Carolina Panthers (4-5) at Arizona Cardinals (8-1)
There is still a lot of uncertainty on the status of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins in this game, as both are being called gametime decisions, but a line has still been posted for most of the week at Arizona -10. The Cardinals were only 2-point underdogs in San Francisco for most of last week despite the uncertainty of Murray and Hopkins, before the line moved to 5.5 by gametime when both were ruled out, so this line being posted favoring Arizona by double digits isn’t a guarantee that Murray and Hopkins play, but this does seem like a different situation than last week, at least for Murray, who returned to practice Friday and seems to be on the right side of questionable.
Murray might not be 100% though and Hopkins may be on the wrong side of questionable, not practicing at all this week for the second straight week. Hopkins plays despite not practicing more than maybe any player in the league and last week was just the third missed game of his 9-year career, playing through multiple ailments throughout his career, so if anyone can play despite missing the last two weeks of practice, it’s him, but the missed practice time is not a good sign for his status.
On top of that, the Cardinals could be without Rondale Moore, who would be Hopkins’ replacement, but is currently in the concussion protocol and may not be cleared by gametime. The Cardinals’ defense is missing a key player as well, with JJ Watt out for the season, so this team is not at the same strength it was when they started the season 7-0. Even if they were, it’s possible the Cardinals will slack off a little bit this week after beating the 49ers with a backup quarterback last week, similar to how the Cowboys disappointed last week as big home favorites in Dak Prescott’s return, after beating the Vikings in Minnesota with a backup quarterback.
Despite all that, I still want to pick the Cardinals, as my calculated line even with injury uncertainty taken into account is Arizona -13. The Panthers are 4-5, but three of their wins have come against among the worst teams in the league, the Falcons, Jets, and Texans and they didn’t win any of those games convincingly. Their defense is one of the best in the league with Stephon Gilmore and Shaq Thompson now in the lineup healthy, but their offense has been one of the worst in the league and is worse than their defense is good.
Starting quarterback Sam Darnold was part of the problem for this Panthers offense, but him being injured is not necessarily a good thing for this team, as his backup PJ Walker could easily be a downgrade, given how poorly the former undrafted free agent and XFL product has played in his limited NFL career thus far, completing less than 50% of his passes with one touchdown to five interceptions and a 42.0 QB rating. He’s arguably the least qualified backup quarterback in the NFL. There is too much uncertainty here to bet on the Cardinals, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes as of right now. If Murray is ruled out, this line will obviously change and I will update this pick, but I don’t see myself betting either side regardless of what happens.
Update: Rondale Moore is expected to play, but both Murray and Hopkins seem unlikely to play. I don’t know why the odds makers have posted a line without any certainty about Murray’s status in back-to-back weeks, but they have been quickly lowering this line, down to 7.5 now. I don’t know if it will keep falling when Murray and Hopkins are officially ruled out, but my calculated line if both don’t play is Arizona -6.5, so I am going to be on the Panthers for the time being, as it will be tough for Colt McCoy to play at the same level he played at last week and go on the road and beat a great defense by multiple scores. I will have a final update before gametime.
Update: Murray and Hopkins are out. I wouldn’t recommend betting Carolina at +7.5, but if you are going to do so, you’ll need to lock it in soon as the line has started to drop to 7 in some places.
Arizona Cardinals 16 Carolina Panthers 10
Pick against the spread: Carolina +7.5