I’ll go against the grain and say tonight’s game will be fun to watch. Think about it. Last Thursday featured Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders and Dameon Pierce. If not for Brandin Cooks, we’d have had at least seven fantasy assets in play to kick off Week 9.
We get a break tonight.
Atlanta and Carolina are as condensed as offenses come. Between both teams, there are six players rostered in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. So we can enjoy the night without too much pressure on our season-long teams on a Thursday. Will I throw in a few more daily fantasy rosters for more action, however? You bet.
But first, let’s dig into the contest to see what we can expect.
Panthers look to play spoiler in NFC South rematch
There’s something to be said about making your strengths stronger. And Cordarrelle Patterson’s return to the lineup boosts an already potent ground game for Atlanta:
The Falcons are 15th in yards per drive despite being 30th in pass rate over expectation (PROE). They’re fifth in expected points added (EPA) per rush.
We know what’s coming. Opposing defenses know what to expect, and it doesn’t matter.
Atlanta’s rushing attack is fifth in third-down conversions at 65.6 percent. They have more rushing touchdowns than Tom Brady has passing scores. Arthur Smith likely took one look at Joe Mixon’s Week 9 boxscore and couldn’t wait to gameplan for tonight, even on a short week. However, his defense might put a wrench in the Falcons’ plans to remain in the race for the NFC South.
Eleven days ago, it seemed like the Panthers had found something on offense:
PJ WALKER JUST DID THAT. HAIL MARY TO DJ MOORE. pic.twitter.com/dDYwoZhaGG
— NFL (@NFL) October 30, 2022
But P.J. Walker was always playing with fire in the passing game, and it caught up to him in Week 9.
There’s no doubt Walker can sling it. In his first three starts, he was top 12 in on-target rate and EPA per attempt on throws of 20 yards or more. However, he was scattershot everywhere else.
On short throws (less than ten air yards), he’s as efficient as Russell Wilson (27th among all starters). Kenny Pickett has thrown more catchable balls across the middle of the field. Carolina needs an ability like Walker’s to generate explosive plays in this post-McCaffrey offense. But consistency per down and per series is equally critical as the team keeps one eye on 2023.
Atlanta’s defense should be a welcome reprieve for Walker. They pressured Justin Herbert on nine of his 45 dropbacks on Sunday and are still bottom-12 in pass rush win rate. The Falcons are 31st in yards per drive and allowed teams to run the third-most plays in their red zone.
I have more faith in Walker’s supporting cast (more on them below), so I expect the Panthers to put up more of a fight this week regardless.
Points of interest in TNF
Who leads the Falcons backfield?
I assumed the team would ease Patterson into action after his stint on IR. Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley had been serviceable as both rookies acclimated to the pro level. Regardless, my expectation was Patterson’s return would eliminate one of the other backfield options.
I was wrong.
Awesome: We’ve got a four-man committee on our hands.
Patterson has the most value as he had the most touches in high-leverage situations (third down, red zone, short yardage). However, Allgeier saw a similar amount of attempts on early downs and was the only back with carries inside two minutes. Huntley was second in red-zone carries.
And, of course, we’ve got Mariota playing the wild card — if he doesn’t decide to chuck it 15 yards downfield.
I want to see who separates from this RB cast. I’ve some thoughts on a possible spot start for tonight, but the short week and soft defensive matchup could yield a hot-hand approach. Let’s hope we have fewer options to decide on moving forward, but Atlanta may keep us guessing for at least another week.
Carolina’s rushing attack
At worst, D’Onta Foreman has put another point in the “running backs can return from Achilles injury” column. He’s ninth in yards after contact since Week 7. However, with Chuba Hubbard’s potential return, I looked at the workload split the last time both played together.
Remember, Hubbard was hurt midway through the second half, skewing Foreman’s Week 7 touch count. So, based on the small sample, we’ve got a potential two-man committee. Hubbard got the bulk of the high-leverage attempts. However, Foreman showed why he could serve as the team’s RB1 in Hubbard’s absence.
My primary interest for the Panthers is how they decide to divvy up the touches. I’m not starting Hubbard on any squad I have him rostered on tonight. But any shift towards their previous distribution would be an encouraging sign for Week 11 and beyond.
But don't bench these guys
As I said up top, we’ve only got a few options on each squad to work with tonight. We shouldn’t have to dig too deep with four teams on bye, but this season has been a rollercoaster — anything’s possible. So, I’ve got two players worth considering for deep season-long leagues or daily fantasy in tonight’s contest.
Yes, I know. I’m advocating for the UDFA over the fifth-round rookie. It’s blasphemous, but bear with me.
I wondered why Huntley would stay in the mix upon Patterson’s return. Huntley didn’t run a route in Weeks 5 through 8 and had the fewest snaps on Sunday. At first glance, it didn’t seem like he added much, but his peripherals were encouraging:
Huntley outplayed his counterpart across the board. Allgeier’s only claim to fame is he scored a touchdown, while Huntley lost a fumble. Otherwise, we’d have even more confusion in Atlanta’s backfield.
Allgeier leading the team in rushing yards should keep him as a fan favorite for tonight. However, Huntley was still efficient on the majority of his carries in the split backfield; he just didn’t find the end zone. Rostering Huntley would give you access to the Falcons’ rushing attack and work as a solid leverage option against the popular plays for tonight’s game.
Terrace Marshall’s route participation was 53.7% before Robbie Anderson and Christian McCaffrey left the team. Since then, he’s run a route on 95.8%, 94.7% and 96.9% of the team’s dropbacks. His target share has climbed each week to the point where he matched Moore in looks on Sunday. Marshall currently leads the team in red-zone targets since Week 7. I’d expect more production from the ground game, but Marshall has a direct path to fantasy production in TNF.