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Defenses and Dragons: Fantasy players to watch in Lions-Panthers

The Panthers have explosive talent, but the Lions defense is no joke.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Each week, Defenses and Dragons will highlight two Detroit Lions and two opponents who stand out in the matchup, for better or for worse. It may be a stud who could struggle, or it could be a lower-level guy primed for a big game; either way, these are players who should over or underperform their typical output. D&D hopes to help out with crunch-time decisions by taking a closer look at the matchup through historical stats. All stated scoring assumes six points for all touchdowns and a half point per reception.

Matthew Stafford

After a stellar Week 1 performance against the Cardinals, Matthew Stafford has seen a dive in his fantasy points: 35.1 points moved down to less than 20 for two weeks and shrank to just 8.1 points last week against the Vikings. His touchdowns have fallen as well, as over half of his scores on the season came during the first game.

On paper, Stafford faces a tough matchup against a top-10 fantasy defense. Carolina has allowed an average of just 16.3 points per games to quarterbacks this season. However, that figure is mostly due to abysmal performances by Brian Hoyer and Tyrod Taylor to start the year. Since then, Drew Brees and Tom Brady each put up over 24 points against them. Expect Stafford to land closer to these recent performances.

Eric Ebron

The critics are out for Eric Ebron and it is not too difficult to see why. The maligned tight end has hauled in less than 60 percent of his targets, and outside of a decent game Week 2 he has struggled to top even 4.0 points. Tight end is a scarce position in fantasy, especially as byes start to come around, but Ebron should not make his way into fantasy lineups for the time being.

The Panthers have already seen a healthy dose of tight ends this season including players like Rob Gronkowski, Charles Clay and Coby Fleener. Despite facing these typically quality performers, Carolina ranks fifth overall at limiting the position. For a struggling player like Ebron, this is a terrible matchup. With just 5.6 points allowed to opposing tight ends, the Panthers have proven to be a tall task.

Cam Newton

Most mainstream NFL news has focused on Cam Newton this week, and while that may not affect his performance against the Lions, it definitely could be a factor. Newton struggled his way through the first three weeks before facing a porous Patriots defense. His average of 19.1 points per game seems encouraging, but look for Newton to struggle against Detroit.

The main reason to fade Newton is because of a resurgent Lions defense who has done no favors to opposing quarterbacks. Just three teams have been tougher against the position than Detroit, and expecting a struggling player to break that trend seems unlikely. One of the bigger surprises this season has been the Lions seven interceptions. That total should grow during Week 5.

Christian McCaffrey

When Carolina selected Christian McCaffrey during the draft it seemed like they had big plans for him. Just four weeks into the season that looks to be the case, and he is averaging a combined 15 rushes and targets per game. Still, with no touchdowns to date, he is only averaging 9.6 fantasy points and has been more of a complementary piece than a focal point.

There is no denying McCaffrey’s talent, but he too faces a difficult assignment this weekend. The Lions fall around league average in opposing running back fantasy points, but RB1s are scoring just 12.6 points per game. Detroit has faced some dynamic backs over the past two weeks who have exposed a few weaknesses, but McCaffrey is at best a back-end starter in fantasy against an improved Lions defense.