Thursday Night Football
Carolina @ Tampa Bay
The effort of Tampa Bay's players has begun to come under scrutiny as the team returns from its sixth consecutive loss under beleaguered coach Greg Schiano, and 11th defeat over the past 12 games dating back to last season. If the Bucs' collapse proves anything like it did in 2011 for then-coach Raheem Morris, opposing fantasy production will soar. You could argue it's already begun. Over their last two games, the Bucs' defense has been lit up for a combined 42-of-57 passing (73.4%), 569 yards (9.98 YPA), and a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio by Nick Foles and receiver-depleted Matt Ryan. Tampa Bay has generated one solitary sack. Cam Newton appears to be set up for success on Thursday night. Only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and -- wait for it -- Jake Locker are averaging more fantasy quarterback points per game than Newton over the past five weeks. ... Cam's target distribution during that span, a four-game stretch: Steve Smith 30, Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell 22, Ted Ginn 14, DeAngelo Williams 11, Mike Tolbert 4. ... As easily the Panthers' target leader and most talented wide receiver, Smith is always going to be the best weekly fantasy bet in Carolina's pass-catching corps. And with the Buccaneers letting Darrelle Revis go to waste in zone coverage, this is an unimposing matchup for "89." Here are the last three enemy "No. 1" wideouts to face Tampa Bay: DeSean Jackson 6-64-2; Larry Fitzgerald 6-68-1; Harry Douglas 7-149-1. Smith has found pay dirt in back-to-back games and is a solid fantasy WR3/flex start against the Buccaneers.
LaFell has scored a few touchdowns on blown coverages this year, but he's on pace for just 680 yards and 48 catches. Is he capable of finding the end zone Thursday night? Yes. Is LaFell a good fantasy investment? No. ... Per Pro Football Focus' charts, Olsen has been a blocker more than a receiver in three of Carolina's last four games. The Panthers have won all three. This is concerning for Olsen's box-score production, as are his lingering foot injury and measly eight targets the past two weeks. I'm guessing you can find a higher-ceiling Week 8 tight end play. The Bucs are 15th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. ... A year after ranking No. 1 in run defense, Tampa Bay is top five again this year and permits 3.48 yards per carry, the fourth stingiest clip in football. They bottled up Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling for 30 scoreless yards on 15 runs (2.0 YPC) in Week 7. On paper at least, this is a difficult matchup for Williams, who is coming off his slowest game of 2013, has managed just 138 yards on his last 45 carries (3.07 YPC), and hasn't scored a touchdown all year. Williams loses deep red-zone work to Tolbert, who's emerged as one of the NFL's greediest goal-line vultures. So Williams is always a low-upside fantasy bet, and he is now taking on one of the league's top run defenses. He's not an exciting flex play.
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With Doug Martin (shoulder) indefinitely shelved, sixth-round rookie Mike James has assumed feature back duties in Tampa Bay. Brian Leonard will platoon in off the bench, primarily to pass block. James is a superior Week 8 flex option after handling 17 touches and 38 snaps following Martin's injury, compared to Leonard's three touches and 22 downs. James is a 5-foot-11, 223-pound chain mover who lacks plus burst but can get what's blocked, runs aggressively through traffic, and has excellent hands. James is a good bet for 20-plus touches on Thursday night, albeit against a Carolina defense that ranks fourth versus the run. ... Beanpole rookie QB Mike Glennon doesn't deliver the ball with the velocity he was billed to have coming out of N.C. State, and his accuracy in the medium to deep range is a work in progress. Glennon also has a rough Week 8 matchup versus the Panthers' No. 5 pass defense, which has a 5:9 TD-to-INT ratio against and can cause major havoc up front with one of the league's top front sevens. For a rookie signal caller who's faced Arizona, Philadelphia, and Atlanta in his first three games, this will easily be the most difficult matchup Glennon has experienced. He's not a recommended two-QB-league start.
Glennon's target distribution through three appearances: Vincent Jackson 47, Tim Wright 16, Mike Williams 11, Martin 10, Chris Owusu 7, Leonard and Tiquan Underwood 6, James 4, Tom Crabtree 3. ... Those target numbers confirm what is visible on Glennon's game tape: He is willing to force the football to V-Jax regardless of down and distance. Otherwise, Glennon will typically check down to Wright or one of his backs. Jackson's target totals in Glennon's two starts are 14 and 22. You'll want to fire him up as a borderline WR1 against Carolina. ... Impressive UDFA Wright is a riskier proposition coming back from his quietest game thus far (2-15). Williams is expected to play despite ongoing hamstring woes, and the Bucs seem to have settled on Owusu as their No. 3 receiver. So it's entirely possible Wright's fantasy window has slammed shut. Carolina is just 25th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. ... Williams has yet to clear 65 yards through five 2013 games played. As is unfailingly the case with Williams, he'll pay dividends as a WR3 start on the off chance he finds pay dirt against the Panthers. He'll burn a hole in your lineup if he does not.
Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Bucs 17