NFL

FanDuel Single-Game Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Week 3 Thursday Night (Panthers at Texans)

On FanDuel Sportsbook, the Carolina Panthers are 7.5-point road favorites at the Houston Texans, and the total is listed at 43.5 points. That makes the implied score 25.50-18.00.

For those unfamiliar, single-game slates feature five flex spots with identical scoring to the main slate. However, kickers are included in these contests, and there is an "MVP" roster slot. The MVP receives 1.5-times his total fantasy points, making this spot crucial.

Our Brandon Gdula has done a deep dive on single-game strategy. It's worth checking out before you make your lineups.

MVP Candidates

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers ($17,500)

Christian McCaffrey is the obvious top MVP pick on this slate, and you didn't need me to tell you that.

We project him for 22.8 FanDuel points, 6.1 more than anyone else. He's got 22.2 and 23.2 FanDuel points through two games, and he posted the 23.2 points without a touchdown. The dude is a monster and could go for 30-plus in a cozy matchup with the Texans, who gave up the second-most FanDuel points per game to running backs in 2020 (29.3) and have allowed the fourth-most through two games this year (27.0).

He's going to be crazy popular at MVP, so the only thing you have to figure out is the risk/reward of using someone else in the multiplier slot. Is CMC probably going to lead the slate in points? Yes. But if he doesn't and you have the guy who does in your MVP spot, it'll give you insane leverage on the field. With that said, you can put McCaffey at MVP and differentiate elsewhere if you don't want to take the chance of missing out on a CMC ceiling game.

Sam Darnold, Panthers ($15,000)

It's just two games, so we shouldn't get carried away quite yet -- but Sam Darnold is playing some ball. He's 10th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back and is coming off games of 19.06 and 19.90 FanDuel points. He's also run a wee bit with six rushes and a score thus far, although he has only six total rushing yards.

Houston surrendered the second-most FanDuel points per game to passers last year (29.3), and Baker Mayfield just put up 18.56 points on 'em without his top two wideouts.

Darnold is the logical MVP pivot away from CMC. If you're not using McCaffrey at MVP, you need either the Panthers' offense to disappoint or for their touchdowns to go to someone other than CMC. Darnold is that most likely someone. We project him for 16.7 FanDuel points, the second-most.

Brandin Cooks, Texans ($13,000)

Brandin Cooks is a wanna-get-weird MVP dart throw.

He's been excellent through two weeks. He torched the Jacksonville Jaguars for 132 yards in Week 1 before going for 78 yards and a tud on 9 grabs in Week 2.

But that was with Tyrod Taylor playing well. How will this offense look with Davis Mills ($12,000) under center? I don't know. What I do know is that Mills is having to make his first career start on a short week against a Carolina D that's looked nothing but legit so far this campaign.

I probably won't use Cooks at MVP, but he'll likely see massive volume -- he has a league-best 54.1% air yards share entering Week 3 and has 15 more targets than any other Houston player -- and could ride that to another solid outing. Our model forecasts him for 12.6 FanDuel points.

Flex Priorities

Robby Anderson, Panthers ($10,000)

Robby Anderson has been a distant second to D.J. Moore ($14,000) so far this year in targets (19 to 9). But there's a $4,000 difference between the two of them, and Anderson has played just 11 fewer snaps than Moore has.

A year ago, Anderson out-targeted Moore (136 to 118), so maybe we're looking at some small-sample noise. Or maybe Moore is going to be a clear alpha now with Darnold under center.

I'm willing to bet on Anderson at this salary, especially because we know he's capable of making big plays -- like his 57-yard score in Week 1 -- which is something that can be huge on a single-game slate.

David Johnson, Texans ($8,000)

Mark Ingram ($11,000) has 40 carries while Phillip Lindsay ($7,500) has run it 13 times and David Johnson has 9 attempts.

Why am I writing up Johnson? Well, I don't think Houston is going to have much success running the ball against a Carolina defense that just bottled up Alvin Kamara and is giving up a league-low 6.9 FanDuel points per game to running backs. So Johnson's pass-game role has me interested.

He's tied for second on the team with six targets and is the second-best point-per-dollar play -- according to our numbers -- among guys with a four-digit salary. His 43% snap rate in Week 2 paced the backfield, and that was the lone negative game script they've faced this season.

If I roster a piece of the Texans' backfield, DJ will be it.

Value/Differentiators

Zane Gonzlaez, Panthers ($9,500)

In Brandon Gdula's single-game study, which I linked in the intro, kickers proved to be viable options in lower-scoring games. With this contest holding a lowly 43.5-point total, the kickers are in play.

Suiting up for the favored Panthers, Zane Gonzalez is the better bet between the two. He scored 9.0 FanDuel points last week in his first appearance with Carolina, and we project him for 8.5 in this one. That makes him the top point-per-dollar play among those with a salary under $12,000, per our algorithm.

Chris Conley, Texans ($7,000)

One way to put CMC at MVP and still be unique is to fade Cooks and go with Chris Conley instead.

Admittedly, with Mills making his first career start and Conley garnering only two targets apiece in each of the first two games, Conley is nothing more than a shot in the dark. But Danny Amendola is expected to be out, and our projections rank Conley as the third-best point-per-dollar play among those salaried under $10,000.