In case you were curious, the Carolina Panthers (1-11) have officially been eliminated from playoff contention.
That could be a good thing for running back Chuba Hubbard, who had his best game of the season in the team’s three-point divisional loss Sunday.
Carolina can now have “live tryouts” as the team enters its rebuild differently following the firing of former head coach Frank Reich.
Hubbard, 24, and in his third NFL season, was trusted rushing the ball 25 times in Week 13. That tied for the most in the league with James Conner. Hubbard also broke 100 rushing yards (104) for the first time this season while finding the end zone twice. He out-touched offseason acquisition Miles Sanders 25-9 and out-snapped him 44-23.
The Buccaneers had a better-than-average rush defense coming into Sunday. But division games tend to be funky.
Hubbard hadn’t reached the 20-touch plateau at any point this season before Sunday. In fact, he had six games, out of 12, with single-digit carries this season, too. We might be learning who were favorites of the previous regime vs. the new one. And at a good time, too, as the fantasy football playoffs could begin for leagues this week or next.
Carolina and Hubbard face New Orleans (13th), Atlanta (2nd), Green Bay (23rd) and Jacksonville (9th) (and Tampa Bay again if your playoffs span into Week 18) for the remainder of the season.
BREAKING DOWN THE ROAD AHEAD
New Orleans will be without Derek Carr (concussion, neck, shoulder) next week, likely leaving the Saints’ offense up to Jameis Winston. A once 30-for-30 touchdown-to-interception ratio signal caller will still deal with injuries and turnovers in the matchup. This means less New Orleans offense on the field and a chance for Carolina to have to run down and/or out the clock. Hubbard is a sneaky sleeper in Week 14.
Then, we get to Atlanta. A third straight NFC South matchup gives the Panthers practice. Let’s be honest, Desmond Ridder is not the guy for Atlanta. He averages 169 passing yards per game and has the same amount of passing touchdowns as interceptions on the year. The Falcons rely on their ground game, setting up a potential low-scoring ground battle. The difference? Bryce Young hasn’t had a multi-interception game since Week 9, but Ridder did in Week 12. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith also can’t decide which rusher to use, but the Panthers have gravitated toward Hubbard – and as long as he continues playing consistently – still will in Week 15.
Then, the 23rd-ranked Packers are a gift in the fantasy playoffs. Chiefs’ back Isiah Pacheco hit 118 yards on the ground in Week 13, while Lions’ backs David Montgomery (71) and Jahmyr Gibbs (73) combined for 144 yards and a touchdown the week prior. Green Bay is asking a lot of its offense to keep up with opposing teams in an average of less time with the amount of clock eaten up on the ground.
While Jacksonville is truly the only wild card rush defense the team has left, the Jaguars do not have a timetable of when quarterback Trevor Lawrence (ankle) will return after he was injured Monday night. The odds of C.J. Beathard being able to keep the offense on the field as long as Lawrence has averaged seems unlikely. Will Travis Etienne be involved more? Sure, but a one-dimensional offensive attack bodes well for Carolina.
IT’S YOUNG GUYS-O’CLOCK
Furthermore, the Panthers are hinting at getting their younger players more involved after playoff elimination.
On Sunday, rookie wide receiver Jonathan Mingo saw the highest receiving total of his career. At the same time, Adam Thielen has 27 yards across his last two games, and D.J. Chark has been relegated to the No. 3 receiver.
Out with the old and in with the new. And the new is shiny with positive matchups for the remainder of the 2023 season.