New Orleans Saints (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (3-6)
The Panthers lost last week by a field goal at home, their 4th loss this season by 3 points or fewer. This loss was particularly heartbreaking for them as they led 17-0 early, but blew the lead and ended up losing 20-17 on the strength of a return touchdown and a late takeaway in Carolina territory that set up the winning field goal. Even though they won the game, the Chiefs actually didn’t score a single offensive touchdown all game and lost the first down battle 22-18. As you can imagine given all of their close loss, the Panthers have played better overall than their record suggests, as they rank 14th in first down rate differential. It’s a far cry from their 2015 team, but they could easily be 5-4 or 6-3 right now if a couple things had gone their way.
The problem for them this week is the Saints are also better than their record. The Saints enter this game at 4-5, but 3 of those losses came by 3 points or fewer, including a heartbreaker last week in which the Saints’ go-ahead extra point was blocked and returned for a game winning 2-point conversion by the Broncos’ defense. The Saints enter this game 8th in first down rate differential, a few spots higher than the Panthers, and also have a better point differential (-5 vs. +2). At 3.5 in favor of the host Carolina Panthers, this line suggests the Panthers are a slightly better team than the Saints, but I think it’s the other way around.
At the very least, these two teams are even, so this line shouldn’t be any higher than a field goal. The difference between 3 and 3.5 might not seem like much, but considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, it’s a pretty big half point. The Saints are also in a better spot, as they host the lowly Rams next week, while the Panthers have to travel to face Oakland. Underdogs are 91-59 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. Even if the Panthers win, this game figures to be close, so I’d put money on the Saints at 3.5. At +3, it’s probably worth buying the half point.
Carolina Panthers 24 New Orleans Saints 23
Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3.5