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Week 15 Start/Sit: Monday Night Football Matchup Analysis

The Carolina Panthers (6-7) looked like a lock to make their second-straight postseason appearance a little over a month ago, but have since lost five-straight games and now find themselves outside of the club arguing with the bouncer over how they belong on the guest list. But, aren't. Conversely, the New Orleans Saints (11-2) have already clinched the NFC South division title and are playing for home field advantage, a first-round bye, and bragging rights. Bragging rights which took an interesting turn earlier in the week.

Including the victory in Wild Card weekend which ended the Panthers season, New Orleans won all three of their matchups with the Panthers a season ago. The sweep inspired defensive end Cam Jordan and some of his teammates to send Cam Newton a few "gifts" which included a broom. Funny, if you ask me, but Newton and the Panthers did not take the gesture lightly and have made it clear this week that the "disrespect" has not been forgotten.

This rivalry isn't likely to be mentioned among the fiercest in the NFL, but there is no love lost between these two and a disrespected, and even more desperate, Panthers team on one sideline adds even more fuel to the fire. Let's break down some of the fantasy football matchups from what should be an entertaining showdown between intra-division foes in the Week 15 Monday Night Football preview.

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New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

Date and Start Time: Monday, December 17th at 8:15 p.m. EST
Game Spread: NO -6.5
Over/Under: 54

Offensive and Defensive Rankings (per game):

Saints Panthers
Passing Yards 11th 15th
Rushing Yards T-10th 2nd
Pass Defense 28th 20th
Run Defense 1st 7th


Must Starts

Top Players That You Should Have In Your Lineup

Drew Brees (QB, NO)

This season hasn't seen Brees put up the gaudy numbers of which we’ve grown accustomed, but he's been one of the most efficient quarterbacks and while efficiency does not always lead to fantasy points, a matchup against the Panthers should do the trick.

Brees is averaging just 166.3 passing yards over the Saints last three games, putting up more than 15 fantasy points just once over those three. The Saints offense has become run-centric, and frankly, Brees really hasn't had to do much. However, despite facing Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, James Conner, and most recently, Nick Chubb the Panthers have held all but one running back they've faced (Tevin Coleman - Week 2) under 100 yards rushing while limiting the position to a mere 29 receiving yards per game as well. He may be required to do a bit more here. Playing away from the Superdome, outdoors, in December, isn't the most ideal of scenarios for Breesy, but a Panthers secondary which hasn't intercepted an opposing QB since Week 9 while squandering 274.8 passing yards a game with 11 touchdowns and an average of 21.5 fantasy points over those five definitely helps.

Christian McCaffrey (RB, CAR)

The Saints present a stiff test, arguably the stiffest test, but so too did the Steelers and Ravens which CMC stacked yards and TDs upon with relative ease. The Saints have allowed opposing RBs the fewest scrimmage yards this season while McCaffrey has gone over 100 scrimmage yards in six-straight and sits fifth among RBs at 125.2 per game. Something has to give, but seeing how McCaffrey is responsible for 13 of the Panthers 39 offensive TDs this season, he's simply too big of a factor in this offense to even consider benching.

Michael Thomas (WR, NO)

Like McCaffrey, Thomas has essentially been a one-man show for his Saints offense. His 28-percent target share leads the team and no other receiver has more than a 10-percent share. In fact, Alvin Kamara (21-percent) is the only other Saint who has more than a nine-percent target share in this offense. In other words, when Brees drops back to pass, Thomas finds himself on the other end quite often and he's very good at catching footballs.


Must Sits

Players To Avoid Putting In Your Lineup

Tre'Quan Smith (WR, NO)

Smith caught all three of his targets for 111 yards and two touchdowns in Week 5 against Washington. Week 11 saw him bring in 10 of 13 targets for 157 yards and a TD against Philly. That's 16 targets, 13 receptions, 268 yards, and three TDs in just two games. His other six appearances? 16 targets, nine receptions, 103 yards, one TD. Even more damning is the one target he's seen in each of the last two games - failing to bring in a pass in either. The boom potential obviously exists, and there's a chance he explodes for another huge game against a porous Carolina secondary which has allowed six 100-yard receivers. It just requires an ungodly amount courage to overlook the bust potential and put him in your fantasy lineup this week... An ungodly amount which I do not possess.

Devin Funchess (WR, CAR)

He's not likely remaining on many fantasy rosters, but just in case, I wouldn't recommend having him in your lineups this week.

Ian Thomas (TE, CAR)

Cameron Brate became the first tight end to put up double-digit fantasy points against the Saints defense in Week 14 and is now one of just two TEs to have found the end zone against them this season. Add to that New Orleans has held TEs to the second-fewest yards and fourth-fewest fantasy points, and you have a matchup which is probably best to be avoided.

Thomas received 11 targets last week after seeing five head his way in Week 13 -- bringing in 14 catches for 123 yards over this two-game stretch -- so the volume is tough to debate. However, it's worth noting that the Panthers last two opponents, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, are two of the league's worst against the position. Not to mention, Thomas provided rather pedestrian numbers in spell of Greg Olsen earlier in the season. Looking at the full scope, Thomas has averaged 30 receiving yards per game in seven appearances with zero TDs, and this tough matchup diminishes his appeal even further despite the recent output.


Solid Options/Sleepers

Which Players Will Have Solid Games and Which Could Surprise?

Solid Option - Cam Newton (QB, CAR)

New Orleans has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the quarterback position, the fifth-most passing yards per game, and nearly two passing TDs per contest. They've also picked up 24 sacks and seven interceptions over their last five games while limiting their opposition to 238.4 passing yards, six passing TDs, and 14.6 fantasy points per game. It's been a tale of two seasons, and while matchups definitely play a role in the discrepancy between the numbers, the Saints defense of recent weeks appears to be more in line with the unit we saw last season than the version we saw to begin this one.

Cam has struggled as of late -- throwing six INTs to just four TDs over his last three -- and has been visibly impacted by playing through a shoulder injury. Still, he'll remain a solid option weekly so long as he stands tall and runs fast due to his supreme athleticism and rushing ability. And a must-win game against a division rival creates a primed bounce back spot.

Solid Option - Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram (RB, NO)

Kamara's talent and upside render him unbenchable, but his recent play combined with the matchup drops him into the low-end RB1/RB2 range this week. He's failed to find the end zone in three-straight games while accumulating less than 100 scrimmage yards in each of those contests to boot. Still, he's put up double-digit fantasy points in PPR formats in all but one game this season and in seeing nearly 20 touches every time he steps on the field, he's virtually guaranteed to put up numbers; regardless of matchup.

Ingram, on the other hand, hasn't been much of a factor in the passing game but has received double-digit carries in seven of his nine appearances this season. The Panthers have allowed just 75.5 rushing yards a game to opposing backs, but they've also allowed a rushing TD in five-straight games while giving up four yards per tote making Ingram a RB2/flex option (with upside) given his TD potential.

Solid Option - Curtis Samuel/D.J. Moore (WR, CAR)

New Orleans has allowed just two receiving TDs to the receiver position since Week 10, and again, present a tougher matchup than the numbers may suggest. However, both of these gentleman have seen at least eight targets in consecutive games while accounting for 54-percent of Newton's passing yards over that stretch. They've been productive despite the play of quarterback Cam Newton, so any improvement in that regard brings us to floors high enough to land them in the WR2/WR3 conversation.

Sleeper - Keith Kirkwood (WR, NO) 

Kirkwood is yet to catch more than three passes in a game this season, but has scored in two of the Saints last three games and appears to be the only viable WR option in this offense outside of Michael Thomas. He's a long shot, but a couple big plays and a touchdown are definitely within reason.

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