NFL Grind Down Week 1: Los Angeles Rams vs. Carolina Panthers

Vegas Overview

LAR @ CAR Team Spread Total Implied Moneyline
CAR 3 50.5 23.75 130
LAR -3 50.5 26.75 -150

Spread Quick Take: There has been some hesitancy from the general public surrounding Cam Newton’s health (mid-foot sprain) for this game but all signs point to Newton being a full go. Reports out of camp have been positive surrounding Newton’s mobility and Cam isn’t even listed on the Panthers Week 1 injury report. Finding a book that is currently offering Panthers +3 with no juice may be a little difficult to find at this point but that’s the bet if you’re able to find it.

CAR +3
Confidence Level 7/10

Over/Under: Even on the road, the Rams potent offense is unlikely to struggle putting up points against a Panthers defense that ranked 22nd in defense DVOA last season. Similarly, I don’t expect a balanced Panthers attack to have problems keeping pace with the Rams. If nothing else, betting the under in this contest would be an absolutely miserable sweat with two capable offenses and two middling defenses squaring off.

Over 50.5
Confidence Level 6/10

Injury Situations

Player Team Pos Status Part Impact
Cam Newton CAR QB Q Fott 10
Brandin Cooks LAR WR P Hamstring 7

Injuries to Monitor: Cam Newton isn’t listed on the Week 1 Injury Report and is fully expected to play. Panthers RG Trai Turner was added to the injury report on Thursday with a groin injury which seems like an ominous sign for his availability. Turner’s absence would be negligible against a weak Rams front seven.

Other News and Notes: Todd Gurley’s workload has been a widely discussed topic all offseason and is something to keep an eye on.

Matchup Factors, Team Identity Metrics, and Game Flow Expectations

Expected Game Pace and Tempo: The Rams offense is good and plays fast. Los Angeles ranked third in points per drive (3.18) last season and ran plays at the third fastest situation neutral pace in the league. Carolina, who ranked 26th in situation neutral pace, should have little trouble moving the ball on the Rams middling defense which will keep the game humming along at a solid pace. The only real threat to a fast-paced game is if the Panthers jump out to a two score lead and are able to sit on the ball.

Carolina Panthers Offense vs. Los Angeles Rams Defense: The Rams defensive strength is in their secondary with big names like Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Peters, however, had an up and down 2018 season and looked exploitable at times allowing 14.9 yards per reception and allowing six touchdowns in coverage – three in one week against the Seahawks. Despite the tough on paper matchup it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Panthers passing game have some success simply due to increased volume due to playing up in pace.

Los Angeles ranked 27th in rush-defense DVOA last season and ranked 24th in RB Adjusted Fantasy Points allowed. This matchup bodes well for Christian McCaffrey who was used as a true bellcow last season, racking up 1,098 rushing yards and tacking on 874 receiving yards on 108 receptions.

Los Angeles Rams Offense vs. Carolina Panthers Defense: The Rams offense did it all last season, ranking first in Rushing EPA and fourth in Passing EPA. Los Angeles ranked second in offense DVOA and third in average points per drive (3.18). Conversely, a once stout Panthers defense ranked below average in both pass-defense DVOA (24) and rush-defense DVOA (18).

Something to keep an eye on is how well a restructured Rams offensive line that lost John Sullivan and Roger Saffold holds up against an improved Panthers pass rush. This isn’t as favorable as a line matchup as last season’s numbers would indicate when the Rams offensive line ranked second best in Sack Rate (5.49%) allowed while the Panthers defensive line ranked 22nd (6.55%). With that said, I’ll give Sean McVay the benefit of the doubt that he’ll be able to scheme for potential line weaknesses.

Carolina Panthers Projections Breakdown

Quarterback Projections

Player Team Rank Proj ProjAtt ProjYds Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ FD Pts/$ Y
Cam Newton CAR QB4 19.66 37.59 274.44 Rank 11 Rank 20 Rank 19 Rank 16

LAR Schedule Adjusted QB DVP (‘18): Rank #12

2018 Opportunity Metrics:
Att/Gm: 33.6 (Rank 21)
RuAtt/Gm: 7.2 (Rank #3)
DeepBall/Gm: 2.9 (Rank #33)

2018 Efficiency Metrics:
Accuracy Rating: 2.8 (Rank #21)
Air Yards/Att: 7.3 (Rank #32)
Adjusted YPA: 6.6 (Rank #22)

Carolina ran a balanced offense in 2018 with a near 40/60 run/pass split. Placing so much emphasis on the run hurt Newton from a pure passing volume standpoint – he ranked 21st in 33.6 attempts per game – but allowed him to shine on the ground where he averaged 7.2 rush attempts per game. If Cam is fully mobile, and there’s little reason to think he’s not, this sets up as a solid matchup to pick up some yards with his legs as the Rams allowed the 11th most QB rushing yards per game last season.

A closer look at Cam’s 2018 efficiency metrics highlight Rivera’s ideal approach to using Newton as a passer. Cam averaged just 6.6 adjusted yards per attempt last season and an even worse 7.3 air yards per attempt. Newton lacks big play potential with his arm but that’s negated by what he can bring to the table with his legs. Despite a low Adjusted YPA there is room for some passing game upside for Newton simply due to his personnel – D.J. Moore, and potentially Curtis Samuel, are so good with the ball in their hands that they can convert a 7-yard completion into a 80-yard touchdown.

This is a good place to reiterate: Cam Newton is not on this week’s injury report. Still, it seems likely Newton’s pre-season injury scare will drive down his ownership – he isn’t projected to top 5% despite participating in the second highest totaled game of the main slate. Cam makes for an elite tournament option at low-projected ownership.

Quick Summary: Newton is a viable cash game option and an extremely strong tournament option due to expected low ownership.

Running Back Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjRu% ProjTar% Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FDFT
Christian McCaffrey CAR 20.65 RB3 66% 16% Rank 5 Rank 17 Rank 6 Rank 44
Jordan Scarlett CAR 3.03 RB77 12% 2% Rank 71 Rank 73 Rank 81 Rank 71
Reggie Bonnafon CAR 1.76 RB88 4% 2% Rank 84 Rank 80 Rank 76 Rank 84

LAR Schedule Adjusted RB DVP (‘18): Rank #24

2018 Christian McCaffrey Opportunity Metrics:
Opportunity Share: 82.5% (Rank #4)
RZ Opportunity Share: 87.3% (Rank #3)

2018 Christian McCaffrey Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Created: 250 (Rank #26)
YPC: 5 (Rank #12)
Yards Per Route: 2.46 (Rank #7)

Christian McCaffrey is a workload monster. McCaffrey ranked fourth in Opportunity Share (82.5%) last season and third in Red Zone Opportunity Share (87.3%). It’s hard to imagine McCaffrey matching last season’s usage but I also don’t expect Jordan Scarlett or Reggie Bonnafon to funnel any sort of significant usage away from him early on. We currently have Scarlett and Bonnafon accounting for 16% of the Panthers’ Week 1 rush attempts which I find a bit aggressive. I fully expect this to be the Cam + McCaffrey show on the ground as long as neither guy gets nicked up.

Amongst criticism that McCaffrey was a poor runner is that he ranked 13th in yards per attempt (5.0) out of 72 RBs that totaled at least 50 carries. He ranked more middling in yards after contact per attempt (2.7) and broken tackle rate (18.3%) but was still more efficient than most critics expected. McCaffrey should be plenty efficient against this weak Rams defense that ranked 27th in rush-defense DVOA last season and has some defensive turnover losing one of the best run defenders in the game in Ndamukong Suh.

Quick Summary: McCaffrey isn’t flying under-the-radar with near 20% projected ownership on both FanDuel and DraftKings, but I still love him in all formats.

Wide Receiver Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
D.J. Moore CAR 14.24 WR19 22% 8.27 Rank 2 Rank 14 Rank 62 Rank 8
Curtis Samuel CAR 13.51 WR22 20% 7.33 Rank 4 Rank 1 Rank 18 Rank 19
Chris Hogan CAR 7.29 WR87 12% 4.51 Rank 72 Rank 56 Rank 61 Rank 47
Jarius Wright CAR 3.18 WR136 5% 1.88 Rank 130 Rank 130 Rank 129 Rank 129
Ray-Ray McCloud CAR 2.41 WR144 4% 1.50 Rank 137 Rank 135 Rank 136 Rank 137

LAR Schedule Adjusted WR DVP (‘18): Rank #13

2018 D.J. Moore Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 15.1% (Rank #72)
RZ Target Share: 11.8% (Rank #79)
Route Participation: 65.9% (Rank #76)

2018 D.J. Moore Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 2.12 (Rank #33)
ADOT: 9.1 (Rank #86)
YAC per Reception: 5 (Rank #13)

The bad: there’s not an overwhelming amount of receiving volume in this Panthers offense. The good: the receiving volume is concentrated. D.J. Moore should see an uptick in the 15.1% target share he saw last season. We currently have Moore projected for a 22% target share in Week 1 and while that seems generous it also seems more in line than simply applying his 2018 share.

Camp reports regarding Curtis Samuel have been glowing as the third year receiver is expected to make a big leap. We currently have Samuel projected for a 20% target share against the Rams which is an aggressive leap from the 14.9% target share he saw last season. I have more faith in Moore taking a big leap than Samuel.

Moore was awesome with the ball in his hands last season, ranking 13th with averaging 5 yards after the catch per reception. That seemingly fits well in this particular matchup. If Moore does see an uptick in opportunity and is able to carry over last seasons efficiency, he’ll be one of the better value receivers this year.

Quick Summary: Both D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are viable salary relief options in all formats. Samuel is noticeably too cheap on DraftKings while Moore’s price tag pops on FanDuel.

Tight End Projections

Player Team Proj ProjTar Rank ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Greg Olsen CAR 7.26 TE18 12% 4.32 Rank 19 Rank 12 Rank 14 Rank 24
Ian Thomas CAR 3.01 TE45 5% 1.69 Rank 44 Rank 42 Rank 54 Rank 40

LAR Schedule Adjusted TE DVP (‘18): Rank #13

2018 Greg Olsen Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 13.3% (Rank #17)
RZ Target Share: 16.2% (Rank #12)
Route Participation: 65.6% (Rank #9)

2018 Greg Olsen Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 1.49 (Rank #81)
ADOT: 9.8 (Rank #9)
YAC per Reception: 1.8 (Rank #53)

Poor Greg Olsen has gotten injured each of the last two Opening Weeks and just making it out of Week 1 healthy would be considered a massive success for the 34-year old TE. When healthy, Olsen’s opportunity was underwhelming in 2018 with a 13.3% target share and it’s unlikely he sees that number increase as he continues to age. In fact, we have Olsen’s target share projected at 12% against the Rams.

When Olsen was targeted, he wasn’t exactly successful, rating poorly in most efficiency metrics. The Rams were one of the stingiest defenses against the TE position last season so it’s unlikely we see Olsen come to life in this matchup.

Quick Summary: Greg Olsen is dirt cheap on DraftKings which makes him a fine salary relief tournament target.

Defense Projections

Player Team Proj Rank Sack INT PtsAllow Home? Favorite?
Carolina Panthers CAR 5.66 DST31 2.06 0.75 29.17 Y N

As stated above, a once stout Panthers defense struggled last season. There is some reason to suggest they see an improved pass rush this season after drafting Brian Burns with the 16th overall pick. While Los Angeles’ offensive line had the second best sack rate allowed in the league last season they are likely to regress with the losses of Roger Saffold and John Sullivan.

Quick Summary: Look, the most likely scenario here is the Rams put up points and the Panthers defense struggles to stay positive. With that said, Panthers DST is so cheap and there are enough angles to shoot that they make for a fine last piece dart throw in tournaments. Remember, DST scoring is largely random and a defensive touchdown can make or break the slate.

Los Angeles Rams Projections Breakdown

Quarterback Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjAtt ProjYds Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ FD Pts/$ Y
Jared Goff LAR 19.18 QB9 38.10 273.00 Rank 16 Rank 16 Rank 17 Rank 14

CAR Schedule Adjusted QB DVP (‘18): Rank #19

2018 Opportunity Metrics:
Att/Gm: 35.1 (Rank 13)
RuAtt/Gm: 2.7 (Rank #30)
DeepBall/Gm: 4.4 (Rank #12)

2018 Efficiency Metrics:
Accuracy Rating: 2.9 (Rank #11)
Air Yards/Att: 9 (Rank #10)
Adjusted YPA: 8 (Rank #6)

Jared Goff made bank in the offseason signing a four-year $134 million extension. Goff had a solid 2018 season but his opportunity metrics don’t jump off the charts despite the Rams playing at the third fastest pace in the league. Goff averaged just 35.1 pass attempts per game (#13) last season as the Rams ranked just 22nd in percentage of pass plays run last season (57.83%).

Goff’s fantasy upside is dependent on his efficiency as he ranked top third in most efficiency metrics last season. Much of Goff’s efficiency is tied with Sean McVay’s scheming as he takes advantage of receiver matchups and pre-play movement. There’s little reason to think Goff’s efficiency will regress this season which will keep him in play as a fine but limited fantasy option most weeks.

Quick Summary: This is a fine spot for Goff but he’s far from a priority play this week. Goff is best reserved for game stacks.

Running Back Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjRu% ProjTar% Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Todd Gurley LAR 15.50 RB10 54% 8% Rank 11 Rank 38 Rank 22 Rank 40
Malcolm Brown LAR 5.08 RB63 22% 2% Rank 56 Rank 61 Rank 62 Rank 47
Darrell Henderson LAR 6.49 RB52 12% 7% Rank 53 Rank 60 Rank 42 Rank 48

CAR Schedule Adjusted RB DVP (‘18): Rank #26

2018 Todd Gurley Opportunity Metrics:
Opportunity Share: 86.2% (Rank #2)
RZ Opportunity Share: 77.6% (Rank #8)

2018 Todd Gurley Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Created: 370 (Rank #12)
YPC: 4.9 (Rank #14)
Yards Per Route: 1.81 (Rank #21)

Sean McVay stated on Thursday that Todd Gurley won’t be on any sort of play count against the Panthers. Accurately projecting Gurley’s workload is a tall task as all offseason talk has indicated he’ll likely see at least some sort of reduction. We currently have Gurley projected for a 54% share of rush attempts which seems to be a good starting point. Just as there’s some downside to Gurley’s touch projection, there’s plenty of upside as Gurley could very easily suit up and replicate the dominant role he saw in 2018 where he ranked second with a 86.2% opportunity share.

Malcolm Brown is the most likely candidate to funnel carries away from Gurley while Darrell Henderson will likely be confined to a pass-catching role. Even with favorable touch projections neither player projects to see enough work to be considered as a DFS option.

Quick Summary: There is a non-zero chance that Gurley comes out and touches the ball 20+ times on Sunday. If that does happen, he’s one of the better RB plays on the slate, especially at suppressed price tags due to decreased workload speculation. Gurley’s workload is too uncertain to roster in cash games but he’s an elite tournament option if you’re willing to risk the downside.

Wide Receiver Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Brandin Cooks LAR 13.87 WR21 19% 7.24 Rank 27 Rank 65 Rank 10 Rank 89
Robert Woods LAR 14.34 WR18 20% 7.62 Rank 19 Rank 49 Rank 48 Rank 81
Cooper Kupp LAR 12.02 WR30 17% 6.48 Rank 51 Rank 66 Rank 19 Rank 61
Josh Reynolds LAR 5.84 WR105 9% 3.43 Rank 97 Rank 96 Rank 102 Rank 83
Mike Thomas LAR 1.29 WR165 2% 0.76 Rank 156 Rank 155 Rank 157 Rank 156

CAR Schedule Adjusted WR DVP (‘18): Rank #19

2018 Brandin Cooks Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 22.6% (Rank #20)
RZ Target Share: 19.1% (Rank #36)
Route Participation: 90.9% (Rank #9)

2018 Brandin Cooks Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 2.47 (Rank #17)
ADOT: 13 (Rank #31)
YAC per Reception: 3 (Rank #21)

Cooper Kupp is back and healthy which turns the Rams receiving corps into a weekly Russian Roulette. By far the biggest loser in Kupp’s return is Robert Woods who took full advantage of increased slot usage in Kupp’s absence. When healthy, Kupp, Woods and Cooks split targets almost evenly – through six weeks last season Woods lead the way with a 26.4% target share followed by Cooks (23.4%) and then Kupp 21.8%. Those target share numbers would be more intriguing on a team that threw the ball more often.

All three guys are talented receivers and will have spiked weeks but it will be almost impossible to predict who peaks when- on-paper matchups can only take us so far. Cooks and Kupp have Week 1’s best on-paper matchups as Woods projects to lineup against James Bradberry the most often.

Quick Summary: The Rams Russian Roulette is only worth playing in tournaments.

Tight End Projections

Player Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar Pts/$ FD Pts/$ DK Pts/$ Y Pts/$ FD
Gerald Everett LAR 6.42 TE23 10% 3.81 Rank 22 Rank 18 Rank 22 Rank 7
Tyler Higbee LAR 3.53 TE41 5% 1.90 Rank 38 Rank 39 Rank 34 Rank 38

CAR Schedule Adjusted TE DVP (‘18): Rank #9

2018 Gerald Everett Opportunity Metrics:
Target Share: 9.9% (Rank #32)
RZ Target Share: 12.65 (Rank #19)
Route Participation: 35.8% (Rank #32)

2018 Gerald Everett Efficiency Metrics:
Yards Per Route: 1.67 (Rank #70)
ADOT: 6.3 (Rank #32)
YAC per Reception: 3 (Rank #24)

Despite a massively successful offense, Rams ranked just 16th in the league in TE Adjusted Fantasy Points per game last season. Both Gerald Everett (9.5%) and Tyler Higbee (7.3%) saw single-digit target shares last season and are unlikely to see any sort of significant improvement this season with so many mouths to feed.

Quick Summary: Neither guy will see enough volume to be worthy of tournament ownership.

Defense Projections

Player Team Proj Rank Sack INT PtsAllow Home? Favorite?
Los Angeles Rams LAR 6.28 DST21 2.38 0.73 24.52 N Y

Defense Projections

The Rams defense has talented personnel but wasn’t able to piece everything together last season, ranking just 18th in defense DVOA. Notably, Los Angeles did rank first in Pressure Rate last season which provides their DST a path to scoring via sacks and turnovers.

Quick Summary: Not a cash play but fine tournament option with a path to success against the turnover prone and sack taking Cam Newton.

DFS Recommendations

Optimal DFS Plays: Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel (DK), D.J. Moore (FD)

Leverage Plays: Cam Newton, Todd Gurley

Secondary Plays: Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods

About the Author

  • Dan Gaspar (MrTuttle05)

  • Since his addition to the RotoGrinders community, MrTuttle has been continually climbing the Grinders leaderboards and is currently ranked in Top 150 overall. He has qualified for countless live finals as well and has proven himself to be one of the best high-stakes DFS players in the industry. You can find him on Twitter @MrTuttle05.


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