Fantasy football, Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey could break out Sunday against a weak Patriots defense. Getty Images

Fantasy football advice on Christian McCaffrey, Cam Newton and Mike Gillislee ahead of the Panthers - Patriots matchup Sunday.


The Panthers and Patriots have played at extremes so far this season. Carolina has lived and died in low-scoring affairs while the Patriots seem quite content trying to win high-scoring shootouts each week.


Carolina won 23-3 in Week 1 at San Fran, won 9-3 at home against Buffalo in Week 2, and lost 34-13 in Week 3 to New Orleans. The Pats, meanwhile, lost 42-27 at home in Week 1, won 36-20 at New Orleans in Week 2, and won 36-33 last Sunday at home over Houston.


The Pats are second in the NFL in scoring (behind the LA Rams) through three games as they’re putting up 33.0 points per game. Carolina, on the other hand, is averaging a measly 15 points per game.


Conversely, the Patriots defense is allowing a whopping 31.7 points per game – dead last in the NFL. The Panthers, going on points per game, have the second best defense in the NFL, giving up 13.3 ppg.


Two seasons ago, Panthers QB Cam Newton threw 35 touchdowns and had just 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 636 yards, with 10 touchdowns via his legs. Those numbers and a 15-1 regular season record for Carolina earned Newton NFL MVP honors.

That seems like ancient history now as Newton struggled through the 2016 season, owning a 19:14 TD to INT ratio. This season, through three games, has been even worse for the former No. 1 overall pick as he’s thrown just two touchdown passes with four interceptions. He also has just 46 rushing yards so far this season.

Given what relatively mobile quarterbacks like Alex Smith and Deshaun Watson have done to the Patriots defense this season, however, this may be the week that Cam looks like Cam again.

The Panthers have a scary defensive unit, led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis – and defensive ends Mario Addison and Julius Peppers. They’ll surely put pressure on Tom Brady all afternoon, so the Pats may need their running game to finally step up in this one.

Going into the season, it was a given that the Pats would employ a running back by committee approach and that’s mostly held true. Mike Gillislee is the team’s leading rusher so far this season with 145 total yards (48.3 per game).

In the Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, the Pats ran for 124 yards. In the Week 2 win over the Saints (the best outing of the season so far), the Pats rushed for 119 yards. Last week in the narrow win over the Texans, the Pats rushed for just 59 yards.

Expect to see a little more balance from the offense this week against Carolina.

Fantasy football advice: Start Christian McCaffrey against a suspect Patriots defense, start Cam Newton against a suspect Patriots defense, Bench Mike Gillislee against a tough Panthers defense, even with Rex Burkhead doubtful for the Patriots (Burkhead returned to Pats practice Friday).