Thursday Night Football
New Orleans @ Carolina
Vegas Projected Score: Panthers 27.75, Saints 24.25
Saints-Panthers has obvious shootout potential with the second highest game total (52) of Week 11 and offenses with explosive potential on both sides. New Orleans and Carolina have played to twin 41-38 and 41-38 results in their last two meetings. Although Cam Newton hasn’t quite lit up the box score since the Panthers’ Week 7 bye, he does have consecutive rushing attempt totals of 7, 7, 12 while the Saints have surrendered multiple touchdown passes in six of their last seven games, including multi-TD efforts to Trevor Siemian, Colin Kaepernick, and Alex Smith. Cam’s last four weekly fantasy finishes against New Orleans are QB1, QB3, QB1, QB6 with 15 all-purpose touchdowns. On Thursday night, Newton will catch a road-tripping Saints defense on a short week after it played a season-high 83 snaps including penalties in last week’s loss to Denver. … A good bet to rebound from last week’s clunker (13-39-0) versus Kansas City, Jonathan Stewart posted a 19-85-2 rushing line when these teams met in Week 6 and has a plus draw against a Saints run defense that ranks No. 21 in DVOA. New Orleans has allowed the NFL’s fourth most rushing touchdowns (12) and third most touchdowns to running backs (14). One approach Panthers OC Mike Shula may consider would be to implement a Stewart-heavy game plan in an effort to keep Drew Brees off the field. Although Stewart’s Week 10 carry total (13) was a season low, he lost only three touches to Fozzy Whittaker and played a season-high 74% of Carolina’s offensive snaps. Stewart should bounce back with 17-plus touches and is a solid bet to hit pay dirt in this game.
Cam’s targets since the Panthers’ Week 7 bye: Kelvin Benjamin 24; Ted Ginn 21; Greg Olsen 18; Devin Funchess 13; Corey Brown 8; Ed Dickson and Fozzy Whittaker 5; Stewart 3. … Although he hasn’t had a blowup game in a while, Benjamin has been one of fantasy’s most consistent WR2s with 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 8-of-9 games. Benjamin dropped 8-86 on New Orleans in Week 6. As Saints top corner Delvin Breaux chased Demaryius Thomas for much of last week’s game, I would expect Breaux to give Benjamin similar treatment on Thursday night, assuming Breaux plays after failing to practice this week due to a leg injury and showing up as questionable on the injury report. Thomas went off for 8-87-1 on 11 targets, getting the vast majority of that production against Breaux. … Olsen has five or more receptions in 8-of-9 games and has shredded the Saints historically with receiving lines of 6-94, 9-129-1, 8-134-2, 10-72-1 over these clubs’ last four meetings. Olsen should benefit if Breaux gives Benjamin any trouble. … Funchess beat Chiefs top CB Marcus Peters for a 38-yard touchdown in last week’s loss, but he played only 38% of the snaps and has topped five targets in just 1-of-9 games. Ginn logged a 74% playing-time clip and remains the best fantasy bet among Panthers complementary pass catchers with target totals of 8, 6, 7, 8 over Carolina’s last four games. Whereas Benjamin will run most of his routes at Breaux, Ginn will get more chances against journeymen Saints Nos. 2 and 3 corners B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore. This game’s shootout probability gives Ginn some longer-shot dart-throw appeal.
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This year’s most consistent elite fantasy QB1, Drew Brees enters Thursday night with top-ten fantasy quarterback finishes in five straight weeks. He has accounted for multiple touchdowns in 8-of-9 games and topped 300 yards in 6-of-9. Brees was the overall QB1 when the Saints hosted the Panthers in Week 6. Although Brees’ historical home-road splits are always worth considering, he has posted QB6 and QB2 finishes in his last two away games, and this matchup’s high-scoring likelihood locks in Brees as a high-upside play. It should still be noted that Carolina’s pass defense has played better since its Week 7 bye, getting back impressive rookie CB James Bradberry from an early-season toe injury with a significantly improved pass rush. On a one-for-one basis, Newton’s matchup is better than Brees’ on Thursday night. Independently of matchups, Brees has been a higher-floor and higher-ceiling play all season. … Ranked No. 7 in run-defense DVOA, the Panthers have held Chiefs, Rams, and Cardinals backs to a combined 42-148-0 (3.53 YPC) rushing line since their Week 7 bye. Carolina has not allowed a rushing score to a running back since Week 4. Mark Ingram did reemerge as New Orleans’ lead back in last week’s loss to Denver, tallying 13 touches on 43% of the snaps versus Tim Hightower’s 10 touches on a 27% playing-time clip. Travaris Cadet (2 touches, 20%) stayed involved as the passing-game specialist. Ingram’s committee back usage still damages his floor and ceiling, while this imposing matchup is a significant concern for his outlook as well. Ingram is a risky RB2 play at Carolina. Hightower is a risky flex option.
Brees’ targets since the Saints’ bye week: Willie Snead 40; Michael Thomas 38; Brandin Cooks 35; Coby Fleener 21; Cadet 15; Ingram 11; Josh Hill 10; Brandon Coleman 8; Hightower 7; John Kuhn 6. … Cooks roasted the Panthers (7-173-1) in Week 6 and has scored a touchdown in 4-of-5 games since the bye. Carolina’s stout defensive front can create pass-funnel scenarios, raising wide receiver target totals and production. Although he is never quite as strong a bet on the road, Cooks’ monster big-play ability gives him an exciting ceiling in this potential high-scoring affair. Cooks does most of his damage on the perimeter, where the Panthers’ corners are rookies Bradberry and Daryl Worley. … Thomas also paid dividends in these teams’ Week 6 meeting (5-78-1) and should continue to be trusted as an every-week WR3 with WR2 upside in season-long leagues. It is still worth mentioning that Thomas had the worst game of his rookie season in last week’s loss to Denver, losing two fumbles and causing one of Brees’ interceptions. Before Week 10, Thomas had cleared 60 yards and/or scored a touchdown in six straight games. Coach Sean Payton can be fickle when his players make mistakes, but it would be surprising if Thomas suddenly lost playing time. … Ending a five-game scoreless streak, Snead hit pay dirt twice (5-47-2) against Denver and has drawn at least seven targets in 7-of-7 healthy games on the year. Snead leads the Saints in targets since their Week 5 bye. Snead has reached 60 yards in just 2-of-8 games, however, and he typically requires touchdown catches to offer fantasy upside in a given week. Snead remains a reliable WR3 floor play in PPR leagues. … Fleener’s playing time bounced back to 63% against the Broncos, but his usage has continued to descend as the season has progressed. He has cleared 50 yards in just 2-of-9 games this year and has putrid road-game stat lines of 3-42-0, 2-44-0, 3-19-0, 2-29-0. Fleener did hit big when these teams played in Week 6, posting 6-74-1 receiving with a fluky rushing score. Ultimately, Fleener has been a boom-bust fantasy option all year with a higher bust probability.
Score Prediction: Panthers 30, Saints 27