Thursday Night Fantasy Football Preview: Saints at Panthers

With a healthy Mark Ingram in the backfield, the Saints offense is even more dangerous.

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What is going on with the Panthers defense? Last year, in the regular season, Carolina only allowed an average of 15.1 points per game (second-best in NFL). Through eight games this year, the Panthers have allowed an average of 26 ppg (25th in NFL).

Whatever the issue is, it might be improving. Before Week 8, Carolina’s opponents scored at least 37 points in four out of the last five games. Last week, against Seattle, the Panthers only allowed 13 points in a last-minute losing effort.

However, not only are the Panthers on short-rest this week, but they are facing an offense that has scored 37 points in two of the past three games. To say the Saints offense is clicking would be an understatement. New Orleans is second in passing (312.3 yards per game) and seventh in rushing (133 yards per game).

The experts in Vegas have this game pegged with an over/under of 49 total points with the Saints favored by 2 ½ points. That is a projected score of 26-23, New Orleans. To me, that’s a low total. I expect 28-24 (I’m not sure who wins), at the least.

Strong plays:

Drew Brees, QB – I receive start/sit questions about Brees every week. This season, he is fourth in total passing yards (2,227) and 10th in passing touchdowns (14). I have Brees ranked as the fourth-best quarterback this week. So, unless you have Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Andrew Luck on your roster, I’d start Brees.

Jimmy Graham, TE – Another player that has been questioned a lot lately is Graham. Two weeks ago, he didn’t record a single catch. Last week, he found the end zone. Graham is a top tier tight end with Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, and Antonio Gates. If any of those four players are active, you must start them.

Mark Ingram, RB – If you somehow have a chance to acquire Ingram via trade in your league, I would strongly recommend it. This is his year. In the first two games of the season, Ingram scored three times. Then, he was injured. In Week 7, he returned, but it was against a solid Lions defense and Ingram had to get back into a groove. Last week, Ingram rushed for 172 yards on 24 attempts. The Carolina defense is 28th against the run (135.3 rushing yards per game) and opposing running backs are scoring the second-most fantasy points against them.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR – As much as the Panthers are struggling against the run, the Saints are just as bad against the pass. This season, New Orleans is allowing 289.3 passing yards per game (31st in NFL) and the second-highest average of fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (43.6 fppg). Benjamin continues to lead the team in targets (68) and yards (571), and is tied with the lead with five TDs.

Medium plays:

Cam Newton, QB – You might be asking, “If the Saints are so bad against the pass, then why is Newton only a ‘medium’ on your spectrum?” Well, Newton isn’t having a great season, so far. In seven starts, he has only thrown multiple TD passes twice (against the Bears and Bengals). Also, Newton hasn’t thrown for more than 285 yards in a game this year. I think he throws for two TDs. If you think he’ll rush for one, then start him. If you have other options, I’d consider them, instead.

Brandin Cooks, WR – Surprisingly, the rookie receiver leads the Saints with 40 targets. That’s one more than Graham. Last week, Cooks made six catches for 94 yards with a TD and even ran in a score. New Orleans has attempted the seventh-most passes this season (295 passes).

WEEKLY FANTASY RANKINGS

Greg Olsen, TE – The Panthers tight end still leads the team with 42 receptions this season (four more than Benjamin). Though Seattle held Olsen to only one catch, he still has scored five touchdowns in the first eight games.

Weak plays:

Carolina running backs – If DeAngelo Williams was deemed out, I would actually consider Jonathan Stewart as a medium play. However, with DWill back in the mix, I just can’t trust the Panthers running game. Also, the Saints are 10th in rushing defense (101.1 yards per game) this season. Since New Orleans is weaker against the pass, I think Ron Rivera lets Newton pass and occasionally call a keeper.

Marques Colston, WR – I’ve been trying to get a read on Colston all season. I have him in a PPR league and he’s been my WR3/FLEX in a 12-teamer. I’m probably going to play him this week, but I’m not expecting much. Colston’s best game thus far was when Graham could barely walk. If Graham starts hobbling on Thursday, the people who stuck with Colston will be smiling.

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