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Thursday Night Football Starts & Sits: Panthers vs Texans

Christian McCaffrey - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News

With Week 2 in the books, we are officially flying through the season. I hope all of your fantasy teams have found success and are set up for a great season. Last week started pretty slow with six of the eight-morning games hitting the under. However, the afternoon and primetime games made up for that in spades with four of the five hitting the over with ease.

Hopefully, the NFL can ride this offensive momentum and provide a fantasy fiesta in Week 3. As always, the tone gets set on Thursday as Sam Darnold leads the Carolina Panthers (2-0) south to take on the surprising Houston Texans (1-1).

This matchup showcases two teams that appear to be trending in very different directions. However, there are a handful of elite fantasy options in this game. It’s another Thursday and it’s another RotoBaller Thursday Night Preview coming at you from yours truly, Ellis Bryn Johnson.

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Week 3 Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans

8:20 pm EST 

Notable Injuries:



Christian McCaffrey (RB, CAR): There aren’t words to describe how incredible he is both for fantasy and the NFL. So far through two weeks, he is sixth in rushing yards and 23rd among all players in receiving yards. Plus, his one touchdown on the season doesn’t do his production justice after being dragged down within the five-yard line twice in Week 2. This season he is averaging 22.5 carries and seven receptions a game. Plus, he gets to go against a team that just got lit up for 156 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in Week 2. 

D.J. Moore (WR, CAR): After being advertised as a breakout candidate over the last two offseasons, I am surprised that Moore isn’t being talked about. For me, Moore is doing exactly what I was hoping for to “break out.” Sure, he isn’t posting Cooper Kupp or Tyler Lockett’s ridiculous stat lines, however, he has back-to-back weeks of eight-plus targets and nearly 80+ yards. In addition, we also saw him get a red-zone opportunity that turned into his first touchdown of the season last Sunday. Moore is clearly the team’s leading receiving option and Darnold’s favorite target. If Moore can continue to be targeted in the red zone, he could find his way into the WR1 conversation sooner rather than later. 


Solid Options

Sam Darnold (QB, CAR): I’m not going to lie, Darnold almost made the must-start section of this preview. Leading the team to a 2-0 start, Darnold seems to finally be getting the opportunity to be a successful QB at the NFL level. Through two weeks, Darnold is 11th in passing yards, 10th in passing attempts, and 13th in fantasy points. Darnold has been a very sufficient quarterback with his new team and has clearly benefited from the safety net that is McCaffrey, and the talented D.J. Moore.

This week, he finds himself going against a very vulnerable defense that has allowed 542 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air. Darnold might not have week-winning upside but he is a locked-n-loaded QB2 with low-end QB1 potential this week.


Flex Considerations

This week I have decided to add a section for flex options. When breaking down this matchup, I found that there were multiple players who I didn't feel confident to be “Solid Options.” However, they could very well be an upside flex play for some teams in Week 3. 

Brandin Cooks (WR, HOU): Although Cooks has produced with all QB’s he has ever played with, the drop from Tyrod Taylor to Davis Mills might be the limit. The rookie third-round pick Davis Mills will be under center in week three, instantly capping Cooks' upside. However, I want to note that there’s a world where Mills can be a very solid NFL QB. Prolific rookie profiler Matt Waldman had Davis Mills as his fifth-ranked QB in the 2021 rookie class, ahead of Zach Wilson. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do, and thankfully, through two weeks, Cooks has asserted himself as far and away the best player on this team. As a result, he has been getting fed, and even caught a touchdown from Mills in Week 2. Because Cooks is averaging over 100 yards and 10 targets a game this season, he could be worth a shot as a flex option. 

Robby Anderson (WR, CAR): The PPR fiend of 2020 has gotten off to a fairly slow start in 2021. After only one reception for a 57-yard touchdown in Week 1, D.J. Moore and McCaffrey had seemingly obliterated Anderson’s previous target share. Thankfully, in Week 2 we saw his volume bounce back, catching three balls on six targets for 38 yards. I think Anderson could definitely be a flex play this week, as his speed could easily take the top off the Texans' defense.


Consider Sitting

Davis Mills (QB, HOU): With no disrespect to Mills, I’m really bummed I don’t get to talk about Tyrod Taylor this week. In a game and a half, Taylor had a 70% completion percentage, three passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, and 316 passing yards. The bounce-back season for Taylor seemed to be coming together, especially keeping the Texans competitive with Cleveland last week. Unfortunately, we will not see Taylor in week three. Instead, we will see the aforementioned third-round pick, Davis Mills. There is no way you can start him in his first NFL game, however, as mentioned previously, some NFL scouts thought Mills had NFL caliber potential. I would sit back and enjoy the show of another kid being given their NFL shot.

David Johnson, Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay (RB, HOU): The fact that I just listed three backs all on the same team is a case in its own for sitting them all in Week 3. After all three found the paydirt in week one, we witnessed only Lindsey finding the endzone in Week 2. This backfield has seemed to break down as such: Ingram commands the majority of the groundwork, Johnson is the primary passing back, and Lindsey is the hybrid of the two. I wouldn’t play any of them, however, if I had to rank them I would go Johnson, Lindsey, Ingram, pretty much solely because of the projected game script.

Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR, CAR), Brandon Zylstra (WR, CAR), Dan Arnold (TE, CAR): These three players combine to be the Panthers’ fourth, fifth, and sixth, passing options on any given week. Although what we have seen from the rookie Marshall Jr. has been fairly impressive with optimistic usage, it is hard to rely on him this week. As for the former Edmonton Elks player, Zylstra has been known to make flashes, but he completely disappears afterward. This is similar to Dan Arnold who the Panthers’ acquired to be their primary receiving TE this offseason. You can not trust any of these three players even in a good matchup this week.


Of course, it’s time for Ellis’ Week 3 picks. In last week’s barn burner, Washington failed to cover the spread but managed to hit the over making us 3-1 overall on picks this year. The line for the game currently sits at Panther’s -7.5 with the total set at 44 points. The Panthers have looked the part of an up-and-coming breakout team. Meanwhile, after losing their starting QB, the Texans should be every bit of the dumpster-fire team we expected. Personally, I don’t have a lot of faith in Davis Mills, and I am surprised the spread isn’t larger.

Ellis’ Picks: Carolina -7.5 (1-1), Under 44.0 (2-0)

Career record: Spread (10-10), Over/Under (11-9)

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