Will this add another chapter to the history of great Thursday Night Football matchups … or will it be the latest edition Tank Wars?
In case you feel lost, let me remind you that Carolina owes Chicago its first-round pick in the 2024 draft. In exchange, the Panthers were able to draft who they thought (and still think, maybe) was going to be their franchise quarterback, Bryce Young.
The trade will have the Bears most probably taking two players inside the top-10 picks of the draft next spring while potentially looking at a scenario in which they can draft the No. 1 and No. 2 players belonging to the 2024 class of rookies if things go very wrong throughout the second half of the season for Chicago and Carolina.
If only because of that storyline, this is quite a saucy matchup!
The Panthers don’t have anything to lose for, say, so they better emerge victorious here to bulk their record a bit, lower the value of the pick they’ll be sending Chicago and not feel so bad about the original trade. The Bears, on the other hand, would love to win to tank the Panthers’ pick … although that would mean improving their record and lowering the value of their selection! Pesky conundrum.
Over the last five games between these two, the Bears have won four times to the Panthers’ lone victory in 2012, more than 10 years ago when Cam Newton was a sophomore and Bryce Young barely 11 years old.
The Bears (2-7) entered this game as the slight favorites, boasting a -3.5 spread in their favor over the Panthers (1-7) when the initial odds were released on Monday.
The total points have fluctuated a bit between 39 and 40 points, which is the second-lowest figure among all Week 10 matchups. For context, Chicago is averaging 20.9 points per game while Carolina sits at an average of 17.5.
How do the Bears and the Panthers arrive at their TNF matchup?
It’s not looking good, that’s for sure.
The Panthers are currently 0.5 games above the Bears in the standings as they have played one fewer game than Chicago this season. With the Cardinals having the absolute worst record in the league, that means Chicago owns the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks in the 2024 draft.
Both teams are coming off Week 9 losses and no matter what happens on TNF the No. 2 and No. 3 picks should still be owned by the Bears by the end of Thursday and most probably after Sunday/Monday’s Week 10 games depending on the results earned by the New York Giants and New England Patriots (both "boast" a 2-7 record).
Carolina followed its first and lone win of the season with a 27-13 loss to Indianapolis last weekend. Bryce Young threw three interceptions, two of them going for defensive touchdowns by the Colts. However, the Panthers outperformed the Colts in total yards, holding their foes to under 200 while racking up 275 by themselves on offense.
Chicago lost their second consecutive game in Week 9 at New Orleans, 24-17, after losing its prior one also on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers, 30-13. This TNF marks the second appearance on the slate for the Bears after they faced (and defeated) the Washington Commanders in Week 5.
The Bears had to start rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent for the third consecutive time with Justin Fields nursing a thumb injury and they turned the ball over five times against the Saints. Similarly to the Panthers, Chicago also outgained the Saints in total yards (368 to 301) with Bagent completing two touchdown passes and reaching 290 yards from scrimmage between pass and run plays.
TNF Week 10: Injury Report
The Bears and the Panthers have two of the most crowded shelves across the NFL with many players injured and ruled out for the mid/long-term as well as performers in doubt for TNF and shorter-term matchups.
Chicago received good news at the start of the week with wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown a full practice participant. He was activated and is questionable, but running back Khalil Herbert — who logged full practices all week and is eligible to be activated off IR — isn't expected to be activated.
Obviously, the most impactful news is related to starting quarterback Justin Fields, who was injured in Week 6 and didn’t return to practice (limited) until last Friday. He logged back-to-back limited practices at the start of this week, but he's been deemed doubtful for tonight — meaning another start for Tyson Bagent.
The Panthers lost no time in ruling out their best defensive player in edge rusher Brian Burns and cornerback CJ Henderson after both suffered concussions last week.
Carolina also listed wide receivers DJ Chark (elbow) and Laviska Shenault Jr. (ankle) out to start the week, although it’s worth noting that Chark was listed as “questionable” to play last weekend and ended up playing and catching a touchdown pass. Chark enters TNF as “doubtful” to play on the last injury report released by Carolina on Wednesday. Shenault was ruled out.
One stat that can swing the balance
Carolina can’t stop the run and Chicago is great at rushing … while the Bears struggle against the pass and the Panthers should be playing catch-up with tons of passing. Perfect game script!
First of all, I want to say that nobody is going to be really excited to tune into this game come kick-off time on Thursday, and that also extends to fantasy GMs looking for players on their season-long rosters and even those playing in DFS contests.
The NFL can flex some games here and there, but moving games happening in the middle of the week is simply just too much to accomplish. Thus, here’s your fantastic second-worst vs. third-worst matchup!
With that negative point of view already covered, let’s focus on the positive: this game looks, at least on paper, as a relatively easy one to predict in terms of what each of the two teams will be doing on the field based on what they have done throughout the first half of the season. That makes the game script kinda obvious and will make for easy decisions when it comes to starting and benching players in fantasy lineups this week.
The Panthers are allowing the second-most points to opponents (28.3) and surrender the fifth-most rushing yards per game (131.8). However, Carolina has been reasonably good against the pass, putting up the fifth-best mark in passing yards allowed at 178.3.
The Bears will be attacking this defense on Sunday and as bad as they’ve been, they should take the lead and hold onto it for the major part of the contest. What does Chicago do good? Run the rock. The Bears average the fourth-most rushing yards per game (135.3). What does Chicago struggle with? Passing the ball, averaging the ninth-fewest passing yards per game (190.6).
Carolina should be throwing the ball if only to catch up with the Bears on the scoreboard and the Bears will probably try to run the clock out and make the suffering end quickly for them and everybody watching. And the Bears are the perfect fit for the Panthers’ game plan as Chicago has allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game (256.9) and the most passing touchdowns (20).
On paper, this is as predictable a matchup as there’s ever been one.
Three players to start, three to leave on your bench
Bench: WR DJ Moore (CHI)
Moore leads all skill-position players on the Bears roster in targets, receptions, total yards and he is also tied for the most touchdowns scored. Moore, however, is also leading the team in volatility, with his fantasy scores bouncing wildly and getting astonishingly bad since Justin Fields got injured.
Indeed, Moore was once the darling of Chicago’s offense (he topped five receptions in three of the first five games of the season, getting 104-plus yards in each of them) but in the last four weeks, he has scored 28.4 fantasy points combined for an average of 7.1 FPPG. For context, more than 50 wide receivers across the NFL are averaging eight-plus FPPG through Week 9.
The most concerning thing is that Moore has not really lost any volume/usage as he’s played at least 88% of all offensive snaps while getting between five and nine targets in each of the last four games. The receptions and the yards he’s gained, however, have tanked with Moore failing to get past 55 yards and only catching more than five passes once in that four-game span.
It’s fair to say that rookie QB Tyson Bagent has his eyes locked on other players, or at least that he’s not putting Moore in the best position to succeed. In a game in which the Bears might favor running over passing, this doesn’t look like the perfect matchup for Moore to fix his woes.
Start: WR Cole Kmet (CHI)
The main beneficiary from Moore’s fall in the past few weeks (more precisely the last two weeks) has been Bears tight end Cole Kmet. With Tyson Bagent starting at quarterback, Kmet has seen 10 and eight targets in the last two games, hauling in all 10 and then six of those targets for 79 and 55 yards respectively.
After failing to score a single touchdown in the Week 6 through Week 8 span, Kmet found paydirt twice last Sunday at New Orleans. It was his second-best game of the season, however, as he had a better outing in Week 4 when he put up a 7-85-2 line against the Broncos with Justin Fields starting at quarterback.
Kmet’s five receiving touchdowns rank second in the NFL among tight ends and his 374 yards rank 12th among players at the position. Only Mark Andrews has more yards and touchdowns, and just four other tight ends have at least 350 receiving yards and three-plus scores through Week 9.
Start: QB Bryce Young (CAR)
Young is coming off his worst real-life game of the season having put up a horrible 48.3 passer rating against the Colts, which had the 26th-worst defense by yards allowed. It wasn’t his worst fantasy game, however, with Young completing 24 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown (against three interceptions) to go with 41 rushing yards.
Young has completed between 20 and 25 passes in all of his games to date and he only failed to throw for a touchdown once in Week 4 when he finished that weekend with his worst fantasy score of the season to date.
Young has put up at least 14 fantasy points in each of his last four matchups, including a 26-point outing at Detroit in Week 5 when he cracked the top 10 among players at the position.
Young should find himself in a position where he will need to chase the Bears from behind by passing the ball a ton and the three interceptions shouldn’t be reason enough to fade him as he was coming off back-to-back no-interception games before Week 9. The rookie has also reached 200-plus passing yards in four of his last five games and Chicago has allowed more than two passing TDs per game this season.
Bench: RB Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders (CAR)
Sanders returned from injury in Week 8 and played the last two games, getting two carries on 12 snaps two weeks ago and then ramping up his usage to six carries and three receptions (five targets) on 18 snaps last weekend.
So far, the Panthers have decided to ease Sanders in slowly while not really giving him the chance to do much more because of their struggles on offense and their negative game scripts.
Hubbard, as expected, had his most prolific games of the year in Sanders’ absence with 19, 15 and 16 carries in the past three games, yet only one of those outings turned into a top-10 performance (in Week 6) among leaguewide running backs.
After he peaked in Week 6 with 88 rushing yards on 19 rushing attempts playing 77% of the Panthers’ offensive snaps, Hubbard’s usage went down and he’s appeared in a decreasing 67% and 65% of offensive plays in the past two weeks, respectively.
With Carolina expected to feature Sanders more heavily each passing week and this matchup not looking good in terms of game script and where the Bears defense is exploitable (on pass plays), it makes sense to fade both rushers today.
Start: RB D’Onta Foreman (CHI)
With Khalil Herbert out, D’Onta Foreman has been the main rusher of the Chicago Bears for the last four weeks. In that span, he’s rushed the rock at least 15 times in three games and logged nine carries in the other matchup.
Foreman has only had one truly impressive outing, mind you, when he rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns against Las Vegas adding another score on a pass and hauling in three of five targets for 31 yards. Other than that, he’s been limited to 67, 36 and 83 yards from scrimmage with no more touchdowns.
Throughout the season, Foreman has rushed for 287 yards (57.4 per game) and scored a couple touchdowns. He’s also been targeted 11 times racking up 43 yards and a score. Those are not league-winning numbers, but considering the positive game script he’s facing on TNF against the Panthers he should be a good play for those hurting for help at the RB position, especially with Herbert expected to miss another week.
Two players to scout as prospective waiver wire pickups
Chicago Bears WR Darnell Mooney (14% rostered)
Mooney has had a bad season playing under the combination of Justin Fields and Tyson Bagent in Chicago. However, he exploded for his best game of the year in Week 9 catching five passes for 82 yards while showcasing his speed and after-the-catch abilities.
Before that game (and even though he never played in fewer than 68% of Chicago’s offensive snaps in any matchup) Mooney had only accrued 225 total yards on 15 receptions, including one for a touchdown all the way back in the season opener.
It’s worth keeping an eye on Mooney going forward, although today might not be the day to start him considering the issues of Carolina’s run defense and how the Bears should try to run the ball as much as possible.
That said, and while Mooney won’t be catching 38-yard receptions weekly as he did against the Saints last weekend, he is established as the No. 2 wide receiver of the Bears offense only behind DJ Moore and he should getting chances weekly throughout the second half of the season.
Carolina Panthers TE Hayden Hurst (6% rostered)
The veteran tight end of the Panthers hasn’t been able to put everything together in his first season in Carolina.
It didn’t look like that to start the year as Hurst went on to grab five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, but since then he’s not caught more than three passes in any other matchup and he’s put up more than 21 receiving yards just once, last weekend (54) against the Colts.
It’s hard to trust Hurst going forward, mind you, because the usage hasn’t been gaudy by any means. However, considering how depleted of playmakers the Panthers offense is and the fact that Carolina’s coaches might want to limit turnovers and the risks taken by Young on pass plays, there is a chance Hurts gets more involved in short-pass-laden schemes throughout the second half of the season.
For some reason, the Panthers have used five tight ends throughout the first half of the season. None of them approaches Hurst’s 28 targets, but it’s time for Carolina to move on and realize Hurst is the only viable option for them at the position and one of the best players who can help steady Bryce Young’s production. If that happens, he might end up carving himself a niche as a nice fantasy option at TE.