Thursday Night Football Fantasy Preview Week 3: Panthers vs. Texans

Who are you starting in Week 3’s showdown between the Texans and Panthers?

As always welcome in Phinest Fan’s and thanks for breaking down this week’s Thursday night matchup. We are coming off two straight weeks of dare I say high-quality entertainment from our Thursday night matchups following a surprising barn burner between the Giants and WFT last week. Even this matchup which, at the beginning of the season was probably seen as a lackluster primetime game, is one Tyrod Taylor injury from easily featuring two 2-0 teams. While this week may not have some of the big-time storylines we have seen in past weeks, there are still some important players and injuries to discuss that could affect your lineups. So before we dive in, make sure you refresh yourself on my confidence scale, and let’s get to the breakdown!

The Quarterbacks

Davis Mills: One of the biggest storylines for this week’s matchup is the unfortunate hamstring injury that journeyman starter Tyrod Taylor suffered in week 2 against the Browns. Up until that point Tyrod had been slinging the ball around and providing not necessarily a fantasy hotbed, but at the very least interesting football. Now enter 3rd round rookie Davis Mills out of Stanford and nearly all bets are off for this Texans offense as we learn what the youngster has to offer in terms of fantasy production. While in college Mills was touted as a quarterback who could make all of the throws which are a positive for Brandin Cooks who we will talk about down the road. However for fantasy football purposes, regardless of matchup, Mills offers essentially zero upside and while anyone can have a big performance out of the blue, this is not one I am banking on against a Panthers’ defense clicking on absolutely every cylinder.

In his limited action last week against the Browns, Mills was not able to muster a plus 60 quarterback rating even though he did sustain a few solid drives and connect on a late score to Cooks at the goal line. This coupled with how immobile Mills is after totaling under 100 rushing yards throughout his college career with the Cardinal makes him an easy option to leave on the waiver wire and ignore for this week though.

My Final Confidence rating: Mills: Single QB -1/ Superflex 2.

Sam Darnold: Sam Darnold is certainly an interesting play this week coming off of a big interdivisional win against New Orleans in Week 2. Through two games so far, Darnold is showing the fantasy community that it is in fact, the curse of Adam Gase that completely ruins NFL players and not just talent alone. So far, Darnold has racked up nearly 600 yards through the air with 3 passing touchdowns and even a score on the ground. While those numbers do not blow you away by any means (QB15), he has at least been a strong super flex consideration and that should look to continue against a Texans defense that is suspect still through the air. Darnold under the eyes of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady has seemed to simply his game and find that accurate touch with the short game, spreading the ball to his numerous weapons including Christian McCaffrey who seemingly piles up YAC in his sleep for his quarterbacks.

According to NextGenStats, Darnold completed 20/23 passes within 10 yards or less to the LOS and while this may not seem like it is helpful for fantasy, when you take into account the ball is getting into the hands of CMC and DJ Moore who have 136 and 48 YAC respectively, good things are bound to happen for your quarterback. On top of that, all of this production is coming while the Panthers are struggling to push the ball down the field successfully as Darnold is just 9/23 on passes over 10 yards downfield. Will all this being said, this is the same Texans defense who are surrendering nearly 260 yards through the air and 2 touchdowns games which equal solid fantasy potential. My recommendation is if you were affected by one of the quarterback injuries from this past week in a Superflex league, you should be all over Darnold as a replacement if he is somehow still available as this seems like a locked and loaded QB2 with upside.

My Final Confidence rating: Single QB-3/Superflex League: 4.

The Running Backs

Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and David Johnson: As we dive into the two backfields for Thursday night’s game we see potentially the biggest display of just opposites you might find in the NFL. On one hand, you have Christian McCaffrey who everyone under the sun knows is getting all the workload. On the other hand, you have probably the most if not the top 3 most muddled backfields in the NFL with the Texans. The lead dog, if you wish to call them that, for this unit so far has been Mark Ingram on the ground as he has garnered nearly 65% of the rushing share leading into Week 3. In a stronger offense, this would be the kind of usage that fantasy managers would be getting excited over but when it is paired with Ingram only getting a 5% target share or 3 targets total, there is not much to get excited about other than a potential flex-start.

His main running mates are not getting any more of a target share and are even more pigeonholed by the lack of ground involvement with Lindsay the next closest at just under 21%. If the usage was not enough to worry you about playing one of these misfit toys, the Panthers’ defense they are going up against is fresh off of a performance where they held Alvin Kamara to 5 yards on 8 carries. Yes, you read that right, 5 YARDS. He added another 25 through the air on 4 receptions, but, that production from one of the most electric backs in the NFL does not give you much hope for a meaningful outing from the 31-year-old Ingram and company. Overall it seems inevitable that one of these three finds the endzone in this matchup which we saw happen last week and still did not provide a big performance for your team. Fantasy managers should be able to find better alternatives for this week.

My Final Confidence ratings: Ingram, Lindsay and Johnson all fall at a 2 but with no plausible case for a boom performance.

Christian McCaffrey: As mentioned, this Carolina backfield is as clear cut as they come and we will not spend too much time on it. Christian McCaffrey is one of the true workhorse backs in the NFL when healthy and has proven why he is the total consensus 1.01 in your fantasy drafts this past offseason. Coming off of a Week 1 performance where CMC found himself finishing as the RB1 even despite not finding the endzone is case and point as to what you are getting with him on your roster every week. Then when you break down his week two performance, just through the air alone he produced 9 Half-PPR points, good for RB27. Then you add in his 72 rushing yards and a touchdown and all of a sudden you have the RB3 on the week and are in a fantastic position to dominate your opponent.

Now there was a slight moment during Sunday’s game where CMC seemed to have been shaken up and had to be relieved by backup Chubba Hubbard, but reports during the telecast claimed CMC was experiencing calf cramping and he was able to finish the game out. Still worth at least monitoring during the weekly injury reports which so far have not shown anything out of the ordinary. Start CMC, end of discussion.

My Final Confidence rating: McCaffrey: 5.

The Wide Receivers

Brandin Cooks and Company: While the Houston backfield is a murky situation to navigate through, the Houston receiving room is anything but that. With Nico Collins now going IR, there is even more certain that it is Cooks or bust (and that does not even seem like a strong enough word) for this Texans receiving room. If there were any doubts whatsoever about this fact, look no further than last week where Cooks saw 48% of the team’s overall target share! For reference to how high that number is, Cooks was an easy 10% higher than the second-place finisher and tied for the week high in targets for Week 2. That kind of volume is gold for a receiver and you do not need me to tell you that.

But then you drill down a little bit further and see the production is there as it has always been with Cooks in his career. Through two games Cooks is averaging over 100 yards a game on 7 catches with a touchdown and currently sits at WR10 in half-point. Not too shabby for a wide receiver being drafted in the middle rounds of drafts this year. If you were brave enough to wade into those Houston waters and snag Cooks you are probably riding that wave this week but be wary of the Mills experience and temper expectations down for now. If you are looking at any other hail-mary options such as Danny Amendola or Chris Conley stop looking now. The Panthers are fresh off of holding the Saints offense to 111 passing yards while forcing 2 interceptions (3 on the year) and sacking Jamies Winston 4 times which brings their two-week total to 10! This defense might be a legit force to reckon with or might just be an early-season fluke. But until we know for sure, I am not taking any hail-mary plays against them.

My Final Confidence ratings: Cooks: 3.5, any other Texans receiver: 1.

DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr.: Out of this entire matchup, the Panthers receiver room is the only group that has any real fantasy discussion or meaningful uncertainty after 2 weeks of action. Atop the depth chart, DJ Moore is seemingly having another strong fantasy campaign as he looks for his 3rd straight 1,000-yard campaign. The bugaboo with Moore though has always been touchdowns as he has never topped 4. That streak is hopefully over this year as he has already caught one and continues to lead the Panthers’ passing attack alongside CMC. So far Moore is averaging nearly 80 yards a game and tied for the team lead with 14 receptions. DJ is a locked-in WR2 this week against a Texans defense that is a middle-of-the-road unit giving up over 250 yards and 2 touchdowns a week.

Once you get past Moore is when the situation starts to find its question marks for the Panthers pass-catchers though. Robby Anderson is fresh off of a season that saw him shot out of a cannon and then steadily declines, only to be then be reunited with Darnold and have the hype train start all over again. So far, however, as mentioned above, Darnold has not been able to consistently locate the ball and connect with Anderson through two weeks. In fact, Anderson has been for the most part a background piece in this offense with CMC returning to the fold after missing the majority of 2020 due to injury. Even though it is a small sample, Anderson has seen his target share drop almost in half from 24.7% last season to 12.3% through the first 2 weeks.

Again, this is a small sample size but with the offseason changes the Panthers have seen between losing Curtis Samuel but essentially gaining CMC back, 95 yards on 4 catches even with a touchdown is not what Anderson managers are looking for. Plus, we have not even gotten to the third member of the Panthers receiving trio, rookie wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. While Marshall himself is not necessarily in play for fantasy relevance, but the former LSU standout has been a relevant enough part of the offense to siphon off an equal portion of target volume as the veteran and even brought in more receptions. Combine all of this with Carolina only running 3WR sets 56% of snaps and it is hard to trust either of the secondary receiving options in this offense.

My Final Confidence ratings: Moore: 4.5, Anderson: 3 and Marshall Jr.: 2.

The Tight Ends

Jordan Akins and Pharaoh Brown: As we continue the breakdown of the Houston Texans offense for this matchup, I almost feel sorry for Mills having to make his starting debut with this supporting cast in just his third week in the league. But I digress. Jordan Akins has been a frustrating player to watch for fantasy managers as he should have been one of the top targets for the previous quarterback Deshaun Watson, but saw targets and playing time get taken by former teammate Darren Fells and other no-name players that the Texans cycled in. Then enters this season and Akins once again is the lone tight end looking at you on a wasteland of pass-catching weapons. With all this, he STILL has only gotten 4 targets and 1 reception in 2 weeks. Even Pharaoh Brown came back down to earth so to speak after a 5 target, 4 reception, and 60 plus yard week one with a whopping 1 target and zero receptions in week 2. With how little target share these two are getting there are zero reasons to hitch your tight end streaming wagon to this group when there is hardly any realistic touchdown upside they offer in addition to low target and yardage totals.

My Final Confidence ratings: Akins: 1 and Brown: 1.

Ian Thomas and Dan Arnold: Unfortunately, if you are still looking for tight-end streaming help, you are not going to find much on the Carolina side of the ball either. After three average-at-best seasons in Carolina, the Panthers have essentially started moving on from Ian Thomas at the tight end position as he never has taken the next step from his rookie season campaign. Whether that be from quarterback play or competition around him, there is a new piece in town in the form of Dan Arnold. While Arnold is not the household name that average fans might be familiar with, he was given a reasonable contract from the current administration and has taken over the top tight end target of Darnold. Now, this role has produced a grand total of 5 receptions and 61 yards on the season so nothing to see there either. Much like the Texans group, these are two players fantasy managers should avoid even when looking at streaming the position. There are just too many better-skill position players to rely on Arnold or Thomas making a sizable impact and calling that shot.

My Final Confidence ratings: Arnold: 1 and Thomas: 1.

The Defenses

Houston Texans: The Texans have been a surprisingly opportunistic defense so far through this young 2021 season. Ranking in the top half of the league, the Texans did benefit from a Jaguars matchup that saw a rookie Trevor Lawrence make a handful of mistakes. This week with a matchup against Carolina, the Houston defense is facing a team and quarterback that so far has been fairly risk-averse, having only committed two turnovers and given up 3 total sacks. On the flip side, they boast a variety of different weapons that while they draw fantasy production from each other, take away the fantasy upside and appeal of a Texans defense deprived of playmakers at all levels of the field. Pair this with the first start for a rookie quarterback and this team could end up finding themselves in vulnerable positions all evening. The general consensus has them at the bottom end of plays for this week and I agree, there are better options. My Final Confidence rating: Texans D/ST: 1.

Carolina Panthers: The flip side to playing a team starting a rookie at quarterback deprived of offensive talent is that there should be a great opportunity for fantasy output from the opponents D/ST. The Panther’s defense has been one of the pleasant surprises this football season as we have seen them torment one rookie quarterback already and a Saints team that steamrolled the Packers in the opening week. As discussed, the Panthers are a sack machine right now and are forcing turnovers to boot. A win-win from a fantasy perspective. With a -8 spread and low over-under for this matchup, the Panthers are projected to be winning and winning by a lot which will force Mills to try to play catch up and put the ball in vulnerable spots while dropping back to pass and allowing the pass rush to pin their ears back and add to the 10 sacks they have already produced. Expect a few interceptions and possibly even a strip-sack in this matchup with actual potential for a defensive touchdown in the makings. Start your Carolina D/ST and enjoy that early matchup lead.

My Final Confidence rating: Panthers D/ST: 5.

So there you have fantasy football fans! The matchup may not be an exciting one for fantasy football but these games have been anything but ordinary on primetime and we can only hope that trend continues. As always feel free to reach out on Twitter and tell me your thoughts on the article as well as any start/sit decisions you might be pondering going into Week 3. Good luck out there!

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