Photos of the Panthers' projected starters from team's website.
By Week 17, most leagues are likely finished with a league champion proudly crowned, probably ordering some sort of championship belt online and talking about it incessantly. However, some leagues still remain undecided and late Sunday, a winner will emerge.
Generally, a few things are locked up by Week 17, and we'll see the top-seeded NFL teams resting their starters for the postseason. This season though, there is a lot still riding on this game. The Panthers are first in the NFC at 14-1, however, they need a win against the Buccaneers this week to keep their top playoff seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The top spot is also up for grabs in the AFC, making Week 17 an interesting one all around. In fact, the Bucs vs. Panthers game was flexed to 4:25 in order for both the Panthers and Cardinals results to be decided at roughly the same time.
But that is neither here nor there. Let's get to the fantasy talk and break down which players in TBvsCAR can lead you to victory in your league and earn you bragging rights until Week 1, 2016.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Bucs face arguably the toughest fantasy football defense of the season this week, but a number of players had success against them the first time around. The Panthers defense has scored the fourth-most points of any D/ST this season, and they are allowing below-average points per game to their opponents at every fantasy football position, one of just two teams to do so. (The other, somewhat surprisingly, is the Houston Texans.)
WR Mike Evans**
Evans had a quiet day in the first meeting with three catches for 32 yards, but has to be a must-start in this one considering the absence of Vincent Jackson and his 1,107 yards on the year. He should be in line for plenty of targets this week, despite going up against one of the league's top corners, Josh Norman. The Panthers allow an average of 32.3 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers, a point below the NFL average. However, in the Week 4 matchup between these teams, the Bucs' WR group posted 41 points, one of just four teams this season to put up 40+ on this defense. With his frequency of targets and huge-play ability, Evans should be in your lineup despite the matchup.
RB Doug Martin
Martin is 64 yards outside of first place for NFL rushing yards this season. From Bucs fans to players to coaches, everyone wants to see that rushing title end up in Tampa Bay. With an offense that hungry, expect big numbers from the Dougernaut. Martin had 24 fantasy points against the Panthers in their first meeting, rushing for 106 and a score. Combined with the efforts of Charles Sims in that game, the Bucs RBs had 38 total points, the second most the Panthers have allowed all season to the position.
Bucs Sleepers: **QB Jameis Winston is going up against the defense giving up the fourth-fewest points to quarterbacks, however, he has at least 18 points in four of his last six games and has never scored fewer than a dozen points in a game. Carolina was his worst fantasy outing of the season (12 points scored). It is a tough task for him, but with such a high floor as a fantasy player, his consistency is something that makes owners happy.
RB Charles Sims is the 20th highest scoring running back this season in PPR leagues, yet is owned in just 39.8% of them. He is a PPR-league flex start having scored 13, 10 and 20 points in his last three outings. With Vincent Jackson out, Sims is seeing plenty of targets out of the backfield.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins has scored in each of his last two outings. He has just 11 receptions over the last four weeks since returning from injury, but he will need to be a contributor for the offense to have success this week. He is not a safe play, but does have big-play potential.
Must-Starts: The must-start list of QB Cam Newton and TE Greg Olsen is an obvious one. Teams have been rolling with them with success all season long. Newton is the highest scoring fantasy quarterback of the year and Olsen has the third most points of all tight ends. Newton was held to just 15 points against the Bucs in the first outing, but there is no reason he shouldn't be in your lineup. Olsen has scored just eight points in two of the last three games, but those are two of just five single-digit fantasy performances he has had this year (four points against the Bucs in Week Four). Still, he is a must-start with his track record this season.
Photos from Buccaneers vs. Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.
Though listed as questionable, WR Ted Ginn Jr. should make your lineup if you have him. The Buccaneers are allowing the 23rd most points to opposing receivers and Ginn has put up some incredible numbers to end the season, however he seems to be the definition of high-risk, high-reward. Over the last five games he has outings of 0 points, 25 points, 26 points, 26 points and 1 point. Whether he is a hit or miss this week is completely up in the air, but he did score twice against the Bucs in Week Four.
Sleepers: It is looking like RBs Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whitaker could miss this week, leaving the rushing duties largely in the hands of rookie RB Cameron Artis-Payne. The Bucs are allowing the 10th fewest points to opposing running backs this season, but if Artis-Payne is the primary back, his workload could result in decent output.
WRs Devin Funchess, Jerricho Cotchery and Philly Brown round out the receiving corps for the Panthers and each has performed similarly this season in fantasy, 78, 88 and 88 points respectively. However, it is anyone's guess which of the three, if any, will play a bigger role in this game. If you have other, safer options, roll with them.
To those in the fantasy playoffs this week, good luck. For the rest of us, the 2016 fantasy football draft is just eight short months away!