him or have a waiting period that won’t be overridden by the league commissioner. As for the rest of the Panthers, I’m buying back in on “One Leg” TE Greg Olsen. He saw the third most targets in the game against the Ravens, tied for the most targets in Sunday’s game against the Bucs, and is now facing a Steelers defense that ranks 26th against Tight Ends. As for which of the remaining players will emerge as this week’s Sleeper, I would think that Norv Turner looks to WR DJ Moore in a way more similar to his breakout game against the Ravens than how he was utilized on Sunday. The utilization does not guarantee the same production, but Moore is an intriguing flex play against a team that ranks outside the top 20 at defending slot receivers.
Is there anything to note about Cam?
Unless you’re rostering both QB Cam Newton and QB Patrick Mahomes, there’s no reason you should bench Cam in this matchup. It bodes well for him both in the passing and running game (Steelers rank 14th against the run), and he’s played nearly flawless football for the past month, only having thrown one interception in his last four starts while accounting for nine touchdowns in the same span.
Would you stream Carolina’s defense?
There’s always a lot of talk about Home Ben vs. Road Ben, but in both 2017 and 2018, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has not had drastic splits like he did in 2016. This year Roethlisberger has attempted 172 passes both at home and on the road, and his passer rating is only two points higher at home than it is on the road. Regardless, the Steelers’ offense is ranked seventh in weighted offense, and as a defense that’s been dependent on interceptions for their fantasy relevancy of late (four in the last two games, but only 14 points to show for it), I would shy away from starting them.
BOOM: QB Cam Newton
BUST: WR Devin Funchess
SLEEPER: WR DJ Moore
Will James Conner continue to roll against another top ten run defense?
The Carolina Panthers will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers for week 10’s Thursday Night Football game, bringing their top-ten ranked run defense with them. The Panthers are ranked 7th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA against the run and have given up the 6th fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this year. None of this should be a concern for RB James Conner, however, as Conner just had his way with the Ravens’ elite rush defense on the road in Baltimore last week. Conner now has 689 total yards in his last four games along with seven touchdowns and 20 receptions. He is seeing a number of touches and snaps per game that can only be matched by two or three running backs in the league. Start him in all formats.
Which Steelers pass catcher will see the most favorable matchup?
The Panthers have favorable DVOA rankings against wide receivers and have allowed the 12th fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers on the year. Against tight ends, however, the Panthers have a 27th ranked DVOA and have allowed the most yards per game to the tight end position. This has also translated to fantasy, as they have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends on the year.
Pittsburgh TE Vance McDonald has had an up and down year and is hard to trust, but in a great matchup, McDonald makes a top-end tight end starter this week, and a sneaky daily fantasy option. He saw about 60% of the offensive snaps last week, with TE Jesse James taking about 40%. James’ production and matchup probably makes him playable in some super deep leagues, but McDonald is the only option in your typical league size. McDonald has disappointed before, but with the state of the tight end position, you should feel good about starting him this week.
What can we expect from the rest of the Steelers offense?
WR Antonio Brown has scored a touchdown in seven of eight games this season and has a six-game touchdown streak going. He is the focal point of the passing game, and despite the Panthers having the second best DVOA against number one receivers, he should be started in all leagues, and used in any Thursday night daily fantasy contests.
Number two pass-game option WR JuJu Smith-Schuster remains an excellent play despite his lackluster touchdown totals. His red game usage suggests he should have more than two touchdowns on the year, as he has frequently been targeted in scoring position. Smith-Schuster is a big play waiting to happen, and I will continue to bet on him exceeding his production going forward. Play him in all leagues, and if a shootout breaks out he could be a big beneficiary.
QB Ben Roethlisberger is always a good play at home and may see increased passing attempts if the Panthers prove to be a challenge to run against. Conner has taken away some of the fantasy glory lately, but Roethlisberger is always a potential week winner at home. While the Panthers have allowed the 12th fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, they did just allow four touchdowns last week to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and are certainly not a matchup to shy away from.
Can we stream the Steelers defense or kicker this week?
Normally the Steelers defense is in consideration at home because of their high sack total possibility. But the Panthers have put up 78 points on opposing defenses in the last two weeks, with the Ravens defense scoring -4 fantasy points two weeks ago. Stay away from playing defenses against the Panthers right now.
K Chris Boswell has missed four extra points this year and has only surpassed one field goal in a game twice all year. There are better options against a Panthers team that has allowed the sixth-fewest points to the position.
Boom: RB James Conner
Bust: Steelers Defense
Sleeper: TE Vance McDonald