Thursday Night Football

Philadelphia @ Carolina
Team Totals: Panthers 24.5, Eagles 21

Finding his groove after a rocky start, Cam Newton enters Week 6 having dropped consecutive QB2 and QB5 fantasy finishes on the Patriots and Lions while showing marked improvement in ball location and comfort in Carolina’s revised offense. Cam’s 31-yard touchdown pass in last week’s win was pinpoint over the shoulder to Kelvin Benjamin with Lions top CB Darius Slay in tight coverage. The Eagles play pass-funnel defense, shutting down run games but yielding four straight top-12 quarterback results to Alex Smith (QB10), Eli Manning (QB10), Philip Rivers (QB11), and Carson Palmer (QB12). Only ten teams have given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks than the Eagles. … Philadelphia stymies the run, limiting enemy backs to a combined 69/239/3.46/3 rushing line. Even after out-touching Christian McCaffrey 21 to 8 versus Detroit, Jonathan Stewart remains a touchdown-or-bust flex with a season high of 82 total yards. … McCaffrey owners should feel fortunate he scored a second-quarter receiving TD in last week’s win because the rookie was out-touched and out-snapped (56%) by Stewart (61%) in a positive-script game where Carolina grabbed a second-quarter lead and never trailed again. Essentially a rich man’s Giovani Bernard, McCaffrey’s touch totals have dipped on a near-weekly basis (18 > 12 > 13 > 10 > 8) for a 4-1 Panthers team that is now favored by 3.5 points over Philly. McCaffrey’s big-play ability always makes him a tempting play, but he’s just an RB2/flex option at this point with far more appeal in PPR leagues. Whereas Stewart has touched the ball seven times inside the opposing ten-yard line, McCaffrey has just two touches inside the ten. The Eagles have allowed the NFL’s 11th-fewest receptions (22) to the running back position.

Newton’s target distribution during his two-week hot stretch: Devin Funchess 17; McCaffrey 13; Kelvin Benjamin 10; Ed Dickson 9; Stewart 4; Russell Shepard and Fozzy Whittaker 3; Curtis Samuel 2. … Quietly enjoying a third-year breakout, Funchess has drawn eight or more targets in three straight games and leads the team in red-zone targets (5). Wide receivers are typically high-floor, high-upside plays versus the Eagles, who have allowed ten different wideouts to clear 50 yards against them through five games, including eruptions by Keenan Allen (5/138/0), Sterling Shepard (7/133/1), Tyrell Williams (5/115/1), and Odell Beckham (9/79/2). Funchess appears locked in as a high-volume, high-percentage possession receiver in Greg Olsen’s (foot) absence. … Benjamin left Week 3 with a knee injury and did not return. Otherwise, he has topped 75 yards and/or scored a touchdown in three straight games. A solid WR2 play against the Eagles, Benjamin should have a good chance to stay hot with a juicy Weeks 6-13 schedule (vs. PHI, @ CHI, @ TB, vs. ATL, vs. MIA, @ NYJ, @ NO). In fantasy-playoff Weeks 15-16, Carolina hosts the Packers and Bucs. … The Lions all but declined to cover Dickson in Week 5, allowing the eighth-year longtime backup to parlay five targets into a career-high 175 yards. (Dickson’s prior career high was 79 yards, set in 2011.) This matchup won’t be as easy against an Eagles defense that has checked Jermaine Gresham (2/16/0), Hunter Henry (2/16/1), Antonio Gates (3/18/0), Evan Engram (5/45/0), and Jordan Reed (5/36/0). Philly did give up a big number to Travis Kelce (8/103/1) back in Week 2. Dickson remains a high-risk streamer with modest target totals of 1 > 4 > 5 in three games since Olsen broke his foot.

Coming off a four-touchdown explosion in last week’s blowout win over Arizona, Carson Wentz’s Week 6 spot is far tougher on a short-week road trip to Carolina, which has allowed just one top-12 fantasy quarterback result (Tom Brady, QB10) five games in. Wentz is expected to be without RT Lane Johnson, whom Adam Levitan has noted was a difference maker last year. Wentz logged a 10:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 64.8% completion rate when Johnson played, versus a 6:12 TD-to-INT ratio on 61.2% completions during Johnson’s ten-game suspension. I’m approaching Wentz as a fringe QB1 option in this difficult spot. … Wendell Smallwood (knee) is expected to be inactive for the second straight week. In his Week 5 absence, LeGarrette Blount paced the Eagles’ backfield in touches (14) on 39% of the snaps while Corey Clement (8, 34%) and Kenjon Barner (5, 25%) rounded out the three-way committee. The Panthers have stamped out opposing ground games, holding enemy backs to a combined 86/320/3.72/3 rushing line. As a road-dog back facing a stout run defense, Blount is a low-floor, touchdown-or-bust flex option.

Wentz’s Weeks 1-5 target distribution: Zach Ertz 48; Alshon Jeffery 38; Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor 23; Smallwood 11; Blount 3. … The Panthers have played stingy tight end defense by allowing the NFL’s fifth-fewest catches (17) and fourth-fewest yards (184) to the position. Carolina did give up two red-zone scores to Lions blocking TE Darren Fells last week, however, and Ertz has been matchup proof anyway. Ertz is averaging an otherworldly 9.9 targets over his last 12 games with 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in ten of those contests. Sheer volume makes Ertz one of the highest-ceiling tight end plays on the board each week. … The Panthers’ perimeter coverage is far from a pushover, but it gives Jeffery his easiest matchup in a while after facing Patrick Peterson, Casey Hayward, and Janoris Jenkins in Weeks 3-5. Despite an expected slow start on his new team, Jeffery remains playable as a WR2/3 in a matchup where Philly seems likely to lean on its passing game. … Smith beat Cardinals liability No. 2 CB Justin Bethel for a 59-yard touchdown in last week’s win, his first score since last November. Always a low-floor, big-play-dependent dart throw, Smith will now do battle with a zone-based Panthers defense that has allowed the NFL’s tenth-fewest 20-plus-yard pass plays (12) and completions of 40-plus yards (2). … Agholor has flashed big-play ability as the Eagles’ slot receiver, but he has five targets or fewer in four straight games. Slot receivers to face the Panthers so far are Golden Tate (5/48/0), Danny Amendola (6/42/1), Brandon Coleman (1/11/1), Jordan Matthews (3/30/0), and Trent Taylor (1/8/0).

Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Eagles 20

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