Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)
I think the Seahawks are a little overrated because of how good their home field advantage is. Fortunately, as long as they’re home, they are the toughest team in the NFL to beat, but if they have to go on the road, they’re definitely beatable. Considering their home/road disparity goes back so far, I think they’re currently an above average team that looks elite at home, but show its true colors on the road. Going back to 2007, they are 15-37 on the road, getting outscored by 6.63 points per game, and 32-18 at home, outscoring opponents by 6.32 points per game.
Last season, they went 3-5 on the road, including losses in St. Louis, Miami, Arizona, and Detroit, all sub-.500 teams a year ago. In the post-season, they were down 14-0 in Washington before Robert Griffin got hurt and they lost the following week in Atlanta. At home, they outscored opponents by 18.5 points per game (30.4-11.9) last season, beating 4 eventual playoff teams, and on the road, they outscored opponents by just 2.3 points per game (21.1-18.8), despite playing just one playoff team in that stretch (San Francisco).
The good news for the Seahawks is they got better as last season went on, both at home and away, thanks to the improvement of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. I think that has a good chance of carrying over in 2013, at least somewhat. However, The Panthers are an underrated team that is going to be a very tough team for the Seahawks to beat in Carolina, especially on the East Coast at 1 PM ET, a situation the Seahawks haven’t won in since 1998.
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. Newton was noticeably better in the 2nd half of the season, completing 58.4% of his passes for an average of 7.9 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, all while rushing for 394 yards and 4 touchdowns. That was opposed to 57.0% completion, 8.1 YPA, 6 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions with 347 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns in the 1st half of the season.
Heading into his 3rd season in the league, it’s very possible he’s turned a corner, which would be a very good thing for this team. 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. At the very least, Newton’s early sophomore slump should be a thing of the past and this should be one of the better offensive teams in the NFL.
The other big turnaround for this team was an improved defense. In their final 12 games of the season, 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. That was opposed to 27.3 points per game allowed in the first 4 games of the season and 26.8 points per game allowed in 2011. The obvious change from week 4 to week 5 was moving eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kueckly to middle linebacker and giving him an every down linebacker role, but you can’t give him all the credit.
Young players like Greg Hardy also broke out as the season went on defensively. He and Charles Johnson give them one of the best 4-3 defensive end duos in the NFL, with Hardy moving to defensive tackle on passing downs and talented reserve end Frank Alexander coming in to allow the Panthers to play 3 defensive ends at once. This season, Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short come in as rookies with Dwan Edwards at defensive tackle and give the Panthers one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
At linebacker, they have Jon Beason back healthy with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. Their secondary is a problem, but you can mask a mediocre secondary with good front 7 play. The 49ers have been doing it for 2 seasons and the Panthers did it to end last season. For those reasons, I like their chances of carrying their strong finish into 2013. As long as I’m getting more than a field goal with the Panthers, this is my Pick of the Week, especially since the public continue to put all their money on Seattle.
Also, one note, I’m changing how I do picks this year. I’ll be grouping my picks into high confidence, medium confidence, low confidence, and no confidence picks. I’ll also have one pick of the week.
Carolina Panthers 16 Seattle Seahawks 13 Upset Pick +165
Pick against spread: Carolina +3.5
Confidence: Pick of the Week