This article is part of our Monday Night DFS Breakdown series.We didn't know it at the time, but last week's terrible Monday Night matchup (Vikings-Seahawks) was the precursor to a disastrous Week 15. At a glance, Monday's Saints-Panthers matchup should be a step back in the right direction.
The Saints are favored by six on the road in Carolina, and the over/under is 50 (down from 54 when the line opened).
The Implied Score is Saints 28, Panthers 22.
Both the Saints and the Panthers are averaging 6.1 yards per play on offense this season (tied for sixth in the NFL).
The Saints have averaged 8.4 yards per attempt through the air, and a surprisingly low 4.1 yards per carry (T-27th) through 13 games.
The Panthers have averaged 7.4 yards per attempt through the air, and a league-best 5.4 yards per carry through 13 games.
Here's a look at each team's fantasy points allowed per game, by position this season (Editor's Note: DraftKings scoring was used for the table).
|Saints||23.5 (T-32nd)||19.4 (3rd)||46.8 (32nd)||8.4 (T-3rd)|
|Panthers||21.7 (27th)||19.7 (4th)||40.9 (29th)||16.1 (31st)|
Surprisingly, both teams are relatively healthy with respect to injuries with official designations.
Cam Newton has played through a shoulder injury in recent weeks, posting a 9:8 TD:INT mark over his last five games.
Captains, MVPs & High-Priced Fades
For most lineup builds, there are five players to consider for the Captain (DraftKings) or MVP (FanDuel) designation. Reminder: DraftKings multiplies the player's salary by 1.5 for the player used in the Captain spot (1.5x points), FanDuel does not increase the salary of the MVP, but the points multiplier is the same.
Christian McCaffrey ($17,400 DKC | $16,500 FD) – Despite being the most expensive player on both sites, McCaffrey will likely be the most frequently-used player atop lineups Monday. Unlike Alvin Kamara, McCaffrey doesn't have to share his workload with another player in the backfield. He's been very efficient as a runner this season (5.2 YPC), and he's on pace to catch 100 passes. Plus, his overwhelming share of the opportunities in the red zone (44% of the Panthers' targets and carries this season) has carried him to elite per-game output. This matchup is the first of two between the Panthers and Saints in the final three games of the season, and while the Saints have been excellent at stopping the run this season, McCaffrey has produced in other difficult matchups this season with a pair of TDs against Baltimore in Week 8, and a 138-yard, 3-TD performance against the Steelers in Week 10. Fading McCaffrey on Monday requires a stumble akin to his performances in Weeks 1, 6 and 7, when he failed to find the end zone and finished below 100 yards from scrimmage despite double-digit touches in each contest.
Cam Newton ($15,000 DKC | $16,000 FD) – The Panthers are a home underdog against the league's worst pass defense, which should typically be enough to propel Newton to a big night Monday. Prior to being held without a touchdown by the Browns in Week 14, Newton had multiple TD passes in 11 consecutive games. For the season, he's posting the highest completion percentage of his career (68.8%), and his YPA (7.4) is the highest it's been since 2015 (7.8). Newton's supporting cast has never been better, and the speed of McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel should create plenty of mismatch nightmares for the New Orleans secondary, though it remains to be seen if Newton's ongoing shoulder issues will prevent him from effectively taking shots downfield. The uncertainty about his health is the only risk, and building a lineup around Cam (especially as your Captain/MVP) requires a leap of faith that offensive coordinator Norv Turner can make the necessary adjustments to the passing game to accommodate his quarterback's arm.
Drew Brees ($16,200 DKC | $15,500 FD) – Brees has returned to his previous elite levels after a disappointing 2017 campaign (20.1 FPPG), and he's been able to do it with several inexperienced pass-catchers working in secondary roles behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Weather conditions in Charlotte on Monday are favorable – mild temperatures, minimal wind, no rain – but Brees' road splits this season include a huge drop in YPA (7.1, from 9.8 at home) and an 11:3 TD:INT over seven games, which include road trips against good defenses in Baltimore, Minnesota and Dallas. The Panthers more closely resemble the Bucs, who managed to keep Brees quiet for the bulk of Week 14 in Tampa Bay, but Brees has shredded a pair of bad defenses on the road this season (Atlanta in Week 3 – 396 passing yards, five total TD – and Cincinnati in Week 10, 265 yards, four total TD). If Newton were completely healthy and you were determined to only use one quarterback, the decision would be an easy one (Cam). Perhaps the falling over/under total is instructive in that we should be tempering expectations for both offenses, but my lean is to build around Brees if I'm playing McCaffrey, and to build around Cam if I'm playing Alvin Kamara and/or Mark Ingram.
Michael Thomas ($16,500 DKC | $13,000 FD) – Naturally, with the aforementioned road splits for Brees, Thomas' production away from New Orleans is lighter than his body of work at home (114.0 yds/gm at home, 76.3 yds/gm away). Since Mark Ingram returned from suspension in Week 5, Thomas has led the Saints in target share with a 29% mark during that span (Alvin Kamara is second at 17%). Volume-wise, Thomas is very stable, but he's shown a wider range of outcomes week-to-week than you might expect for a player with an elite catch rate and a clear hold on nearly 30 percent of the targets in a very good passing game, since the attempts volume for the offense as a whole has bottomed out on a few occasions. For tournaments, I would rather use Thomas than Brees as a Captain on DraftKings, and using him as the MVP on FanDuel might be a good way to get away from the most popular builds, even though his ownership rate will likely be extremely high at the relatively affordable price.
Alvin Kamara ($14,100 DKC | $13,500 FD) – Kamara hasn't scored in the Saints' last three games, and he's topped 100 yards from scrimmage once in his last four contests entering Monday. Since Mark Ingram's return from suspension in Week 5, Kamara is averaging 16.9 touches per game (he averaged 22.75 touches per game in Ingram's absence), and the price is slowly starting to reflect the lack of a workhorse role. Last season, Kamara didn't need massive workloads to be productive, and while he can still do a lot of damage with 15-18 touches, his efficiency has dropped in Year 2. Kamara is averaging 4.6 YPC this season (down from an unsustainable 6.1 mark as a rookie), and his per-target average in the passing game has dropped from 8.3 last season to 6.6 in 2018. The silver lining here continues to be the high volume of opportunities in the red zone, as Kamara leads the Saints in red-zone chances (carries + targets) since Week 5 with 33. The combination of skills and role are still good enough for Kamara to be the highest-scoring player on the board (especially with the full PPR scoring on DraftKings) in this matchup.
Here are the most interesting mid-range considerations on the slate Monday...
D.J. Moore ($8,000 DK | $11,000 FD) – Let's operate under the assumption that Newton won't throw downfield as much this week as he did earlier in the season.
NFL NextGen Stats measure Average Targeted Air Yards (defined as: The average passing air yards per target for the receiver, by measuring the yards downfield at the time of all passing attempts that the receiver is the target. This stat indicates how far down the field they are being targeted on average.)
The Panthers' receivers this season (min. 38 targets) have measured up as follows:
Tight end Ian Thomas would likely check in just ahead of Wright on this list if he had enough targets to qualify.
While a player like Samuel could be used in different ways by design, Moore, Thomas and Wright are most frequently used already in a way that might optimally fit Newton's current limitations. In addition to his ability after the catch, Moore is among the regularly targeted secondary options in the red zone behind Christian McCaffrey.
Mark Ingram ($7,200 DK | $11,000 FD) – Although he wasn't included in the Captain/MVP section, Ingram could be an under-the-radar option for that designation in tournaments ($10,800 DKC). It will almost certainly take 100 yards from scrimmage and two TDs for Ingram to pay-off in the multiplier spot since there are so many other viable options to consider. Ingram is second only to Kamara in red-zone opportunities (22) since Week 5 (Michael Thomas, 13 and Taysom Hill, 11 are the next closest).
Curtis Samuel ($6,400 DK | $10,000 FD) – Like most people, I prefer Samuel to Devin Funchess in any build, as Samuel has 19 targets over the last two games (Funchess has six), and his targets (28) haven't lagged far behind McCaffrey (36 targets) and Moore (33) over the last four games.
Tre'Quan Smith ($5,400 DK | $6,000 FD) – I would hardly be surprised if Smith is the most popular cheap GPP play on FanDuel because of the discount, since the increased flexibility he provides your builds is even more apparent with a five-man lineup. Smith has been a ghost in the Saints' offense since exploding for 157 yards and a TD on 10 catches against the Eagles in Week 11. Given that he's not particular cheap on DraftKings, I prefer using Smith on FanDuel, if you intend to use him as part of a tournament lineup.
Ian Thomas ($4,800 DK | $8,500 FD) – Thomas turned 11 targets into nine catches for 77 yards against the Browns in Week 14, and the previously noted concerns about the Panthers' ability to take shots downfield makes him a strong consideration again this week (he went 5-46-0 on five targets in Week 13 in Tampa Bay). Thomas rarely blocks in passing situations, as he's run routes on 91% the pass-play snaps he's played this season, and while his role in the passing game is likely no bigger than that of the fourth option, he's cheap enough to play in a matchup where the Panthers might have to air it out a lot to keep pace with the Saints' offense.
Jarius Wright ($2,400 DK | $7,000 FD) – Wright is frequently targeted near the line of scrimmage, and that might make him a bigger part of the Panthers' game plan than usual this week. Quitely, he has seven catches of 20+ yards during his first season with the Panthers (31 receptions), and he's just dangerous enough with the ball in his hands to strike for a big play even if he's not getting deep-ball targets. If you're looking for a low-priced, likely low-owned receiver capable of going off somewhat unexpectedly, Wright is my choice from this matchup.
Taysom Hill ($1,400 DK | $5,000 FD) – The Saints occasionally get Hill involved in the red zone, and he continues to see enough snaps to make him a viable tournament dart in single-game settings. Playing him makes a lot more sense on DraftKings with the slightly larger rosters and the significantly lower price, but Dan Arnold ($600 DK | $6,500 FD) frees up another $800 under the salary cap on DraftKings, and he's had a slight edge in snap percentage over Hill in the last five games they've played together (Arnold sat out last week with a chest injury).
Given the Panthers' struggles against tight ends, I'm not completely ignoring Ben Watson at $6,000 on FanDuel ($5,700 on DK). It can go wrong for him easily since the Saints should have Watson, Arnold and Josh Hill available, but Watson has five red-zone targets since Week 5, despite a four-game streak without one dating back to Week 11.
If you're buying into the concerns about Cam's shoulder being a limiting factor that increases his risk of turning the ball over, the Saints' defense ($3,400, DK only) should be considered (especially in lineup builds that fade Cam completely). The Saints have at least three sacks in each of the last five games, posting 9.0 DK points or more in each of those contests.
Kickers might be viable as well, though Wil Lutz ($3,400 DK) is overpriced on FanDuel ($9,500). Chandler Catanzaro ($3,200 DK | $8,000 FD) is handling the role for Carolina this week since Graham Gano (knee) is out.