Carolina Panthers (5-10) at New Orleans Saints (7-8)
At first glance, these two teams seem similar, with both having poor offenses and strong defenses. However, there are some differences. For one, the Saints are slightly better on both sides of the ball, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 2nd in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Panthers rank 31st and 3rd respectively. The Saints also have the edge on special teams (12th vs. 23rd) and rank about three points higher than the Panthers in mixed efficiency (15th vs. 23rd).
The Saints are also going in the right direction in terms of personnel absences, while the Panthers are heading the other direction. The Saints are still missing a lot on offense, with original starting quarterback Jameis Winston, expected top wide receiver Michael Thomas, stud right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and starting left guard Andrus Peat all still out and starting center Erik McCoy joining them, but they will get back their two backup quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian, whose absence last week forced 4th string quarterback Ian Book into a near impossible situation last week, and they will also get back leading receiver Deonte Harris and likely left tackle Terron Armstead.
The Saints also were without feature back Alvin Kamara for a stretch earlier this season and he has since returned so, in general, the Saints are relatively healthier on offense than they have been in recent weeks, while the same is true of their defense. They’ll be without safety Marcus Williams this week, which is a big absence, but they’ll get back fellow starting safety Malcolm Jenkins and stud linebacker Demario Davis and are healthier than they have been on the defensive line, in just the sixth game in which their dominant trio of defensive linemen, Cameron Jordan, David Onyemata, and Marcus Davenport, have played at the same time, with one of those being last week when Davis and Jenkins were out.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have been horrendous on offense since losing feature back Christian McCaffrey and talented center Matt Paradis, while their defense is starting to lose talented players as well. Already without cornerback Jaycee Horn for an extended period of time, the Panthers have since lost fellow starting cornerbacks Donte Jackson and AJ Bouye, while Horn’s replacement, Stephon Gilmore, is now out as well, a bigger absence than any of them. Gilmore is also likely to be accompanied on the sidelines this week by edge defender Haason Reddick, a huge loss for their pass rush.
The Panthers started 3-0, but injuries have been a big part of the reason why they have gone 2-10 since and I would expect that to continue this week, in arguably the worst shape they have been in all season. This line favors the Saints by 6.5, but my roster rankings have the Saints with a 7.5-point edge, making them 9.5-point home favorites, giving us good line value with them. I don’t want to lock this in until I know for sure the status of Terron Armstead and Haason Reddick, but it seems as if the former is playing and the latter is not and, even if that’s not true, the Saints are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Update: I still don’t know about Armstead, but Reddick is not playing, which is enough for me to make a small bet on the Saints, before this line potentially moves.
New Orleans Saints 20 Carolina Panthers 10
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5