Carolina Panthers (7-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-5)
The Panthers have established themselves as a top level team with wins over the Patriots and 49ers in the past 2 weeks, winning both by a touchdown or less, despite going 2-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less since the start of the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era in 2011. That type of thing is inconsistent in the long run, so that’s no surprise. Their success this season shouldn’t be seen as a surprise either.
In 2012, The Panthers won 6 of their final 9 games to finish 7-9. Among those 6 wins were victories over division winners Washington and Atlanta, as well as a victory in New Orleans against the Saints. In their final 8 games, they averaged 26.0 points per game, which would have been tied for 8th in the NFL last season. That’s no fluke, as they ranked 5th in the NFL scoring 25.4 points per game in 2011. Also, in their final 12 games of the season, after moving Luke Kuechly to the middle, they allowed just 21.2 points per game, which would have been 12th in the NFL over the course of the whole season, even though they played top-16 scoring offenses in 8 of those 12 games. They also had a strong draft, adding both Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short. This is a legitimate top level football team.
On the season, the Panthers are moving the chains at an 80% rate, as opposed to 70% for their opponents, a differential that is 2nd in the NFL. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are not nearly as good as their record. They are missing three starters from their offensive line, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito obviously, as well as Mike Pouncey, their talented center who will miss his 2nd straight game with an illness. They beat the Chargers last week, but that was because the Chargers were in a sandwich game situation on the East Coast at 1 PM as a West Coast team and also missing their talented left tackle King Dunlap.
The Dolphins’ offensive line wasn’t very good before they lost starters and they’re even worse now. They move the chains at a mere 71% rate, largely because of their offensive line, while their defense allows opponents to move the chains at a 77% rate, as their retooled defense has not lived up to expectations. That differential is actually 30th in the NFL. That suggests this line should be about 8 instead of 4, so we’re once again getting a ton of line value with the Panthers.
The Panthers also have always done a great job of blowing out bad teams in the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era. They are 5-0 as 6+ point favorites in since 2011, winning those 5 games by an average of 20.0 points per game. The Dolphins aren’t underdogs of 6 or more, but you could argue they deserve to be. The Panthers should be able to blow them out here. The reason this isn’t a bigger play is because the Panthers could be flat off of two huge wins, but they’re good enough to blow out the Dolphins even if they are a little flat. The Panthers are also my Survivor Pick for this week.
Carolina Panthers 27 Miami Dolphins 17 Survivor Pick
Pick against spread: Carolina -4