The Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the Carolina Panthers in their 2012 season opener. The Bucs happily walked away with the 16-10 victory, but fantasy owners of players on both sides weren't quite as pleased.
The game's leading fantasy scorers in Week One were the Buccaneer defense, Carolina WR Brandon LaFell and QB Cam Newton, with 12 points each. Of course, few fantasy players were starting the Bucs' defense at that time, and there were probably a lot more teams counting on Steve Smith than LaFell. Buccaneer K Connor Barth and RB Doug Martin each had 11, which probably helped a few. Smith and Bucs QB Josh Freeman were the only other players to hit double digits. Cam Newton's 12 points landed him at 20th of all NFL quarterbacks, Freeman's 10 left him at 24th
However, all signs point to this week's rematch being a completely different story. In recent weeks, the Buccaneer offense has been red hot, leading the league in points per game, yards per game and touchdowns since Week Five. In addition, the Panthers will be going into Sunday's game armed with RB Jonathan Stewart, who was injured and did not play in the first matchup.
Considering these changes, we shouldn't put too much stock in the numbers from Week One. In fact, it would be quite shocking if history did repeat itself this Sunday. The Bucs vs. Panthers game on Sunday should have fantasy owners closing out the week in much better shape than it did in Week One.
1. Quarterback Comparison
The Panther defense is ranked 10th in points given up to opposing quarterbacks. So far this season, those throwing into the Panther defense are walking away with just 13.7 points per game. In the last four games, the Panthers have faced Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning and allowed them an average of just 11.5 points, impressively.
On the other hand, Freeman leads one of the best offenses in the NFL into Bank of America Stadium. Freeman and company own the first-place spot in plays of 40 or more yards this year. After coming out of the gates slow in the first four games (Freeman accumulated just 42 fantasy points in those games), the offense has been a force. Since the Buccaneer bye week in Week Five, Freeman is sixth in the NFL in passing yardage and second in touchdowns, and he has only thrown one interception. In the five games since the bye, Freeman has been a top-ten scoring fantasy quarterback in all but one week and has put up more than double the fantasy points per game that he had through the first four weeks.
It will be a battle of a solid pass defense against a dynamic thrower who is being picked up in more and more leagues. With Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as consistent targets, and with the emergence of Martin making defenses wary of the running game, Freeman should be open to keep up his passing ways.
The Panther defense is 24th in completions allowed and 30th in completion percentage allowed. And Freeman has a solid past against the Panthers, with six touchdowns and one interception in his four games against them. We could see his yardage number stay under 300 for the third straight week, but he has been throwing touchdowns left and right while protecting the football in the past few weeks – a valuable asset for your fantasy quarterback.
On the other side of the ball, Newton is having a bit of a roller coaster ride. Last season he finished third in fantasy points for quarterbacks, breaking a mess of records along the way. More than 4,000 passing yards, 21 passing TDs, 14 rushing TDs and 17 interceptions gave him the title of the best rookie quarterback in fantasy history.
But, as is known to happen from time to time, Newton's sophomore season has not treated him as kindly as his first. Through nine games, Newton ranks 13th among NFL quarterbacks in fantasy points with just eight touchdown passes to 10 interceptions and four rushing scores.
Though he broke the 300-yard mark in his first matchup against the Bucs, he completed just one touchdown pass and threw two interceptions. To date, the Buccaneers are ranked 26th against opposing quarterbacks and allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL. With WRs Smith and LaFell and TE Greg Olsen to throw to, he could have another busy game through the air, especially if the Panthers completely abandon the run game like they did in Week One.
2. Running Back Comparison
There are a number of possible reasons that the Panthers decided to stick to the air rather than attempt to rush against the Buccaneers in Week One. Maybe it just wasn't working: They finished the game with just 10 yards rushing, an average of 0.8 yards per carry. Maybe it was that the Buccaneers registered nine tackles for a loss in the game. Maybe it was because RB DeAngelo Williams ended the day with negative yardage and their leading rusher was actually a wide receiver, Kealoha Pilares. Maybe it was Stewart's absence.
Whatever the reason, it wouldn't come as much surprise if the Panthers were again limited in the rushing game. The Buccaneers lead the league in run defense, allowing just 80 yards per game and a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.
There is also the other headache for fantasy owners – the fact that the Carolina Panthers are perhaps the most notorious running-back-by-committee team in the NFL. For years they have deployed both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, making it hard to predict which will be more valuable, and worse, shrinking the fantasy output of each. In addition, a good chunk of their rushing yards come from the scrambling of Newton.
Williams has 40 fantasy points on the year, Stewart has 39. It seems that if either of these backs are going to put up any kind of numbers in the game, it will have to come from a touchdown rather than yardage. Between the Buccaneers' ability to put points on the board, causing QBs to throw more, and Carolina running just 13 times in the first matchup, you might want to look elsewhere for a starter this week.
For the Buccaneers, the fantasy world is still buzzing about Martin, Tampa Bay's sensational rookie. Martin is third in the league in fantasy points scored at his position, and Adrian Peterson, who holds the number-one spot, is on his bye this week.
Martin has put up more than 10 points in each of the last five contests, breaking 100 all-purpose yards in each of them. Against Minnesota he put up 32 fantasy points, following that with his record-breaking performance that led to 51 points against the Oakland Raiders.
Carolina has allowed the ninth most fantasy points to running backs this season. Allowing 113 yards per game and seven touchdowns this season, Doug Martin is in line for another great night. He had 119 total yards in Week One against the Panthers and has grown tremendously since then. Martin has proved himself a must-start each week, but this week he has another chance to put up a head-turning performance.