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Expert fantasy football advice: Breaking down Bills-Panthers

Quarterback

Team Pos Player Pass Pass Yds Pass TDs INTs Rushes Rush Yds Rush TDs Standard PPR
CAR QB Cam Newton 32.0 231.1 1.7 0.8 4.8 22.6 0.3 19.0 19.0
BUF QB Tyrod Taylor 33.6 222.1 1.0 0.5 5.0 27.1 0.2 16.0 16.0

Cam Newton (CAR) is an every-week starter right now in season leagues, despite a shaky outing in Week One that did nothing to quiet shoulder concerns.

On DraftKings and FanDuel this week, Newton's high TD equity (accounts for a large percentage of Carolina's TDs because of how they use him as a rusher inside the 5-yard line) on a Panthers team with a high 25 team total gives him tournament appeal. However, the opportunity cost this week is significant with some of the league's best QBs lining up for shootouts, particularly in the GB-ATL and NE-NO games. You can't justify using him in cash games.

As we said last week, Tyrod Taylor's (BUF) rushing ability generally gives him enough of a floor that he's startable most weeks in 12-plus team leagues. Once again, though, we'd like to look elsewhere if possible, which is the beauty of streaming the QB position in one-QB leagues. Last week our preferred streaming pivot off of Taylor was Sam Bradford, and this week it's Carson Palmer.

Taylor should throw more this week, but the Bills Vegas implied team total is a full touchdown less than last week. On the road against a better defense, Taylor should also see a fall off in efficiency.

Running Back

Team Pos Player Rushes Rush Yds Rush TDs Receptions Rec Yds Rec TD Standard PPR
BUF RB LeSean McCoy 16.6 78.2 0.5 4.0 19.2 0.1 13.0 17.1
CAR RB Christian McCaffrey 11.5 50.7 0.3 3.6 34.3 0.2 11.4 15.0
CAR RB Jonathan Stewart 15.4 64.5 0.4 0.9 6.5 0.1 10.3 11.2
BUF FB Mike Tolbert 5.0 17.1 0.2 1.1 7.2 0.0 3.9 5.1

LeSean McCoy (BUF) came through for us last week, receiving the diversified usage we had hoped for: 22 carries for 110 yards and 5 catches off of 6 targets for 49 yards. Unfortunately, McCoy did not find the end zone. While it was frustrating, as a fantasy owner, to see Mike Tolbert as the lead back in a goal-line package early in the game, the TD that Tolbert vultured from McCoy in the second half was bad luck. McCoy hurt his hand on the previous play and had to come off the field.

The Tolbert TD vulture is a minor concern for McCoy. Keep in mind Mike Gillislee scored 9 TDs last season, and it had minimal impact on McCoy's gaudy season line total. The bigger issue with McCoy is a Bills offense that is unlikely to duplicate last year's efficiency, particularly on the ground (finished first in Football Outsiders rush DVOA). Reduced efficiency and negative game scripts, like the Bills project to face this week as 7-point road underdogs, could lead to some disappointing performances out of McCoy relative to his draft cost.

The key for McCoy is continued involvement in the passing game, which will allow him to accrue fantasy points even if rush efficiency, total carries, and TD chances drop off when the Bills aren't effective.

McCoy is an every week starter in every seasonal league imaginable, but unlike last week he's someone we're avoiding on DraftKings and FanDuel.

It is obvious that Mike Tolbert (BUF) is the primary RB backup to McCoy. Aside from some work in goal line packages, Tolbert spelled McCoy in between the 20's when McCoy rested after a couple of big plays. However, Tolbert's fantasy performance last week is much more noise than signal, largely a result of the most favorable matchup the Bills will have all season. He should be unowned in all but the deepest leagues.

On the Carolina side, Christian McCaffrey (CAR) rightfully has everyone's attention. Here's what we said about McCaffrey last week:

"McCaffrey is an explosive player, that will wreak havoc on any opposing linebacker trying to cover him out of the backfield. According to PlayerProfiler.com, McCaffrey has a 97th percentile agility score and had a 98th percentile College Dominator rating (percentage of team’s total yards and TDs)."

If you missed it in last week's article, it's also worth showing this training camp clip that highlights how much of a matchup nightmare McCaffrey will be for opposing linebackers in the passing game:

If you're a McCaffrey owner, you have to be thrilled with his Week One performance, even if the fantasy outcome wasn't special on the surface. McCaffrey out-snapped Jonathan Stewart 47 to 29. Greg Olsen was the only skill player to receive more snaps for the Panthers. McCaffrey was utilized on those snaps, receiving 7 targets and 13 carries.

The concern with McCaffrey as a fantasy RB is a low ceiling on rushing TDs in the red zone given the presence of Newton and Stewart and a reliance on big plays. The capped red zone usage is a legitimate concern. However, if McCaffrey is utilized every week like he was last week, the floor here is higher than we thought heading into the season, especially in full PPR formats. At that point (anywhere near the 20 touches he received Week One), McCaffrey's big play upside moves from a necessity for him to have fantasy value to a bonus. It might sound like semantics, but the risk-reward spectrum for McCaffrey is in a good place right now.

Jonathan Stewart (CAR) isn't fully in fantasy purgatory, but he's got at least one foot in that door. Stewart is now on the wrong side of a timeshare, and mainly receives low leverage opportunities – carries between the 20s. McCaffrey takes all the RB receiving production, and Newton cuts into Stewart's rushing TD upside. He's narrowly a Top-30 RB in standard leagues this week, but Stewart should be avoided in PPR leagues unless you're desperate.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Team Pos Player Receptions Rec Yds Rec TD Standard PPR
CAR TE Greg Olsen 5.0 66.4 0.4 8.8 13.8
CAR WR Kelvin Benjamin 3.9 53.0 0.5 8.1 12.0
BUF TE Charles Clay 5.1 43.3 0.3 5.8 10.9
BUF WR Jordan Matthews 4.3 45.7 0.2 5.8 10.1
BUF WR Zay Jones 3.7 40.0 0.2 5.0 8.6
CAR WR Devin Funchess 2.6 37.5 0.3 5.8 8.4

 

Greg Olsen (CAR), a tight end, actually tops all of the WRs in this matchup. Olsen is a tough start in daily dantasy leagues with some better value play options out there (our boy Coby Fleener is once again a strong target), but remains a top end play in seasonal leagues. Olsen finished second last year in targets (129) among tight ends and was fourth in YPT (Yards Per Target) with 8.32 among tight ends with at least 75 targets.

The other Carolina passing options are going to be volatile game to game because of their reliance on TDs. Both Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) (6-5, 240) and Devin Funchess (CAR) (6-4, 232) are massive red zone targets. However, limited volume between the 20's, especially in a game where the Panthers should be leading, gives them shaky floors. Benjamin will fall outside the Top-30 WRs on the week if he fails to find the end zone, but he is the only one of the two that you can use as your third WR in seasonal leagues. Funchess makes for a good deep league stash. He has Benjamin's size, but much more speed. Both Benjamin and Funchess are better fits for standard leagues over PPR leagues because of their TD dependency.

While Jordan Matthews (BUF) and Zay Jones (BUF) weren't bad investments at their preseason ADPs, you'll want to keep them on your bench in the short-term. There's more upside this week for them in PPR leagues because we expect the Bills to throw more often, but the Bills' distribution of targets last week was worrisome for their short-term outlook. It's only a one game sample, but just 29.62 percent of Taylor's passes last week were directed at WRs. That's a low number, and in the context of a run-first offense, it's death for the fantasy values of the receivers.

In a new offense with new WRs, Taylor did target Charles Clay (BUF) often. In fact, his 33.33% market share of targets was more than he had in any game last year. His snap count was equally as encouraging given that Clay rarely seemed at full health last season. Clay played on 65/77 snaps. We were overly pessimistic on Clay in Week One, and he looks like he'll be a viable TE in deep leagues or leagues where you're streaming the TE position. On DraftKings, Clay makes for a nice tournament pivot off of Coby Fleener, who we like but will carry meaningfully higher ownership.

Defense/ST

The Panthers are a Top Five Defense/ST on the week and should be started in all seasonal formats. The Bills are a bottom half defense for fantasy this week. Despite their stellar opening week performance, they make for an easy drop in seasonal leagues. If you drafted the Bills defense in fantasy, it was with the sole intention of spot-starting them Week One against the Jets. Nothing has happened to change that plan.

Michael Leone is a former Buffalo News sports clerk who has won several daily fantasy sports championships. His column will appear weekly at [BN] Blitz.

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