New England Patriots (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-4)
This is a game with a lot of injury uncertainty. The big question mark is Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been out since the Panthers’ week 3 game, a stretch in which the Panthers offense has struggled mightily without him. The Panthers 3-0 start was in large part due to an easy schedule, but there is no denying how much injuries have hurt this team as they have fallen from 3-0 to 4-4 and McCaffrey’s injury was the biggest one. The Panthers’ defense, which had its own injury issues earlier in the season, is in much better shape now with Stephon Gilmore and Shaq Thompson both healthy, so, if McCaffrey can play, the Panthers should be in much better shape on both sides of the ball than they were a couple weeks ago.
I say “should” because, in addition to it being unknown how close to 100% McCaffrey would be if he played, the Panthers also have uncertainty at quarterback, with Sam Darnold dealing with both a concussion and a shoulder injury. Darnold has not played well this season, but the Panthers would be in even worse shape at quarterback if he played at less than 100% or if they had to turn to backup PJ Walker, who has struggled when called upon in limited action in his career. The Panthers also could get punter Joseph Charlton back this week, which would be a huge upgrade for their special teams, but also adds more injury uncertainty to this game.
The Patriots have been listed as 4-point road favorites, with the oddsmakers posting a line despite the uncertainty. The Patriots are just 4-4, but they could easily have anywhere from 5-7 wins right, as three of their losses came by 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime, meaning they were just -3 in point differential at the end of regulation across those three losses. Two of their wins are one-score wins, but one took a garbage time touchdown by the Chargers to make it a one-score game, while the other came in a game in which they were missing four of their five offensive line starters.
The Patriots’ offensive line is healthy now and this is a much better team than their record suggests, ranking 11th in schedule adjusted mixed team efficiency, despite their offensive line injuries, while the Panthers have ranked 26th, albeit while dealing with injuries of their own. The Patriots won’t be an appealing bet at -4 if McCaffrey, Darnold, and Charlton all play at something close to 100%, but I don’t foresee that happening, so it’s very likely I will end up putting a bet on New England. I am leaving the Patriots as a low confidence pick for now because of the uncertainty, but I’ll probably have an update before gametime, likely on Saturday after the injured reserve activation deadline.
Update: Both McCaffrey and Darnold seem likely to play, although there is no way to know how effective either will be. It’s enough for me to leave this as a low confidence pick though, particularly the McCaffrey news, as he’s probably their most important offensive player.
New England Patriots 20 Carolina Panthers 13
Pick against the spread: New England -4