Carolina Panthers (5-3) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
Team X is one of these teams. Team X has an explosive offense led by a dual threat quarterback drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft that moves the chains at an 81% rate and scores 25.5 points per game. They have a shutdown defense that allows opponents to move the chains at a 69% rate and allows opponents to score 13.3 points per game, the 2nd best in the NFL. Their secondary doesn’t have a lot of recognizable names, but they are playing well as a unit and they are supported by a fantastic front 7, led by a big name, recognizable middle linebacker. Their rate of moving the chains differential is best in the NFL and their point differential of +98 is the 3rd best in the NFL and the best in the NFC. In terms of DVOA, they are 3rd in the NFL.
You might think Team X is the 49ers and the 49ers are certainly a very good football team, but that aforementioned Team X is actually the Carolina Panthers. The 49ers are scoring a few more points per game, scoring 27.3 points per game, but they allow significantly more, allowing 18.1 points per game. Their point differential of +73 certainly is very good, but it’s not as good as Carolina’s, coming in 5th. In DVOA, they come in 6th. In terms of rate of moving the chains, they move the chains at a 74% rate, as opposed to 70% for their opponents. That differential is a solid 9th in the NFL, but it’s not as good as Carolina’s.
If you use rate of moving the chains to calculate a line, it would say that Carolina should be favored by 3 points. I don’t agree with that and you obviously can’t follow that blindly. The 49ers have been playing much better football over the past 4 games as compared to their first 3 games and they were so good in 2011 and 2012 that you can safely throw out the first 3 games of the season as a fluke. They’re one of the best teams in the NFL. But the Panthers are too. At the very least, we’re getting significant line value with the Panthers at +6.5. Remember, the Panthers are ranked higher than the 49ers by Football Outsiders in DVOA. In spite of this, most of the action is on San Francisco and the line is actually moving down. That suggests it’s a trap line and/or the sharps are on Carolina.
The 49ers could also be caught looking forward to the Saints next week. Teams are 61-85 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs. The Panthers face the Patriots next week back in Carolina, but that’s a different story. For one, New England is a non-conference opponent so it won’t be as big of a distraction. They could also be favorites, especially if they have a good showing here this week. I think the Panthers will play this one close and possibly even win.
San Francisco 49ers 24 Carolina Panthers 23
Pick against spread: Carolina +6.5