Arizona Cardinals (2-1) at Carolina Panthers (1-2)
The Cardinals have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start to the season on both sides of the ball. They have won the first down rate battle in each of their first three games of the season and not only do they rank 4th in the league in first down rate differential at +5.60%, but they’re also the only team in the league with an offense and a defense that both rank in the top-12 in first down rate and first down rate allowed. The Cardinals picked up their first loss of the season last week, but they only lost by three, despite losing the turnover battle by 3, and they won the first down rate battle by 10.50%. Turnover margins are very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and it was actually impressive to see them keep it close despite their turnover issues.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are very beat up this week, missing safeties Budda Baker and Chris Banjo and possibly wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. I wouldn’t expect their defense to continue playing this well all season either way, as they’ve largely outperformed their talent level and have had an easy schedule, but missing their safeties is a big blow, particularly Budda Baker, who has been arguably their best defensive player this year. Meanwhile, their offense, which has a good chance to maintain their high level of play long-term, will obviously find that much more difficult this week if Hopkins can’t go after not practicing all week.
The Panthers have a big injury absence with running back Christian McCaffrey on the sidelines, but they get a big boost on defense this week with stud defensive tackle Kawaan Short returning from injury, as well as cornerback Eli Apple, whose return should help to a lesser extent. With Hopkins being highly questionable for the Cardinals, I have the Cardinals just 3 points ahead of the Panthers in my roster rankings right now, so we’re getting value with the Panthers at home as 3-point underdogs. I wouldn’t recommend betting them unless Hopkins misses or unless this line moves up to 3.5, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.
Arizona Cardinals 24 Carolina Panthers 23
Pick against the spread: Carolina +3