Carolina Panthers (1-2) at Houston Texans (2-1)
The Panthers come into this game just 1-2, but they could easily be 3-0 right now. They lost their first 2 games by a combined 9 points, including a 3-point loss to the Rams in which they failed to recover a single one of the games four fumbles. Those games were close despite getting worse than replacement level quarterback play from Cam Newton, who was clearly not at 100% due to a foot injury and now has been shut down indefinitely. Through 2 games, Newton had the worst completion percentage above expected in the league at -9.3% and was actively hurting this team, which has a strong roster around the quarterback.
In backup quarterback Kyle Allen’s first start of the season, the Panthers got their first win of the season in a 38-20 victory in Arizona. Allen is a former undrafted free agent and only has made two career starts, but he’s played well in both starts (QB ratings of 111.3 and 144.4) and the Panthers don’t need him to be great to win games. It shouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade over what Cam Newton was for the first two games of the season, though it’s premature to suggest that he should continue playing if Newton can come back healthy. He gives them the luxury of not having to rush Newton back at less than 100%, but he may ultimately prove to be a quality backup caliber player.
It seems like we’ve lost all line value with the Panthers as a result of Allen’s strong performance last week, as the Panthers, who were 2-point underdogs in Arizona last week, are now just 4-point underdogs against a much better Texans team. Allen should have a much tougher day against Houston’s defense than he did against an Arizona defense that is missing its two starting cornerbacks. The Panthers also have some other injury concerns, with defensive end Kawaan Short, right guard Trai Turner, and cornerback Donte Jackson not practicing on Friday. They still have a solid supporting cast without those two players, but their absences will likely be felt. My calculated line is actually Houston -4.5, so the Texans are probably the better pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Houston Texans 22 Carolina Panthers 17
Pick against the spread: Houston -4