Monday Night Football
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
Vegas Projected Score: N/A
Reeling after three straight losses, the Bucs head to Carolina as seven-point dogs against a Panthers defense that got carved up by Matt Ryan for last week's overall QB1 finish. At the root of Carolina's struggles is an inability to generate pass rush, ranking 28th in quarterback hits (15) and 19th in pass-defense DVOA. The Panthers also stamp out the run, creating a pass funnel for enemy signal callers. It should be noted Ryan is the only quarterback to truly exploit Carolina so far, however, and Jameis Winston has been a trainwreck over his last three games with nine turnovers and ten sacks absorbed. Winston was picked off six times in last year's two meetings with the Panthers. I'm viewing him as a boom-bust QB1 play. ... The Panthers held 49ers, Vikings, and Falcons RBs to a combined 66-191-1 (2.89 YPC) rushing line in Weeks 2-4, and they have limited enemy backs to just 31.5 receiving yards per game. This is an imposing matchup from all angles for Charles Sims, who lost a fumble in last week's loss to Denver and managed a putrid 37 yards on 17 touches. Sims' playing time dipped from 73% in Week 3 to 56% in Week 4. The good news is Sims should maintain a stranglehold on lead back duties over journeyman No. 2 back Jacquizz Rodgers, who lacks a featured-runner skill set to a greater extent than Sims. It's really on coach Dirk Koetter to find ways to get Sims into space as opposed to banging him between the tackles. Sims had nine catches at Carolina when these teams met last Week 17. He can still pay dividends as a low-end RB2 in PPR leagues. Sims is a weaker flex in non-PPR.
Saturday Update: Sims is nursing a knee injury that kept him out of practice through Friday. Late Friday, Koetter said Sims would be a "game-time decision" for Monday night's game. If Sims can't go, the Bucs would likely turn to Rodgers as their primary back with UDFA grinder Peyton Barber mixing in for some between-the-tackles carries. Rodgers is a longtime favorite of Koetter and would be set up for 14-19 touches, making him an appealing PPR flex option on volume alone.
Winston's Weeks 1-4 target distribution: Mike Evans 48; Adam Humphries 29; Vincent Jackson 27; Cameron Brate 25; Sims 19. ... Panthers rookie CB James Bradberry suffered a toe injury early in last week's loss to Atlanta, and RCB Bene Benwikere proceeded to get dusted for most of Julio's 12-300-1 eruption. Benwikere was promptly released on Friday, and Bradberry is out for Monday night. Evans leads the NFL in targets and is seventh in receiving yards (360). He should be a monster in this game. ... Jackson hasn't reached 50 yards in a game since Week 13 last year, and hasn't scored a touchdown since last Week 11. ... Brate's playing time has been on a steady incline the past three weeks (41% > 75% > 85%), and his 18 targets over the last two games rank second on the Bucs. The Panthers have fared poorly against tight ends, giving up 3-93-1 to 49ers TEs in Week 2, 8-88-1 to Vikings TEs in Week 3, and 3-45-2 to Falcons TEs in Week 4, most notably coughing up big plays to Vance McDonald and Austin Hooper. We're obviously in small sample sizes, but Brate's usage since Austin Seferian-Jenkins' meltdown suggests Brate needs to be taken seriously as a potential every-week TE1. ... Slot man Humphries predictably vanished against Broncos shutdown slot CB Chris Harris in Week 4. Humphries' weekly target totals have been all over the map at 5, 8, 12, 4 through four games. Humphries may need an injury to another pass catcher to become a trustworthy PPR play.
Late-week reports indicated the Panthers were likely to start Derek Anderson in place of Cam Newton (concussion). If so, Anderson would be in prime streamer position against a pass-funnel Bucs defense that is dealing with up-front injuries to DT Gerald McCoy (calf), DE Robert Ayers (ankle), DE Noah Spence (shoulder), and DT Clinton McDonald (hamstring). In two spot starts against the Bucs in 2014, Anderson posted weekly fantasy finishes of QB12 and QB7, and he came off the bench in last week's loss to Atlanta to post a QB19 finish in less than a quarter, albeit with garbage-time assistance. The Panthers consistently play no-huddle/up-tempo at home, and OC Mike Shula confirmed this week the approach won't change with Anderson under center. The Bucs gave up the QB6 finish to Matt Ryan in Week 1, the QB4 finish to Carson Palmer in Week 2, the QB17 finish to Case Keenum in Week 3, and the combined QB12 finish to Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch last week. Anderson can be erratic and his passes can lack touch, but he has a cannon arm and is willing to attempt any throw. ... Although Fozzy Whittaker will continue to dominate passing-game work, Newton's absence would also upgrade the outlook for Cameron Artis-Payne because CAP's touchdown projection would no longer be as inhibited by Newton's goal-line role. The Bucs' run defense has been impenetrable as usual, but that could easily change due to McCoy, Spence, McDonald, and Ayers' injuries. Artis-Payne is worth a look as a low-end flex play in non-PPR leagues. Whittaker has 14 catches the past two weeks and remains the superior PPR asset.
As mentioned above, Anderson has more than enough ability to make all throws -- especially in the vertical game -- and his under-center presence isn't a notable downgrade for the Panthers' front-line pass catchers. Kelvin Benjamin went 6-92-1 and 8-104-0 in Anderson's two 2014 starts. The Bucs have been torn to shreds by enemy receivers, allowing a league-high nine TD passes to the position including stat lines of 6-94-1 (Demaryius Thomas), 8-88-1 (Emmanuel Sanders), 6-81-1 (Larry Fitzgerald), 5-82-1 (Tavon Austin), 5-80-1 (Mohamed Sanu), 4-66-1 (Julio Jones), 2-78-1 (Jaron Brown), and 2-53-1 (Brian Quick). Benjamin is an elite WR1 play in this matchup. ... Greg Olsen recorded 8-83-1 and 10-110-0 in Anderson's 2014 starts. Although the Bucs haven't given up much tight end production so far, the best tight end they have faced was Jacob Tamme in Week 1 and he caught six passes for 51 yards against Tampa Bay. With Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) still rounding into form and Jordan Reed facing the Ravens, Olsen is the top fantasy TE1 play on the board this week. ... Corey Brown caught a garbage-time touchdown pass from Anderson last week, but the Panthers' rotational pass catchers behind Benjamin and Olsen are tough to take seriously as Week 5 fantasy plays. Brown, Devin Funchess, and Ted Ginn will compete for complementary looks as they continue to split sub-package receiver snaps.
Score Prediction: Panthers 24, Buccaneers 21