New England @ Carolina
Coming off his most promising on-field performance of the year followed by a Week 10 bye to hone his rapport with a now-healthy pass-catching corps, Tom Brady will be greeted rudely by a top-four Carolina pass defense that has limited enemy signal callers to a 7:13 TD-to-INT ratio and 75.6 passer rating, the fifth stingiest clip in football. The Panthers entered Week 11 ranked eighth in the NFL in sacks. Brady should be viewed as a locked-in QB1 going forward, but the Week 11 matchup suggests he's not quite back among the top seven or eight fantasy quarterbacks. At least not this week. ... Brady's target distribution since Rob Gronkowski returned three games ago: Gronk 32; Aaron Dobson 21; Julian Edelman 13; Danny Amendola 10; Stevan Ridley and Kenbrell Thompkins 6; Brandon Bolden 5. ... Gronkowski's matchup doesn't jump off the page -- Carolina is 24th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends -- but his talent and increasing role do. Just a 60.3% player in New England's offense before the bye, expect Gronkowski to get back near 100% the rest of the way. His fantasy arrow is still pointing up. ... Entrenched at "X" receiver, Dobson has the premier on-paper matchup of Patriots pass catchers. He'll run most of his routes against undrafted rookie RCB Melvin White, who was only recently promoted into the starting lineup after Josh Thomas' benching three games ago. With stat lines of 4-60-1 and and 5-130-2 over his last two games, Dobson is a WR3 play with upside. ... Lapped by Dobson, Thompkins can be dropped in 12- and 14-team re-draft leagues. Thompkins was a healthy scratch for New England's last game.
A healthy Amendola is an every-week WR3 in standard leagues and WR2 in PPR. He torched the Steelers for 122 yards and a touchdown before the open date and will man the old Wes Welker role going forward. ... Edelman hasn't seen more than five targets in any game since September. These are Edelman's last three stat lines when Amendola has played extensively this season: 1-11, 2-7, 2-35. Scoreless since Week 1, Edelman is a poor WR3 option. ... Ridley has turned his last 82 runs into 393 yards (4.79 YPC) and six TDs. The Patriots' early-down hammer, Ridley has a difficult matchup with Carolina's No. 2 run defense, but has played himself into the must-start RB2 category. ... Shane Vereen's (wrist) expected return will impact Bolden more than anyone else. Vereen will take over Bolden's old "passing back" role -- the job for many seasons handled by Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk before him -- and likely handle 8-14 touches per game. Since he hasn't played in over two months, Vereen would be hard to trust in his first game back because he needs to get in football shape. He still has a chance to be a major PPR asset down the stretch. I'd view Vereen as a boom-or-bust flex play on Monday night. ... Averaging just nine snaps and six carries over his last three games, LeGarrette Blount will only see serious playing time against the Panthers if the Patriots blow them out. Blount and Bolden are now waiver-wire fodder.
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During Carolina's five-game win streak, Cam Newton has completed 97-of-144 passes (67.4%) for 1,085 yards (7.53 YPA) and a 7:3 TD-to-INT ratio with three more rushing scores. Although matching up with New England's top-12 pass defense makes him more back-end QB1 than top-five quarterback play, Cam's all-purpose production raises his "floor," and there is some potential for this game to evolve into a shootout. New England's defense is depleted. The Patriots have lost NT Vince Wilfork (Achilles'), DT Tommy Kelly (knee), and WLB Jerod Mayo (pectoral) to injured reserve. SS Steve Gregory (thumb) won't play at Carolina. ... Cam's target distribution during the Panthers' red-hot five-game stretch: Steve Smith 41; Brandon LaFell 30; Greg Olsen 20; Ted Ginn 18; Mike Tolbert 14; DeAngelo Williams 13; Jonathan Stewart 3. ... Smith has the toughest Week 11 matchup in Carolina's pass-catching corps. He'll likely lock horns with Aqib Talib, who's had a smothering effect on opponents' top weapons when healthy this year. Just ask Vincent Jackson (3-34), A.J. Green (5-61), and Jimmy Graham (0-0). Smith isn't a recommended fantasy start. ... Olsen has been held to five targets or fewer in every game during the Panthers' undefeated stretch. The field could still open up for Olsen a bit on Monday night should Talib eliminate Smith. The Patriots have allowed the tenth most receptions in the league to tight ends.
Averaging 44.4 yards per game, LaFell hasn't been on the WR3 radar all season. He could score a touchdown for the first time since Week 6 on Monday night, and still wouldn't be worth adding in 12-team leagues. LaFell is the No. 47 fantasy wideout over the past three weeks. ... Situational deep threat Ginn is a better real-life than fantasy player. Though sporadically dangerous and enjoying a surprisingly efficient year, Ginn has only played 44.8% of Carolina's offensive snaps. ... The Patriots have been vulnerable in run defense since losing Wilfork, Kelly, and Mayo, but the Panthers' three-headed backfield limits the ceilings of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert, and essentially makes their production impossible to forecast week to week. Since Stewart returned from PUP two games ago, here are the snap counts of each Carolina back: Tolbert 80; Williams 49; Stewart 41. Here are their touch totals: Stewart 25; Williams 23; Tolbert 13. If forced to pick from the three as a Week 11 flex, I'd probably lean Tolbert because he is a critical part of Carolina's red-zone offense and the best bet for a goal-line touchdown. Stewart and Williams are plenty capable of turning in fruitful box-score stats, but the fact that those can't be predicted makes them all but worthless in fantasy leagues. D-Will and J-Stew are RB3s at best.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Panthers 21