Kickoff: Sunday, November 19th, 1:00 PM ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Betting Odds: DAL -10.5, O/U 42 via OddsShark
Writer: Nick Beaudoin
Dak Prescott (Start, QB1)
Dak Prescott has been on fire. He has four straight QB1 finishes, with 14 total touchdowns (including two on the ground) to just two interceptions. He’s averaging 338.5 passing yards per game and adding an average of 22.5 yards per game on the ground. Typically, being a heavy favorite (-10.5) favors the running game from a game script perspective, but that same argument was made last week when the Dallas Cowboys were favored by -17.5 on the road against the New York Giants. They then proceeded to throw 45 times to beat the Giants 49-17 as their opponent trotted out a third-string QB. The Carolina Panthers have a stingier secondary than some realize, coming in 9th in PPG to opposing QBs, but that hasn’t deterred Vegas from giving Dallas the third-highest team-implied point total this week (26). Ride the hot hand and fire up Dak again as a QB1 against the Panthers.
Tony Pollard (Start, RB2), Rico Dowdle (Sit)
On behalf of the fantasy community, I’d like to file a complaint against the Cowboys’ general management and coaching staff.
You have ruined Tony Pollard. Nobody seems to be holding you accountable, but I will.
For the past two years, the general public and average fantasy managers have been shouting from the rooftops for more playing time for Pollard. They couldn’t possibly understand why last season’s RB8 couldn’t earn more playing time as you ran the ghost of Ezekiel Elliott into the ground. But they didn’t need to understand. It’s not their job to understand or know what’s best for the team. It’s yours. That’s why they are watching games from a couch, eating nachos, and yelling at the TV…while you’re running the Dallas Cowboys.
You understood that Tony Pollard is not a workhorse back and knew that his explosiveness and efficiency were directly correlated to him playing on limited touches. You knew that it was best to keep him fresh and get him in space, where he was most electric and could provide a big play for the offense.
Or at least I’m assuming you knew. Because if you didn’t, then I’d be very confused as to why were holding him back all that time, instead justifying yourselves with reporters, explaining that he has a 30-play max, “because then the juice doesn’t become the same and he’s not as quick, not as fast.” Can’t say I really understand any benefits of saying that, but either way, you stood your ground, and did what was best for the team, because you knew better. I commend you for that.
What I don’t understand is everything you’ve done since then, because none of it makes any sense.
Please make it make sense…and please fix Tony Pollard.
The Fantasy Football Community, and Cowboys Fans Everywhere
This offseason, Head Coach Mike McCarthy decided to let Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore walk, signing with the Los Angeles Chargers the very next day. Why, you ask, would a Head Coach allow their Offensive Coordinator, who led two straight top-3 scoring offenses walk out the door? Well, because according to McCarthy: “Kellen Moore wants to light the scoreboard up. I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense.“
Ah, yes. The classic “Too many points” defense. If I had a nickel…
So the Cowboys franchise-tagged Pollard, which was the right move after releasing Zeke. But seeing as they don’t consider him a three-down back, at least that’s what they’ve been telling us for years, they entered the offseason with big shoes to fill and a huge need at RB…especially if this was going to be an even more run-centric team. So what did they do?
Absolutely nothing. Nothing in the draft. Nothing in free agency. They disregarded the position entirely. After years of excuses, they take Pollard, coming off a broken leg, entering his age 26 season (which by the way, is generally considered the “cliff” for RBs in the Dynasty community), and they make him the workhorse back and put him in a position to fail.
At the end of Week 3, Pollard was averaging 24.7 touches per game and was the RB4 overall. This was by far the most consistent usage he had ever seen in his career, at age 26, after averaging 14.6 per game last year. Since then, we have watched a steady decline in every statistical category, with zero touchdowns since Week 1.
Even as they watch this unravel, they continue to do nothing. Nothing at the trade deadline. Nothing in free agency. Even Leonard Fournette, who is admittedly aging, but still had almost 1,200 yards last year, was just signed by the Bills two weeks ago. Why not bring in a bigger, bruising back to help lighten the load? Why not consider a capable veteran as the Cowboys prepare for a playoff run? Why continue mashing a square peg into a round hole? I wish I had answers.
I’m trying to be patient for you, Tony. I’m saying my prayers, thinking good thoughts, repeating my mantras, buying coffee for the person behind me. But I don’t blame you for this situation. Not one bit. With a nod to Good Will Hunting, it’s not your fault.
But the past is the past. All we can do is focus on the present. We thought last week was going to be the week, and we were wrong. With the Cowboys at home, as -17.5 point favorites, against a terrible New York Giants rushing defense, we thought that maybe….just maybe…we would see the fabled Pollard explosion game. Sigh…55 scoreless yards later, we’re right back where we started, just more frustrated than ever. Especially true for his fantasy managers who watched the game, who saw Pollard take two carries for 18 yards to the one-yard line, only for the Cowboys to throw a touchdown pass to Jake Ferguson instead.
Unfortunately, with the current state of running backs and four more teams on bye, you probably can’t afford to sit Pollard. Regardless, I’m still rolling with him in a (somehow) even better matchup this week. The Panthers enter the week ranked 31st in PPG to opposing RBs and have allowed the most touchdowns to the position on the season. Pollard’s usage has been safe, as he’s averaging 16 touches per game, and he did get three red zone carries last week. Perhaps this could be it! What could possibly go wrong?
Rant over. Start Pollard with much trepidation because you likely have no other choice.
Now, Cowboys fans are banging the table for Rico Dowdle, who has looked more explosive in limited work and outperformed Pollard across the board last week. Is any of this starting to sound familiar? For all the reasons stated above, I actually believe it’s very important for this team to get Dowdle more involved, a move that could benefit both running backs for fantasy (and health) purposes. Most of Dowdle’s work last week came in clean-up time, so I’m not buying the idea of him taking over the backfield yet. Nevertheless, he has proven to be an important handcuff who could play a crucial role down the stretch. He’s a sit, but he’s also a stash for fantasy managers with an open bench spot.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ceedee Lamb (Start, WR1), Brandin Cooks (Start, FLEX), Michael Gallup (Sit, FLEX), Jalen Tolbert (Sit), Jake Ferguson (Start, TE1)
It’s no coincidence that the rise of Ceedee Lamb coincides with Dak’s success, commanding an incredible 33.6 percent target share over the past four weeks as opposed to 18.6 percent over the first five. This is quite interesting if we zoom out for a moment. When designing more plays for your best player, everyone, including the team as a whole, does better. Huh.
Ceedee has been regarded for years as a Top 5 (arguably Top 3) WR in this league and is now flashing his true ceiling after a slow start to the season. In the past four games, he is averaging 10.8 touches, 160.8 yards, and one touchdown per game. As I mentioned, the Panthers are a bit stingier against WRs, coming in 7th in PPG. However, CeeDee still draws favorable individual matchups, specifically against SCB Troy Hill, who ranks as PFF’s 45th-best coverage CB this season. I’ve been firing up Lamb all season with WR1 expectations, and there is no reason to start doubting him this week.
— Law Nation Sports (@LawsNation) November 13, 2023
Brandin Cooks is going to be a popular name this week, coming off a nine-reception, 173-yard blow-up game, with touchdowns in three of the past four weeks. He has the second-highest snap percentage in that span, confirming that he has taken over the WR2 role on this offense. My fear with Cooks is what feels like inevitable touchdown regression. Before steamrolling the Giants last week, where the offense inexplicably had 45 pass attempts in a complete blowout, Cooks only had two weeks reaching 50 yards (50, 52), and five weeks under 27 yards.
I do believe in Cooks’ talent and think he’ll play an important role down the stretch, especially against the easiest remaining schedule to WRs. However, his floor is lower than people are willing to believe, as he is still the third receiving option on this team. With an implied total of 26 this week, Cooks should have a safe FLEX floor but could be bumped up to WR3 status if he continues this touchdown streak.
Michael Gallup also had 70 yards and a touchdown last week, but who didn’t? He had just two targets on the day, so he’s not a player I’m chasing this week. His talent keeps him in FLEX consideration, but he has shown a very low floor and is a sit for me as the fourth receiving option on the team. Meanwhile, Jalen Tolbert has been creeping into Gallup’s snap share but still isn’t on the fantasy radar quite yet.
Despite drafting Luke Schoonmaker in the second round, it has been the Jake Ferguson show this season. Ferguson comes in at TE9 on the season, averaging 5.4 targets and 41 yards per game, with four touchdowns. The Panthers rank seventh against opposing fantasy TEs, but PFF also has this matchup rated as highly favorable for the young tight end. Ferguson is very involved in this new-age Mike McCarthy air-raid offense, as promised; he currently has 14 red zone targets, which is the most of anyone at the position. Ferguson remains a solid TE1 this week against the Panthers.
Bryce Young (Sit, QB2)
Bryce Young has unfortunately done very little to instill hope for the Panthers this season. He is still very young and doesn’t have much talent around him, but I’m sure it doesn’t help to watch C. J. Stroud continue his record-setting rookie season with a win over Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Even in a great matchup last week against the Bears (29th in PPG), Young was still only able to finish as QB22 on the week. This week, his matchup will be much more difficult against a Cowboys defense ranking 11th in PPG to opposing QBs. With the third-lowest team-implied point total of just 16, I’m avoiding Young if I can help it.
It's been a rough start for Bryce Young's career, but how can he win when he's has this around him.
Mingo is the only long-term player. pic.twitter.com/V5PDwfnYVU
— SportsBruiserz (@SportsBruiserz) November 10, 2023
Chuba Hubbard (Start, FLEX), Miles Sanders (Sit)
Chuba Hubbard has seemingly taken control of this backfield, for whatever that’s worth, averaging 17 touches and 10 PPG over the past four weeks. Hubbard should remain the lead back in a negative game script, giving him a safe floor due to his volume and receiving role, but a low ceiling as well, as the Panthers are not expected to be in scoring position very often. Chubbard is a reasonable FLEX option this week.
Miles Sanders has done well for himself by becoming by far the highest-paid backup RB in the league. Although he actually looks healthy, he was barely involved last week, taking four touches for a mere 10 yards on only eight snaps. Maybe he will get more usage later in the season, but I can’t recommend using him until we see it.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
Adam Thielen (Start, WR2), Jonathan Mingo (Sit), D. J. Chark (Sit), Terrace Marshall Jr. (Sit), Hayden Hurst (Sit), Tommy Tremble (Sit)
Those of us who faded Adam Thielen have collectively rejoiced over the past three weeks, as his WR1 streak has come back to earth, averaging 47.7 yards per game with zero touchdowns. With that being said, I do feel confident about a bounce-back performance from Thielen this week. Despite these down performances, he is still by far the number one option on this team, averaging nine targets per game in that span. In an extremely positive game script, we can expect Thielen to once again receive an elite target share. If there is one place to beat Dallas, it is in the slot. He is projected to match up well with SCB Jourdan Lewis, who currently ranks as PFF’s 98th “best” CB in coverage grade. If the Panthers’ offensive line can protect Young long enough, Thielen’s volume should get him back into WR2 status this week.
Since Week 5, Jonathan Mingo has played 95 percent of the Panthers’s offensive snaps, averaged 5.2 targets per game, and has not finished with more than 10 PPR points. All of his matchups against the Dallas secondary project poorly for the rookie, and I’m not banking on this being his breakout week.
DJ Chark’s playing time has been on a gradual decline with the bump in Mingo’s. Chark also projects extremely poorly against Dallas’ secondary. One of Mingo or Chark may make it to FLEX territory, but if I’m in streaming territory, I’m looking for more upside elsewhere. Meanwhile, Hayden Hurst and Tommy Tremble make up one of the league’s most unappealing TE duos, splitting playing time on a poor offense with neither producing fantasy value. Sit them both.