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Panthers vs. Texans Thursday Night Football Showdown Game Breakdown and NFL DFS Picks

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Welcome to the NFL Showdown Matchups Showdown Highlights for Week 3 Thursday Night Football. Here we will provide a quick overview of the game’s key storylines and highlight some of the key insights from Awesemo’s world-class suite of tools to find the best NFL DFS picks for DraftKings and FanDuel showdown lineups. Let’s dive into the NFL DFS picks today for the Week 3 Panthers vs. Texans Thursday Night Football matchup.

Week 3 Thursday Night Football NFL DFS Showdown Picks

The Panthers have been one of the most surprising teams in the NFL through two weeks, having successfully dominated both the Jets and Saints and now face a middling Texans squad that will be without starting quarterback. The Texans are already dealing with significant injuries, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor and rookie receiver Nico Collins on injured reserve earlier this week. Houston surprised many around their league with a Week 1 win against the Jaguars but could not muster nearly enough offense to take down Cleveland in Week 2, and it will likely be more of the same this Thursday. The Panthers and their improved defensive front should have a major opportunity to make this matchup an extremely low-scoring affair, at least for Houston. The Vegas implied totals suggest Houston will not make it to 18 points, and the current over/under of 43.5 is the third-lowest of any game in Week 3.

Don’t Overthink It with Christian McCaffrey

Through two weeks, McCaffrey has been his typical superb self, ranking fourth among running backs in snap rate, second in opportunity share, and second in team target share. His production through the air remains unparalleled, as he has nearly 50 more yards receiving than anyone else at his position and has almost doubled the next closest back in total expected points added receiving, indicating not only elite volume but elite efficiency as well. On FanDuel, regardless of a salary $2,500 higher than the next highest-salary player, McCaffrey is still considered the highest-value play on the slate. Large-field tournaments are the only contests where someone should consider playing someone other than McCaffrey at the MVP spot. McCaffrey is the fourth-highest-value play on DraftKings but has the highest-projected raw score by nearly 7 DraftKings points.

Sam Darnold, Safety Play

Darnold has impressed in his first two starts as a member of the Panthers, completing nearly 69% of his passes on a career-high 8 yards per attempt. This season, he has been more aggressive, ranking top 15 in air yards and completed air yards and top 12 at his position in yards passing. He ranks 13th in adjusted yards per attempt and 12th in completion percent over expected composite, an advanced metric that combines a quarterback’s per-play and per-pass efficiency and compares it to the past 20 years of league history. Darnold is sandwiched between Dak Prescott and Tom Brady in that metric. His salary on DraftKings makes him tough to get to, especially if rostering McCaffrey, but Darnold’s floor projection makes him an ideal pick in cash games, and he should be on nearly every tournament roster that intentionally fades McCaffrey.

Introducing Davis Mills

Mills, the Texans’ third-round pick this year, threw 18 passes in relief of Taylor last week, completing just 44% of those attempts and a paltry 5.7 yards per attempt. Do not expect Mills to suddenly become more aggressive in this contest either — in college, Mills ranked below the 40th percentile in yards per attempt and below the 60th percentile in QBR. His 0.37 fantasy points per dropback put him outside the top 30 quarterbacks, but there were a few positives that give a small glimmer of hope for those who plan to roster Mills as a contrarian play. PlayerProfiler graded the Texans line as having a 95% protection rate, meaning Mills should have consistent time to throw, and he had a 75% completion percentage in the red zone last week. Mills’ projection on DraftKings lags behind Darnold, the Panthers’ three primary weapons, and Brandin Cooks, but he is a slightly strong play on FanDuel, rating as the third-best value play at $12,000.

Carolina’s Big-Two Receivers Look Like Solid Bets

Carolina’s target distribution was expected to change from last season with McCaffrey returning from injury and with Darnold at the helm. Still, D.J. Moore has emerged as the target hog in Carolina’s receiving corps this season. This season, Moore has 10 more targets than Robby Anderson, equating to a nearly 14% lead in team target share. But where Anderson lacks target volume, he makes for it with air yards, having earned over 35% during that span. Moore’s weighted opportunity rating is still significantly higher, as is his fantasy production, but Moore is currently out-scoring Anderson by nearly 80%; that number will almost certainly come down given the underlying metrics. Moore is the safer play, but when considering salary, Anderson begins to look more appealing. Awesemo’s value metric currently ranks Anderson as a better play on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Why Bother with the Texans Backfield?

The Texans are utilizing a full-blown committee approach at running back, zapping the fantasy value from one of the most run-heavy squads in the entire NFL. Mark Ingram earned over 25 carries in Week 1, a (likely rare) positive game script for this team, but he has earned just 34% of the team’s running back opportunities through two games. Both David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay are averaging 12% of the opportunity share, making this an atrocious set of players to predict usage and project production. However, one thing is evident in this mess of a backfield, and that is that Johnson will be the primary pass catcher. Especially in full-PPR formats, Johnson makes some sense as a contrarian play, as he currently has four more receptions than anyone else in the backfield and has nearly four times as many receiving expected points as any other Texans running back. Johnson and Ingram have identical value scores on both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Brandin Cooks, and Then Everybody Else

Cooks is the most likely receiver to lead this game in targets and should get even more volume than the aforementioned Anderson and Moore, but the jury is out on the quality of that volume. From an opportunity standpoint, Cooks has been one of the busiest receivers in the NFL, ranking third in the NFL in target share and first in air yards share. And even with a combination of Taylor and Mills under center, Cooks has been efficient, ranking top 10 amongst all players in averaging receiving EPA. Cooks looks more appealing on FanDuel but is a significantly better option than any other Texans player. The Panthers’ and Texans’ auxiliary weapons are extremely thin plays (including Panthers’ rookie Terrace Marshall). No receiver outside of Cooks, Anderson, or Moore is projected for more than 5.5 points. Chris Conley could be a major swing play, as he should see extended run as the second wide receiver behind Cooks.

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The Bottom Line

Though the Panthers have looked fine offensively through two weeks, neither of these offenses profile as aggressive and likely will not intend to run up the scoreboard in this contest. Both teams, particularly the heavily favored Panthers, should attempt to control the clock via the ground game, meaning plenty of opportunities for McCaffrey. Houston ranks fourth-worst in PFF’s team defensive grade, which means Carolina has little excuse for not moving the ball effectively. For Houston, Mills will have to have a superb first NFL start against the much-improved Panthers defense to give his team any shot of winning. However, the Awesemo betting model is far from optimistic for Mills and the Texans, as they see this as a rout for Carolina.

Week 3 Thursday Night Football Prediction:

Panthers 27, Texans 17


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If you’re interested in other DFS NFL stats for multiple game slates, head over to NFL ownership projections, Awesemo's NFL Data Central, NFL daily fantasy football rankings, and NFL DFS stacks. Take a look at our inactive players, NFL starting lineups and NFL depth chart list.

A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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