Washington Football Team (3-6) at Carolina Panthers (5-5)
SInce cutting Cam Newton at the start of the 2020 off-season, the Panthers have paid Teddy Bridgewater 31 million for one season of decent play, before salary dumping him on the Broncos in a trade that netted Carolina just a sixth round pick. The Panthers then sent a second round pick to the Jets for Sam Darnold and guaranteed his 18.858 million dollar option for 2022, effectively locking him into a fully guaranteed 2-year, 23.63 million dollar deal, after already giving up a premium pick to acquire him.
They passed on both Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft and entered the season with just Darnold and inexperienced PJ Walker under center. Because of that, when Darnold somewhat predictably struggled and eventually got hurt, the Panthers had to turn to a street free agent at quarterback. It just so happens that street free agent is Cam Newton, their original starting quarterback, who was available after a failed one-year stint as the starter in New England. It’s embarrassing for the Panthers that they committed all these resources to replace Newton only to end up with him anyway and Newton is definitely not the quarterback he was in his prime, but he was also their best option and it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade for the Panthers.
If he can be that upgrade, even if only by default, the Panthers all of a sudden become a solid team. They’re 5-5 despite their horrendous quarterback play, led by a defense that ranks 2nd in schedule adjusted efficiency on the season and that has been even better since getting cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Shaq Thompson, two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, back from injury. They rank 31st in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, but I would expect that to improve going forward, not only because of the addition of Newton, but also because of the recent return of stud feature back Christian McCaffrey from injury.
Unfortunately, we’re not really getting line value with the Panthers, as this line has shifted from favoring the Panthers by two points last week on the early line to favoring them by three points this week, a more significant shift than it seems, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. If Newton hadn’t just arrived a week and a half ago and was more familiar with the system, we would still be getting line value with the Panthers at three, but Newton isn’t even expected to play the whole game, meaning the overmatched PJ Walker will likely continue seeing some action.
That line movement happened despite the fact that Washington pulled a huge upset over the Buccaneers last week, a much more surprising upset than the Panthers’ win over the Cardinals and their backup quarterback Colt McCoy. Normally teams are a bad bet after a huge home upset victory, as teams have covered at just a 40.9% rate all-time after winning as home underdogs of 5 or more (Washington was +9.5 last week), but that’s mostly due to teams being overvalued or overconfident in that spot. Washington could be overconfident, but they don’t seem to be overvalued as 3-point underdogs. I’m still taking Carolina for pick ‘em purposes, but they’re not worth betting.
Carolina Panthers 20 Washington Football Team 16
Pick against the spread: Carolina -3