Kickoff: Sunday, January 9th at 4:25 PM ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Betting Odds: TB -8, 41.5 total via Oddsshark
Sam Darnold (Sit, Low-end QB2)
If you want to know where the Panthers’ quarterback situation is at, check out this gem of a quote from head coach Matt Rhule talking about the QB position, and potentially playing Cam Newton this week in addition to Sam Darnold:
“Yeah, absolutely. We just got P.J. [Walker] back today from COVID. Cam, we have Cam ready. So what that looks like exactly, obviously we’ll kinda keep under wraps a little bit because the benefit of somebody having to prepare for two or three guys helps us. But, yeah, we would have no problem playing two guys.”
I’m sure the Buccaneers will be up all night game planning for the trio of Darnold, Newton, and P.J. Walker, but for fantasy purposes, this saps what little (non-existent?) floor there was for Darnold as a starter if we can’t even count on him to play the whole game. He’s struggled to score even double-digit points per game since his hot four-week start to the season, and he likely should be on the bench even in super-flex leagues.
Chuba Hubbard (Sit/Low-end Flex), Ameer Abdullah (Sit/Low-end Flex)
Since we saw Christian McCaffrey land on IR, we have seen the following split in snaps at running back for the Panthers:
Week 14: Ameer Abdullah 59%, Chuba Hubbard 39%
Week 15: Ameer Abdullah 53%, Chuba Hubbard 47%
Week 16: Chuba Hubbard 49%, Ameer Abdullah 33%
Week 17: Chuba Hubbard 53%, Ameer Abdullah 48%
It’s been a relatively even split in the backfield with Chuba Hubbard dominating the red zone work (24 attempts), but you have to wonder how many shots the Panthers will even have at a touchdown this week. Hubbard’s 16 PPR points last week was his first double-digit PPR point week since Week 8, so while his usage makes him a potential low-end flex in a messy Week 18, you should be looking for other options.
Ameer Abdullah has seen between an 11-17% target share over these last four weeks, and with all of the wide receiver issues in Carolina, he could be in the desperation flex range as well. Abdullah has seen between four and six targets in all but one of the past nine weeks, it’s just an unexciting piece of the pie due to the struggling passing game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
D.J. Moore (Start, WR2), Robby Anderson (Sit, Injury), Brandon Zylstra (Sit, Deep Flex), Alex Erickson (Sit), Ian Thomas (Sit)
There’s good news and bad news here for D.J. Moore. Moore has seen 7 or more targets in every single game this year, and it’s hard to see that changing in Week 18. Robby Anderson has not practiced this week with a quad injury, though the Panthers are still holding out hope that he plays. Rookie receiver Terrace Marshall was also placed on IR this week with a foot injury, while Shi Smith found his way onto the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday. Moore will be heavily targeted on Sunday as long as he plays his full share of snaps, and there is no indication as of now that he won’t. The problem is, of course, the carousel of disappointing quarterbacks that will be rolled out onto the field for the Panthers in Week 18. Just two weeks ago Moore received a healthy 12 targets and a 28% target share against this Tampa Bay defense but was only able to produce five catches for 55 yards. He’s a rock-solid WR2 in PPR leagues, but he’s lacking much of a ceiling on a struggling offense, as evidenced by his four total touchdowns and 12 red zone targets on the season.
Robby Anderson‘s health concerns coupled with his subpar quarterback play put him off the starting map this week. If Anderson were to miss, it’s conceivable that Brandon Zylstra could soak up some short-area targets in garbage time, and Zylstra has four games this year with 30 or more receiving yards, each coming with much more target competition than he will likely face in Week 18. But it would have to be an awfully deep league for Zylstra to be on the fantasy radar. Alex Erickson is a special teams player that has had some moments in the past with the Bengals while operating out of the slot but has just three catches on the season.
Ian Thomas could conceivably see an uptick in usage with this desperation receiving corps, and he is coming off one of his best games of the season with three catches for 33 yards. But Thomas has been barely involved as a receiver despite playing 62% of the snaps on the year and has just three red zone targets on the entire season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady (Start, QB1)
All indications are that the Buccaneers are playing to win this week, and they could finish as high as the number two seed if things fall their way. That’s enough to make Tom Brady a strong starting option this week, as Brady was the QB3 and threw for 410 yards last week in their mess of a comeback victory over the Jets. Brady’s 14 points and QB18 finish just a couple of weeks ago against this same Panthers defense was certainly lackluster, but in a week full of quarterbacks that may play less than a full game of action, Brady seems likely to provide a more than capable performance for your fantasy team. There are also some interesting records and incentives that Brady is chasing, which will be a theme for this Tampa Bay passing game this week.
Tom Brady is chasing some records, but also earns $562,500 for being top five in any of the following:
-TD passes ✅
-pass yards ✅
-completion percentage or YPA
A big game that nets Brady the record could also get him the sweep.https://t.co/VZm0ObNWiP
— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) January 3, 2022
Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Start, Low-end Flex), Le’Veon Bell (Sit/Low-end Flex), Ronald Jones (Sit, Injury), Giovani Bernard (Sit)
What happened here? It seemed like just the other day that Leonard Fournette was steam-rolling his way into RB1 status, and while he returned to practice on Thursday, he will not be eligible to return until after the regular-season finale. Ronald Jones‘ status as lead back was short-lived, as he has been spotted in a walking boot and has yet to practice this week, seeming unlikely to suit up on Sunday.
That leaves a muddled backfield heading into a matchup against a Panthers defense that has allowed the third-fewest PPR points to the running back position on the season. With Jones leaving mid-game last week with an injury, Le’Veon Bell lead the way with 35% of the snaps followed by Ke’Shawn Vaughn with 32% of the snaps (Jones played 27%). To make matters even more confusing, Vaughn suffered a rib injury against the Jets, though he has practiced fully this week, and third-down back Giovani Bernard is attempting to return from his multi-week absence. It’s hard to trust anyone as of this writing, though there may be RB2 or flex value come Sunday when we have more clarity. Bell and Vaughn are in flex consideration for now, while I would imagine Bernard sees a very limited role, if any at all, in his first action in over three weeks. If I had to pick one it would be Vaughn, as the second-year player should have more gas in the tank than his veteran competition.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Mike Evans (Start, WR1), Cyril Grayson (Start, Flex), Tyler Johnson (Sit), Rob Gronkowski (Start)
Mike Evans is the last man standing of the elite Tampa Bay trio of wide receivers, and despite some hamstring issues was a full practice on Thursday. Evans needs 54 receiving yards this week for his eighth-consecutive 1,000-yard season to start his career, a number I would be shocked to see Brady fail to funnel Evans’ way. The Panthers have a stout defense, but with few other options in the passing game and a mess of a Week 18 slate to deal with, Evans is a back-end WR1 and should be in your lineups.
Cyril Grayson has come out of nowhere the past two weeks, hanging lines of three receptions on three targets for 81 yards against the Panthers in Week 16 and six receptions on eight targets for 81 yards and a touchdown in a crucial spot against the Jets last week. The snap shares are impressive as well, with a 79% rate in Week 16 and a 64% share last week. With Antonio Brown out of the picture, the Buccaneers need someone to step up, and Grayson has certainly done that. Grayson is just 5’9″ and is a 28-year old third-year player, so we likely haven’t unearthed a hidden gem here in dynasty leagues. But with question marks all over the league in Week 18, Grayson is at least a hot hand with a hall of fame quarterback who needs options in the passing game, making him a reasonable flex play this week.
Tyler Johnson has had his share of chances and did produce a four-catch, 50-yard performance last week, but Grayson eating into his work makes him someone best left on your bench.
Rob Gronkowski is a clear start this week with the lack of dependable options in the Bucs’ passing game and is likely the TE5 or higher in most rankings. These incentives should give you even more reason to get him in your lineup, as Brady should hook up his long-time friend this week.
Earns 500K for any of the following:
-750 rec yards
– 9 TD receptions
Currently Gronk is at 48/665/6 ie he needs 7/85/3
Bruce Arians is adamant that TB is not resting on Sunday.
— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) January 3, 2022
-Erik Smith (u/truebest on Reddit, @ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)