New York Giants (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (0-2)
The Panthers are now 2-14 since 2011 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Part of my reasoning for them having a big season was that their record in close games would even out, as it always does in the long run, but it’s very possible that won’t happen this year. They need to fire Ron Rivera. They should have done it last off-season (can you imagine how good they’d with be Chip Kelly, you know his #1 choice would have been working with Cam Newton?).
You can’t put the entire 2-14 record in close games on him, but he has to take the blame. Last week, the reason they lost on their final drive was because they only had 4 healthy defensive backs, but you could also blame Rivera for opting to kick a field goal to push the lead to 6 rather than trying to ice it on 4th and 1 late. Instead of putting his faith in his expensive running game or his great short yardage quarterback, he put his faith in a defense that literally didn’t have enough healthy bodies to be successful.
Also, because Rivera is a defensive Head Coach, the bulk of the offensive responsibilities have fallen on offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who is doing a terrible job in his first season in that position. That’s a big part of the reason why the Panthers have struggled to move the ball early on this season. Cam Newton did not pick up where he left off last season, completing 60.7% of his passes, but for just 5.8 YPA in this unnecessarily conservative offense, with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. He’s also taken off running just 9 times for 53 yards. Only 20 of Newton’s 61 pass attempts have gone more than 10 yards through the air and the new offensive system has to be blamed for that.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news, as the defense has picked up where it left off, when it allowed 21.2 points per game in the final 12 games of last season. After holding the Seahawks to 12 in their opener, they held Buffalo to 17 last week, before that final drive, in which, of course, they didn’t have enough healthy defensive backs.
The Panthers will have enough healthy defensive backs this week, unless they have another rash of in game injuries, but they are literally using replacement level talent in the secondary throughout this week, with Charles Godfrey done for the season, Josh Norman and Quintin Mikell out for this one, and Josh Thomas also possibly out. Their secondary was not very talented to begin with, but this just makes things even worse. Their tremendous front 7 has been masking their putrid back 4 over the past 2 seasons and they could continue to do so this week, but they’ll have their work cut out for them.
If the Panthers bounce back offensively and hold it together defensively, they could play well enough that this won’t need to be a close game and there’s always the possibility that they finally are able to win a close one, but I don’t know how likely the best case scenario is for the Panthers this week. The Giants, meanwhile, come into this game 0-2 as well, largely because of a -8 turnover margin that is by far the league’s worst this season. Fortunately, this type of stuff is pretty inconsistent on a week to week basis. Teams that have a -4 turnover margin one week average about +0 the following week and the same thing for a team that previously had a +4 turnover margin.
They also tend to be a very good team on the road, going 47-33 SU and 50-30 ATS on the road since 2004, as opposed to 44-33 SU and 37-40 ATS at home in that same time period. They also usually start seasons well, so I find it hard to believe they’ll start this season 0-3. Since Tom Coughlin took over in 2004, the same season as Eli Manning became the starter, the Giants are 53-19 in the first 8 games of the season and 30-42 in the second 8 games of the season.
I also like the Giants in a situation where they’re being doubted, though I’d like them better if they were dogs and facing an opponent that was publicly perceived as better than the Panthers. The public is also placing everything they have on the Giants. Combine that with the possibility that the Panthers actually break out this week and I’m nervous to bet either side. The Giants should be the right side, but I’m not confident.
New York Giants 23 Carolina Panthers 20
Pick against spread: NY Giants -1.5