San Francisco 49ers (13-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)
The Panthers won in San Francisco earlier this season, helping propel them to a 12-4 record, the #2 seed, and home field advantage in the NFC divisional round. In spite of all that, they are 1 point home underdogs here. Ordinarily, I’d think this would be a trap line designed to get people to bet on Carolina, so the odds makers could make a big profit when San Francisco wins, but the public is actually all over San Francisco and in spite of that the amount that the 49ers are favored by is shrinking. After opening as 2 point favorites, the 49ers are now favored by either a point or not at all (pick em), depending on where you look. That suggests this could be a trap line designed to get people to bet on San Francisco. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense and it definitely does here.
As long as the Panthers are underdogs or favorites of less than 3, I really like them this week. Ordinarily, teams have been struggled off of byes in recent years, but it’s a different dynamic with the Panthers because they aren’t big home favorites. They won’t be overconfident. In fact, there’s only one instance in the last 25 years (as far back as I have data) of a team being home underdogs in the divisional road. 49ers fans probably remember it well as it was 2 years ago when they host the Saints and won in thrilling fashion. That game alone isn’t reason enough to take the Panthers here, but it’s pretty absurd that they are home underdogs here.
Here’s a good reason to take the Panthers: they’re significantly better than the 49ers and at home. Their win in San Francisco was legitimate. They’re the better team here. The Panthers are 4th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 75.00% rate, as opposed to 67.49% for their opponents, a differential of 7.51%. The 49ers, meanwhile, rank 9th, moving the chains at a 70.79% rate, as opposed to 67.61% for their opponents, a differential of 3.18%. That suggests that the Panthers should be favored by about 7.5 points. That’s even before you take into account that the 49ers are a West Coast team playing at 1 PM ET on the East Coast against an East Coast team.
The 49ers have had a really tough time against top level teams this year. In 5 games against teams that finished 11-5 or better, the 49ers went 1-4, as opposed to 12-0 in other games (including playoffs). It’s even worse than that sounds. They’ve been outscored by a combined 50 points in those 4 losses, while their one win came by 2 points. Colin Kaepernick has been miserable in those 5 games, as he hasn’t posted higher than a 54.8% completion percentage in any of those 5 games.
Combined, he was 69 of 137 (50.4%) for 670 yards (4.89 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while rushing for 179 yards on 32 carries. In his other 12 games, he’s 190 of 309 (61.5%) for 2745 yards (8.88 YPA), 19 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while rushing for 443 yards and 4 touchdowns on 67 carries. As I mentioned, the 49ers are 12-0 in those games, winning by an average of 15.17 points per game. He struggled against Carolina the first time around, completing 11 of 22 for 91 yards and an interception, while rushing for 16 yards on 4 carries and that was at home. I have no confidence in him this week on the road at 1 PM ET.
The 49ers are on a 7 game winning streak right now, but the combined record of those 7 teams is 49-63 and only that 2 point win over Seattle came against a team with 11 or more wins. Besides, teams on long winning streaks tend to struggle in the playoffs. Since 2002, teams are 7-16 ATS in the post-season while on a winning streak of 7+, including 3-15 ATS as favorites. Teams tend to be overconfident and overvalued in that situation. The latter is definitely true and the former could very well be. I’m very confident in Carolina.
Carolina Panthers 20 San Francisco 49ers 13 Upset Pick +100
Pick against spread: Carolina +1