The Buccaneers this season have a combined 'points for' & 'points against' of just 129, the ninth lowest in the league. The Panthers' games totals are 10 points behind at 119 in their three games this season, only five teams have lower totals.
Naturally then, the experts are calling for a low-scoring outing when the Panthers come into town to take on the Buccaneers. And generally speaking, when low points are projected, one can expect a less-than-explosive fantasy football outing.
Add in the Panthers' fantasy inconsistency at every position besides quarterback plus their competition in the first three weeks, plus Tampa Bay's the rookie signal-caller under center, and throw in the timeshares in both backfields and you can call this matchup "less-than-predictable" as well.
The game has few fantasy "sure things," but someone has to put up the points. So this week, we'll also take a look at a few unowned names that could put up solid totals on Sunday.
The Panthers come in with two must-start players. Cam Newton is tied for fourth-overall in points scored at any position. The Buccaneers have held opposing quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Ryan Mallett) to 12 points or fewer over the last two weeks, however, they have been untested by a mobile quarterback this season and Cam has the second most rushing yards (144) and most rushing TDs (2) on his team.
Tight end Greg Olsen had just eight fantasy standard points in his first two games, but finally put up the monster numbers he was projected to score last week with eight receptions, 134 yards and two touchdowns. He now sits as the third-highest scoring tight end. The Buccaneers have allowed just a single point to tight ends over the last two weeks, giving up four TE receptions and just 23 receiving yards. Olsen will be their first real test since giving up 61 yards and a score to Delanie Walker in Week 1. As Newton's favorite target and with a big game finally under his belt, there is no reason to remove Olsen from your lineup this week.
Besides those two however, the Panthers are hard to get a read on for fantasy purposes. Their next highest scoring skill position player is Ted Ginn Jr., who has games of five, ten and nine fantasy points so far this season, anything but inspiring. Their leading running back, Jonathan Stewart has games of seven, six and five and has yet to score this season. WR Corey Brown and WR Jerricho Cotchery (out) are the only other Panthers to have more than 10 standard fantasy points.
Photos of the Panthers' projected starters from team's website.
Still, not every point can come from Newton and Olsen. The Buccaneers have allowed at least one rushing touchdown every week this season. The smart money is on Stewart, who has 49 rushing attempts while Carolina's other RBs have combined for just 18. But Mike Tolbert has been getting the goal line looks and has a 5.4 yards per carry average. No RB has made waves in the passing game so far, but Tolbert also leads the group in receptions (6) and yards (38). Both running backs were limited in practice earlier this week, but were a full go on Friday and are probable for the game. Bottom line: one might find the end zone, but which one remains a mystery. Stewart is the safer play, but if you have the resources, neither inspires much confidence to be in your starting lineup this week.
The questions continue at receiver. Ginn is Newton's most targeted WR with more than double the looks of any other at the position. The Bucs allow the ninth-most fantasy points to receivers, and he is likely to have the biggest day of the bunch. Corey Brown had a solid 11-point outing in Week 2, but has just 13 receiving yards in the two other games, he was shut out by New Orleans last week. Devin Funchess is the third option, but has just three receptions all season. There are points to go around, but Ginn is the only Flex-safe option. If you need a sneaky tournament play for daily leagues, Brown has a very low floor, but potential for a flash game this week.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Mike Evans has a 101-yard outing last week for his first 10 points of the young fantasy season. He is the Buccaneer's must-start player this week. Carolina's defense has looked great this year and they allow the sixth-fewest points to opposing receivers. Evans could be blanketed by September's NFC Defensive Player of the Month, Josh Norman. According to Pro Football Focus, Norman has allowed just 13 receptions for 98 yards and one TD this season. Even with the tough matchup, Evans should be a go in all leagues, especially with 17 targets last week.
Vincent Jackson has put up games of five, eleven and four so far this season, but remains a strong flex option this week. A simple logic puzzle explains why. The Panthers have allowed 461 receiving yards to WRs this year. We just stated that Josh Norman is responsible for 98 of them. Which leave 363 yards (131 per game) to go around to the remaining receivers. Jackson's 20 targets tie Evans this year and he is the only Bucs' WR to find the end zone. If Jameis Winston can't go to Evans, Jackson could have a decent outing.
Speaking of Winston, the rookie QB ranks 16th in points scored at his position and is showing the consistency we've seen from TB's quarterbacks over the last few years with games of 13, 18 and 12. While he has yet to have his true breakout fantasy performance, his consistent numbers are a promising sign. Still (especially against a defense ranking sixth in QB points scored) he is not a fantasy starter yet, but should be owned as a backup in more than the 23.1% of leagues he is owned in.
Throwback to the Bucs 16-10 win over the Panthers in 2012.
Onto the sleeper potential in this one, we have one more receiver to look at. Going off the same logic we used earlier to justify Jackson, Louis Murphy could see his best game of the season this week. He has three receptions in each of the last two games and 143 total yards. The Buccaneers like to go deep and Murphy has been the man in that category with 23.8 yards per catch this year. Not enough to justify putting him in your lineup (he's just 0.2% owned anyways) but don't be shocked to hear his name called in this one.
Finally, running back has proven to be a headache position fantasy-wise for the team. Doug Martin is seeing a near 50/50 timeshare with Charles Sims (97 snaps vs. 89, respectively, per Football Outsiders). Martin's 176-rushing yards tops Sims's 61, but Sims has seven receptions for 78 yards and a score, giving him the edge in standard fantasy points (18 to Martin's 16) and PPR (25 to 19). Carolina's rush defense looked great over the first two weeks (just 16 RB points combined) but they allowed 30 against New Orleans in Week 3. Martin is listed as questionable, so if he cannot go or is very limited, I give Sims a very sneaky Flex start in PPR leagues and a solid sleeper play in daily leagues. If Martin does play and there is a halfway split, it is much harder to like either in your lineup this week.