I don’t about the Carolina Panthers, but I have been experiencing a Super Bowl hangover since the middle of February. While I enjoyed the preseason, it didn’t provide nearly the same NFL fix I received watching the Panthers play the Broncos on Thursday night. I suspect that many of you are feeling the same way this morning. It is refreshing to know that Football is back. Not only was it entertaining but is was also educational. After watching the game last night we have learned a few things. Some of which have fantasy implications.
- Denver’s defense is as dominate as ever
Okay, so most of you didn’t need me to tell you that. Denver came into the game with the topped ranked defense in the league. The same defense the won Peyton Manning his second ring. However, we also know that Carolina’s offense in the Super Bowl did not play to its potential. The first half showed a much more proficient Panthers offense that was able to move the football. However, the defense made adjustments in the second half turning the Panthers into house cats. Von Miller was kept in check for most of the game, yet still made the important plays when in counted. When the smoke had cleared Denver’s defense was standing tall once again over a battered and beaten Cam Newton.
From a fantasy perspective this is a positive sign. However, I tend to stream my defenses. That means I pick my defense each week based on matchups. This allows me to save my fantasy draft picks for skill players and not worry about defenses. I like my bench to be as fluid as possible. However, if you have Denver’s defense you don’t need to stream. They are going to get you close to double digit points every week. No surprises and nothing to worry about here.
- Kelvin Benjamin is back
I picked Carolina to win this game on the soul fact that Kelvin Benjamin was back on the field. As good as the Panthers were last seasons, they still missed Benjamin. His presence on the field made everyone’s job easier. Olsen saw less double coverage on his way to 7 catches for 70+ yards. Any time a player has major knee surgery and misses an entire season there is cause for concern. Benjamin held up, even after taking a direct hit to his surgically repaired knee. While it seems like Denver still has Carolina’s number, I predict a healthy Benjamin makes the Panthers the clear favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
From a fantasy perspective Benjamin has reestablished himself as a #1 fantasy WR. That is if you can look past his injury from last season. Benjamin was targeted 12 times hauling in 6 of them. He was 9 yards south of 100 with a touchdown. In most standard scoring leagues that is worth about 15pts. Those of us who own him in PPR leagues got over 20pts. Numbers do not lie. Take note that this was done against a very good defense.
- The NFL has some head problems
It didn’t go unnoticed that Cam Newton took multiple direct head shots. One of them causing the QB to lay face down on the field for several seconds. This is alarming because time and time again the NFL has failed to follow through with its lip service concerning player safety. The NFL just settled a law suit. The NFL has been talking loudly about keeping players safe. The NFL concussion protocol is under a microscope. NFL players are shortening their careers because of head injuries. Yet, Cam Newton suffered hit after hit with the potential to end a career. Look, football is a contact sport and people are going to get hurt. However, it is concerning how much noise is being made in the media this morning. None of which is coming from the commissioner’s office.
Another fact that is being brought to light is that Newton stayed on the field after a devastating hit. A hit similar to the one Ram’s QB Case Keenum took last season that left him wobbling. This begs the question of who is going to keep the players safe. The coach didn’t do it, the officials didn’t do it, and the rules have not done it. This conversation is far from over.
- Cam Newton is Jekyll and Hyde
There is no doubt that Cam Newton is a great NFL QB. There is no one on the field that can do what he does. I am not making the argument that he is the best, but there is no one like him. He holds the record for touchdown runs by a QB. At the same time he still throws for over 3,500 yards per season on average. We saw Newton own the Denver defense in the first half of Thursday night’s game. Newton was 11/17 for 111 yards and touchdown. He was not sacked and didn’t throw an interception. Let’s not forget his 20+ yards rushing and a touchdown with his feet.
Jekyll left the field in the first half and Hyde came out of the tunnel to start the third quarter. Newton went 1/4 in the third quarter for 13 yards and was sacked once. His completion percentage dropped from 66% to 25%. When the second half came to a close Hyde Newton threw 7/16 for 83 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. He was also sacked 3 times.
The silver lining in all of this is that Cam Newton stood in there while getting hit in the head multiple times. When he got the ball late in the game we was able to get them into FG range and gave them a chance to win. Sure penalties hurt, but he stood in there.
From the fantasy perspective Newton showed why his is a top 5 QB. Even though he struggled down the stretch he still scored 20 fantasy points. Even on bad day, Cam Newton is lock to score 20pts or more. If you have Cam starting in your lineup, you are going to be just fine.
- Denver QB issues are minimal
Elway gave Bronco fan a scare when he brought in Mark Sanchez to compete for a starting position. Sanchez is a serviceable back up option but has proven time and time again he isn’t the guy to anchor your team. Enter Trevor Siemian, a guy that has never thrown and NFL pass. You basically have the “other” Peyton Manning in the lineup. Last season you had a savvy veteran who couldn’t move, but was successful because of experience. His athleticism was gone but he knew how to win. Siemian is the polar opposite. Has no experience but was able to win the game on skill and athleticism. The formula is the same. Run the ball, move the chains, don’t turn it over, and let the defense do their job. That is how they won the Super Bowl.
You may have not noticed it in the first half but Siemian hung in there with Newton blow for blow. Sure he did have 2 interceptions and 0 touchdowns. But he still completed 66% of his passes. However, unlike Newton he improved in the second half. Siemian completed over 70% of his passes and got his first NFL touchdown pass. Yes, there were some mistakes. But it was his first NFL game and he walked away with a win. A win against a very good Panthers defense.
All in all it was great way to start the season. I can’t wait to see what else we learn on Sunday. I will be back to writing my weekly waiver wire blog starting Tuesday. Go Falcons!!!