Denver Broncos (4-8) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)
The Broncos have been a tough team to predict this season, as they’ve played within one score of teams like the Titans, Steelers, and Chiefs, while beating teams like the Dolphins and Patriots, but they’ve also lost 4 times by at least 18 points and in only one of those instances they weren’t allowed to use a real quarterback. The reason they’ve been so unpredictable is twofold. For one, they are led by their defense, which ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.37%, and defense is inherently a more inconsistent and unpredictable side of the ball.
On top of that, not only has their offense struggled with a -4.55% first down rate over expected (31st in the NFL), but their quarterback play has been so bad at times that they haven’t had a chance to even be competitive in games, as they lead the league with a 5.13% interception rate. They’ve been better with Drew Lock in the lineup, but only by default, as his 4.39% interception rate is still higher than any other team in the league and by quite a bit over the next team (3.88%).
The Broncos had one of their good performances last week, as their defense held the Chiefs in check and their offense didn’t make major mistakes and allowed the game to stay close in a 22-16 loss against the defending Super Bowl champs, but if there was ever a time to predict a bad performance from this team it would be this week, as they’ve effectively been eliminated from post-season contention and just lost what amounted to their Super Bowl in Kansas City on Sunday Night Football last week. I don’t expect them to give their best effort for a fellow 4-8 team, particularly a non-conference opponent like the Panthers.
I thought I would like the Panthers more earlier this week, as they seemed to be getting healthier coming out of their bye, with starting left tackle Russell Okung (6 games missed), starting left guard John Miller (2 games) returning before the bye and top cornerback Donte Jackson (2 games) returning this week, but a COVID outbreak not only disrupted their week, but it will force them to be without top wide receiver DJ Moore and top defensive tackle Zach Kerr, which are both big losses. We’re not getting any line value with the Panthers are -3, so, while I still am taking the Panthers, it’s only because I expect a poor performance from the Broncos.
Update: The Broncos will surprisingly be without stud left tackle Garret Bolles due to COVID concerns. With him and Graham Glasgow both out, the Broncos will be without their two best offensive lineman, further crippling one of the least’s worst offenses. The line has moved to Carolina -4 to compensate, which is a little high given the Broncos’ talented defense and the players the Panthers are missing, but I’m still on the Panthers for a no confidence pick because the Broncos could easily be flat for this game.
Carolina Panthers 19 Denver Broncos 14
Pick against the spread: Carolina -4