Carolina Panthers (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
The Panthers had the best record in the league in 2015, but then they had the biggest dropoff in the league in terms of win total in 2016, falling 9 games from 15-1 to 6-10. There are a number of reasons why they dropped off, but a big one was their inability to win close games. With 6 losses by a 3 points or fewer, they could have easily been 9-7 or 10-6 if a few plays had gone their way. They also lost cornerback Josh Norman in free agency the previous off-season and Cam Newton did not live up to his career best 2015 season. In addition, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and center Ryan Kalil missed significant time with injury.
Norman isn’t coming back and Newton’s is unlikely to live up to 2015, but Kuechly and Kalil are healthy, their young secondary could take a step forward, they added two much needed offensive playmakers in the first two rounds of the draft in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, and they should get better offensive line play, with Matt Kalil upgrading the left tackle spot and right guard Trai Turner likely to bounce back from a down 2016 season. This team probably won’t reach their 2015 level, but should still be one of the better teams in the NFC and compete with the Falcons for the NFC South title.
Given that, this line is too low. The 49ers are one of the worst teams in football and are missing top defensive back Jimmie Ward with injury. They are also in a tough spot given that they have to turn around and face the Seahawks in Seattle next week. The 49ers will almost definitely be double digit underdogs in that games and teams are 43-68 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 10+ points. I’d confidently lay the 5 points with the Panthers. This line should be higher than the touchdown the Falcons are favored by in Chicago.
Carolina Panthers 27 San Francisco 49ers 16
Pick against the spread: Carolina -5