New England Patriots (7-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-3)
It’s almost always a bad idea to bet against Tom Brady as an underdog. In his career, Brady is 29-13 ATS as an underdog and 40-15 ATS as an underdog or favorite of less than 3. It makes sense. This is the same Tom Brady who still feels slighted by being taken in the 6th round 13 years ago. He’s at his best when people doubt him and all the talk this week is about how the Panthers have finally arrived (news flash: they’ve been arriving all season). However, we might not be getting enough points to confidently take the Patriots here.
The Panthers have been a dominant team this season, especially over the past 5 weeks, which include 4 wins by 14+ points and a 1 point win in San Francisco last week that was easily the biggest victory of the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era. They are moving the chains at a 79% rate, as opposed to 68% for their opponents, a differential is that 2nd in the NFL. The Patriots, meanwhile, haven’t been the same this year as they usually are. Their offense is moving the chains at a 75% rate, as opposed to 71% for their opponents, a differential this is 9th in the NFL. That suggests this line should be around 7.5.
Of course, the Patriots had easily their best game of the season before the bye, beating the Steelers 55-31. Not only did they score 55 points, but they didn’t rely on their defense very much to do so, as they had 610 total yards and 33 first downs. It’s very possible that Tom Brady and his receivers are finally on the same page. Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola are healthy now and will only be healthier coming off of the bye and rookie Aaron Dobson seems to be coming around. That trio had at least 100 yards and a touchdown between them. The ball also looked to be coming out of Brady’s hand better.
There’s no guarantee they’ll continue to be an improved offensive team going forward, but it’s certainly not something I’d put past them, especially with Shane Vereen expected back to provide Tom Brady a much needed high percentage target on a check down and a needed change of pace in the running game. Remember, he had 159 all-purpose yards week 1 before getting hurt and he should be close to 100% in his first game back because he wasn’t dealing with any sort of leg injury. Defense was a problem against Pittsburgh, but the Patriots are expected to get top cornerback Aqib Talib back for this one and they’ve generally had a strong defense on the season.
I think it’s safe to say that the Patriots are better than they’ve played this season, but the extent to which they are is still unknown. If Brady and this offense come out like they did against Miami 3 weeks ago, they might have trouble getting out of single digits against this Carolina defense. I really wish we were getting at least a field goal with the Patriots, especially since the Panthers are in a good spot with no distractions on the horizon (at Miami next week). Teams are 69-47 ATS as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road favorites since 2008. The Patriots, meanwhile, have to take on Denver next week. At the end of the day, Tom Brady as a dog is basically an automatic bet-on at this point, but I’m not confident at all.
Carolina Panthers 20 New England Patriots 19
Pick against spread: New England +1.5