Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-7) at Atlanta Falcons (3-9)

When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Panthers were favored by 4.5 points at home, but ended up getting blown out by a final score of 29-3. Now in the rematch, the Falcons are favored by a field goal at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, whereas the previous line suggested the Panthers were a couple points better. We’re not getting as much line value with the Falcons as we were in the previous matchup, but this line is still off. 

The Falcons have lost back-to-back home games since the previous matchup, first to the Buccaneers and then to the Saints, but they actually won the first down rate battle against New Orleans, despite missing their top-2 receivers in terms of yards per game, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper. Both of those players will return this week, the latter from a 3-game absence. On the season, the Falcons are actually about even in first down rate differential, ranking 18th in the NFL at -0.29%. Their 3-9 record is largely the result of their -11 turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL), but turnover margins don’t correlate week-to-week, so the Falcons aren’t necessarily going to continue losing the turnover battle going forward. 

The Panthers, meanwhile, have also lost back-to-back games since the previous matchup, but that’s part of a larger trend for this team, as they’ve completely bottomed out over the past couple months after a 4-2 start. Since the start of week 7, only the Raiders and the Jaguars have a worse first down rate differential than the Panthers, who are at -7.22%. Their one win during that time frame came against the Titans in a game in which the Panthers lost the first down rate battle but won by 10 because the Titans missed 3 field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2. 

On the season, the Panthers rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.56%, despite facing a much easier schedule than the Falcons (58% opponents win percentage vs 51%). With Jones and Hooper back and the Panthers trending downwards, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -8. A trip to San Francisco on deck looms as a potential distraction (teams are 24-49 ATS as favorites before being double digit underdogs since 2008), but the Falcons are a great value at -3 and bettable at -3.5 as well.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: High

Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (2-9) at Carolina Panthers (5-6)

This was one of the toughest games of the week to decide. On one hand, the Panthers have struggled in recent weeks with Kyle Allen falling back to earth after surprisingly playing well in his first few starts of the season and, as a result, they probably shouldn’t be favored by double digits against anyone, even the Redskins. Dating back to week 7, the Panthers have a first down rate differential of -7.81%, 29th in the NFL over that time period. I still have them calculated as 7.5-point home favorites this week against one of the worst few teams in the league, but we’re getting line value with the visitors.

On the other hand, the Redskins are in a tough spot as big underdogs before being big underdogs again. It’s tough for an inferior team to keep it close against a superior team with another tough game on deck, as teams are 29-59 ATS since 2002 as underdogs of 10 or more before being underdogs of 10 or more again. The Redskins are currently 14.5-point underdogs on the early line for next week’s matchup in Green Bay with the Packers and, in a lost season, might not bring their best effort for this game with a tougher game on deck. I’m taking the Redskins for pick ‘em purposes, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week and a push is a strong possibility.

Carolina Panthers 20 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Washington +10

Confidence: None

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-5) at New Orleans Saints (8-2)

The Saints surprisingly lost at home to the then 1-7 Falcons a couple weeks ago and it wasn’t even really close, with a final score of 26-9. However, the Falcons were better than that 1-7 record suggested, entering that game 18th in first down rate differential at -0.29%, and the Falcons have also since gone on to defeat the Panthers 29-3, so that loss doesn’t look so bad anymore, especially since the Saints were able to follow it up with a convincing 34-17 win in Tampa Bay last week. 

With Drew Brees back under center, the Saints are currently the top team in my roster rankings. Their defense has been solid all season, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 34.00%, and their offense has been significantly better in games started by Brees than it has been in games started by Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater led this offense to a 34.15% first down rate, which is most comparable to the 23rd ranked Panthers on the season, while Brees has led this offense to a 38.10% first down rate, which is most comparable to the 10th ranked Colts on the season. Their offense could have even more room for upside, as they had a 43.48% first down rate in Brees’ starts last season. Even if this offense doesn’t improve any further, the Saints are arguably the only team in the league with both a top-10 offense and defense. 

The Panthers, meanwhile, have struggled mightily in recent weeks, with backup quarterback Kyle Allen unsurprisingly falling back to earth after a surprisingly strong start to the season. After Allen won his first 4 starts, the Panthers have lost 3 of 4, with their only win in that stretch coming against the Titans in a game they lost the first down rate battle by 3.95%, winning by 10 in a game the Titans missed 3 makeable field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2. On the season, the Panthers rank just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.59%, which lines up with my roster rankings, which also have them 22nd. With the Saints at the top of my roster rankings, I have this line calculated at New Orleans -14, so we’re getting good line value with the Saints as 10-point home favorites.

Unfortunately, the Saints are in a much worse spot than the Panthers this week, which hurts their chances of covering. While the Saints have a rematch with the Falcons in 4 days on Thanksgiving, the Panthers have arguably their easiest game of the season on deck, at home against the Redskins, a game in which they are expected to be 9-point favorites. Underdogs of a touchdown or more are 64-41 ATS since 1989 before being favorites of a touchdown or more. The Saints will be favored next week as well, but there could still be some split focus with a team that just defeated them on deck, especially before a short week (favorites cover at just a 44% rate before a short week). The Saints should still be the right side, but we’re not getting enough line value to bet on it. If this line drops and/or cornerback Marshon Lattimore is active for the Saints, I may reconsider.

New Orleans Saints 34 Carolina Panthers 21

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -10

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (2-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-4)

At 2-7, the Falcons have one of the worst records in the NFL, but peripheral stats have always suggested they’ve played better than the outcome of their games would suggest. Over the past couple weeks, the outcomes of their games have significantly improved, as they pulled off a massive upset as 13.5-point underdogs in New Orleans last week and prior to that they played a competitive game against the Seahawks with backup quarterback Matt Schaub under center. 

The Falcons won the first down rate battle by +8.57% and +6.89% respectively in those two games and now rank 16th on the season in first down rate differential at +0.65%, which aligns with my roster rankings, which have them 18th. They have the league’s worst turnover margin at -12, but that’s largely because of a 31.82% fumble recovery rate (2nd worst in the NFL) and turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis anyway. If they can play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they could easily continue pulling upsets in the second half of the season.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have a turnover margin of +4. They haven’t overly benefitted from turnovers, but, even with a positive turnover margin, they have a negative point differential at -3. They have a 5-4 record, but rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.55%, a few spots behind the Falcons, which is also consistent with my roster rankings, which also have them 23rd. The Falcons have some injury concerns on offense, with tight end Austin Hooper and running back Devonta Freeman both out, but the latter was not playing well at all and they get a big re-addition on defense with cornerback Desmond Trufant returning from a 4-game absence. The Panthers, meanwhile, will be without starting cornerback Ross Cockrell and could also be without fellow starting cornerback Donte Jackson. 

The Falcons are also in a significantly better spot. While the Panthers have a much bigger game in New Orleans next week, the Falcons get to return home and face a much easier Buccaneers’ squad. Underdogs are 69-34 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions are met in this game. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The Panthers could easily overlook the Falcons this week with arguably the toughest game of their season on deck and if that happens the Falcons could easily catch them off guard and pull the upset this week.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost some line value with the Falcons since last week, with the Falcons going from +7 on the early line to +4.5 this week, but I have the Falcons a couple points better in my rankings and I have this line calculated at even as a result. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re still getting good protection in case the Falcons can’t pull the upset, but I like the Falcons chances of winning straight up as well, in such a great spot. This is my Pick of the Week.

Atlanta Falcons 30 Carolina Panthers 27 Upset Pick +175

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-3) at Green Bay Packers (7-2)

The Packers surprisingly lost to the Chargers last week, but the Chargers were healthier in that game than they’ve been all season, so it’s not a huge surprise the Packers had trouble with a team that was one of the better teams in the league a year ago. The Packers are still well positioned in the NFC at 7-2 and are still one of my top ranked teams. They also tend to do well off of a loss in the Aaron Rodgers era, going 34-21 ATS off of a loss with Rodgers under center since his first season as a starter in 2008. 

The Packers also head home this week, where they are 41-21 ATS since 2011 in games Rodgers starts and finishes. They face a Panthers team that is 5-3 and that has lost just once in 6 games since inserting backup quarterback Kyle Allen into the lineup for an injured Cam Newton, but that loss came by 38, while some of their wins have been close games that could have gone either way. On the season, they have just a +5 point differential, despite benefitting from a +6 turnover margin that ranks 5th in the NFL. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and the Panthers rank just 21st in the league with a -2.52% first down rate differential. That lines up with my roster rankings, which have them 18th.

I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10, giving us a ton of line value with the Packers as 5-point favorites. The line has shifted a point and a half from the early line last week as a result of the Packers’ loss, but even at -6.5 the Packers would have been an enticing bet. I like their chances of bouncing back at home a lot, against an overrated opponent, especially with a bye on deck. Home favorites of 6+ are 49-17 ATS since 2002 before a bye and, while the Packers aren’t favored by that many points, they should be, so the logic still holds. They should be focused and take care of business without any upcoming distractions. This would be my Pick of the Week if the Packers didn’t have a pair of banged up key defensive backs (Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amos), but both seem likely to play through their injuries and the Packers are otherwise healthy.

Green Bay Packers 30 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -5

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)

Prior to last week’s loss, the Panthers were undefeated with backup quarterback Kyle Allen under center and could have arguably been undefeated on the season had they started Allen to begin the season instead of a very injured Cam Newton, who started 2 games that were lost by a combined 9 points. However, a couple of their victories also could have gone the other way and they were embarrassed in their loss last week, losing 51-13 in San Francisco. 

On the season, they rank just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.41% after that loss. The 49ers are arguably the best team in the NFL, but that was still a humiliating defeat for a team that considered itself in contention, and even before that loss to San Francisco, the Panthers ranked just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%. Allen is seemingly regressing weekly and overall he ranks 5th worst in yards per attempt (6.66) among qualifying quarterbacks. 

The Titans are also starting a backup quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but he’s playing at a higher level (73.1% completion, 8.32 YPA) and is a much more experienced player. He’s not a great starter, but the Titans have a strong roster overall and don’t need much more than competent quarterback play from him. Even with underwhelming quarterback play, the Titans went 9-7 last season, despite facing a league high 9 playoff teams (4-5).

Their defense ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% in 2018 and that has carried into this season, as they rank 5th at 32.68%. If Tannehill can continue playing competently, they should be a tough team going forward. Even with Mariota starting the first 6 games of the season, the Titans rank 13th in first down rate at +1.14%, significantly better than the Panthers, who rank 22nd. That’s consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Titans 11th and the Panthers 18th. 

I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good line value with the Titans at +3.5, with about 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or fewer. They’d probably be my Pick of the Week if they had defensive lineman Jurrell Casey healthy, but the Titans are deep at that position with DaQuon Jones and Jeffrey Simmons, a first round rookie who has played well in his first 2 games back from a torn ACL, so losing Casey isn’t as big of a deal as it could have been. The Titans also will have cornerback Adoree Jackson, edge rusher Cameron Wake, and middle linebacker Jayon Brown, who’ve all missed time previously this season. I still like the Titans a lot as long as this line is higher than a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 20 Carolina Panthers 19 Upset Pick +165

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-2) at San Francisco 49ers (6-0)

The Panthers started 0-2 with a badly injured Cam Newton under center, but only lost week 1 by 3 points, despite failing to recover all 4 fumbles in the game, and week 2 they only lost by 6 points in a game they had a chance to win at the end. Since then, they Panthers have won 4 straight games with backup quarterback Kyle Allen under center, with Newton inactive and rehabbing. There’s an argument to be made that the Panthers could be 6-0 if Allen were starting all season, though many of those wins would be close. 

The 49ers, meanwhile, actually are 6-0 and most of their wins have not been close, with their only win by less than a touchdown coming in a game in which they won despite losing the turnover battle by 3. Along with the Bills, the 49ers are one of two teams in the league to win multiple games despite losing the turnover battle (Steelers and Rams) and they are 6-0 with a +92 point differential (2nd in the NFL) despite only a +2 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so it’s very encouraging to see the 49ers able to win games even without winning the turnover battle. 

On the season, the 49ers rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +10.14%, only behind the Patriots at +12.65%. Given that they’ve played a much tougher schedule than the Patriots, there’s an argument that they’ve been the best team in the league thus far. They rank 6th in my roster rankings, significantly better than the Panthers, who rank 14th in my roster rankings and 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%. This line is a little short at San Francisco -5.5. I have the 49ers calculated as 7.5-point favorites in this one. The 49ers aren’t in a great spot with another game in 4 days on Thursday Night Football, but it’s against the Cardinals, so it’s unlikely that the 49ers won’t be focused for this much more important game. I don’t think we’re getting quite enough line value to bet on San Francisco, but they should be the right side.

Sunday Update: This line has dropped to -4 Sunday Morning. The 49ers are worth a bet at that number. The gap between these two teams is much wider than that suggests.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Carolina Panthers 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -4

Confidence: Medium