Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (3-7)

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remains a gametime decision officially, but this spread has been posted at Detroit -2.5 in some places, a steep dropoff from Carolina -3, where this line was last week on the early line, so it definitely seems like the odds makers don’t expect Bridgewater to be to play. Even if Bridgewater doesn’t play, I like the Panthers at +2.5, so I’m making this pick now so the line doesn’t have a chance to move if Bridgewater can in fact go, after taking all of the first team reps in yesterday’s walkthrough. 

If Bridgewater was fully healthy and this line was still 3, I would say that line would be about right. The Panthers are basically a slightly better version of the Lions and the Panthers have at least some limited homefield advantage with fans in attendance, so giving them the full field goal would be appropriate. However, it’s hard to justify a 5.5-point swing for Bridgewater’s absence, especially given that there is still a chance Bridgewater can go and given that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will be at less than 100% himself, playing through an injured thumb.

The Panthers have key absences beyond the quarterback position, but left tackle Russell Okung and Christian McCaffrey are missing their 6th and 8th game respectively, so not having those two isn’t anything new, and, while cornerback Donte Jackson and guard John Miller are missing their first game of the season, they are less important absences than Okung and McCaffrey. The Lions are also missing key players with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, top edge defender Trey Flowers, slot receiver Danny Amendola, and every down running back DeAndre Swift missing their 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 1st games of the season respectively. 

Given that the Lions are almost as banged up as the Panthers and that the Panthers have been the slightly better team all season and that the Panthers are at home, it’s hard to justify the Lions being favored by 2.5 points. That doesn’t mean I’ll be betting on the Panthers. In fact, with the amount of uncertainty in this game, it’s hard to justify the Panthers as anything more than a no confidence bet, as they likely will be starting a completely unknown quarterback in XFL star PJ Walker and, even if they don’t, they’ll be starting a much less than 100% Teddy Bridgewater, but even with Walker in the lineup, this line is off, so the Panthers are the pick at 2.5 either way.

Update: Bridgewater is out, so this line has jumped to +3. I was willing to take the Panthers without Bridgewater for pick ’em purposes at +2.5. +3 is a much more intriguing number, especially with the Lions also down their top defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, in addition to all of the aforementioned absences. My calculated number is Detroit -1 and that’s with a very conservatively low grade on the unproven Walker, who we didn’t even get a pre-season to evaluate this year. If Walker can surprise in his first career action, the Panthers could easily win this game straight up.

If I had any confidence in Walker I would recommend a bet at +3, as the Lions only win by more than a field goal this season came against the lowly Jaguars in a game in which the Lions were much healthier than they are now. Instead, I’m leaving them as a low confidence pick, but feel free to bet Carolina if you feel like taking a chance on a completely unknown commodity. The money line is intriguing as well at +135.

Carolina Panthers 27 Detroit Lions 26 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-6)

The Buccaneers were embarrassed in a 38-3 loss to the Saints last week, losing the first down rate battle by 8.73%. I thought that win was more about the Saints though, as the Saints are arguably the top team in the league on paper when healthy and they showed it in a big way. I was expecting the Saints to come in, give the Buccaneers a game, and at least cover the 4.5-point spread. Obviously a 35-point win goes far beyond giving the Buccaneers a game and a 35-point loss to anyone is a concern for a team, but it’s definitely worth noting that the Buccaneers still rank 2nd in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.61%, even with that game factored in.

The Buccaneers’ offense gets the attention, but their defense has led the way with a -4.38% first down rate allowed over expected that ranks 2nd in the NFL, while their offense ranks 17th in first down rate over expected at +0.23%. Defenses tend to be more unpredictable on a week-to-week basis than offenses and the Buccaneers’ defense is not quite the same without the injured Vita Vea, but any regression from their defense could be compensated for by an offense that should be better with top wide receiver Chris Godwin healthy after missing four games and free agent signee Antonio Brown working into the mix after his first game back from suspension last week. 

It’s also worth noting how well Tom Brady has played after a loss in his career, going 44-22 ATS, including 34-10 ATS when not favored by a touchdown or more and 21-6 ATS after a loss by 10 points or more. There is no precedent for how Brady performs off of a loss by 35 points because he’s never lost by that many points in his career, but it’s safe to say he’ll be fully determined to avoid back-to-back bad outings and that we should get a much better effort from his team this week.

This line didn’t shift as much as I would have hoped, following that blowout loss, with the Buccaneers going from 6.5 point favorites on the early line last week to 5.5 point favorites this week, but I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -8.5, with the Panthers having minimal fans and homefield advantage for this one, so we’re still getting good line value. I would expect the Buccaneers to bounce back and win this one with relative ease, so they’re a strong bet at 5.5.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -5.5

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)

It might go without saying, but the Chiefs are on an incredible run right now. Dating back to last year’s bye, a 16-game stretch including the post-season, the Chiefs have just one loss and 12 wins by double digits and have a first down rate differential of +5.44% over that stretch. They have a competent opponent this week with the Carolina Panthers coming to town, but the Panthers have some injury issues and I have the Chiefs as likely to get another double digit win, with a calculated line of Kansas City -10.

That is exactly where this line is, but the Chiefs are also in a great spot, as big home favorites before a bye. Since 2010, home favorites of 7+ are 34-18 ATS before a bye. The Panthers, meanwhile, have back-to-back tough games, which typically makes it tough for a team to play as well needed to keep it close against a superior opponent. The early line has the Panthers as 6.5 point home underdogs against the Buccaneers next week and teams are 114-208 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, including 38-72 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown or more. The Panthers will need to be fully focused in this one, but they may have an eye on next week as well. This isn’t a big play, but I don’t see this being close.

Kansas City Chiefs 38 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -10

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (1-6) at Carolina Panthers (3-4)

Coming into the season, I had the Falcons as the better of these two teams and on paper they have more talent, but the Panthers have actually outplayed them by a pretty significant amount. The Panthers have faced a tough schedule overall and have been competitive in every game, with their only loss by more than one score coming against a dominant Buccaneers team in a game in which the Buccaneers won the yards per play battle, only narrow lost the first down rate battle (+1.28%), and had the game within one score late in the 4th quarter before a meaningless touchdown, despite losing the turnover battle by 2. The Falcons, who the Panthers already defeated in Atlanta back in week 5, have been the easiest opponent on the Panthers’ schedule thus far and the Panthers won the first down battle by 4.76% in that 7-point win.

The Panthers have especially outplayed the Falcons on offense, even though that should be a strength for the Falcons. On the season, the Panthers rank 8th in the NFL in first down rate and that’s even more impressive when you consider they’ve faced the 5th toughest schedule of defenses, including a trio of top defenses in the Buccaneers, Chargers, and Bears. Including schedule adjustments, the Panthers rank 2nd in the league in first down rate over expected at +3.14%. By comparison, the Falcons rank 24th in first down rate over expected. 

The Panthers haven’t fared as well on defense, where they rank 26th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.56%, but offensive stats tend to be much more consistent and predictable week-to-week and the Falcons have just a narrow edge over the Panthers on defense, ranking 24th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.43%, as they haven’t been particularly good on either side of the ball. It’s true the Falcons are three improbable blown lead away from being 4-3, but they needed to win the turnover battle against the Cowboys by 3 to gain their big lead in a game in which they lost the first down rate battle by 10.19% and they also lost the first down rate battle to the Lions and in their one win, against the the Vikings. 

Their only first down rate battle win came against the Bears, despite not having a particularly tough schedule, and, on the season, they rank 29th in first down rate differential over expected at -2.70%, significantly behind the 14th ranked Panthers (+1.58%). The Panthers also have the edge in yards per play differential (+0.5 vs -1.0), point differential (-6 vs. -23), and DVOA (+0.6% vs. -13.8%), although when Football Outsiders’ pre-season projections are factored in, the Falcons have the narrow edge in DVOA (-4.9% vs. -6.3%). That last part and the Falcons’ higher level of talent on paper concern me about betting on the Panthers, because by all indications, the Falcons should be better than them, but that hasn’t been the case thus far this season. 

The Falcons have had injury problems this season and have gotten healthier in recent weeks, even since their week 5 matchup with the Panthers, as they’ll have Julio Jones in the lineup this time around, while the Panthers may be going the other way, without left tackle Russell Okung and a few lesser players on the defensive side of the ball. However, it’s also a possibility the Panthers get feature back Christian McCaffrey back from injury this week, which would obviously be a big boost. 

For now, I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick and this line may change from Carolina -2.5 if McCaffrey is active, but even if it does I may consider betting the Panthers, as long as the line doesn’t exceed 3. Favorites typically are at a big advantage on Thursdays and there’s a good argument to be made for the Panthers being significantly better than the Falcons if McCaffrey can go. I will have an update if needed. I am also locking in the below picks for this week before the lines move. I will have full write ups for those picks with the others as usual this weekend.

MIN +7 @ GB

IND -2.5 @ DET

Update: McCaffrey is out, but I wasn’t really expecting him to play this week and the spread has dropped to 1 as a result. I am comfortable with the Panthers at that number as they have significantly outplayed the Falcons this season, particularly on the more predictable side of the ball.

Carolina Panthers 31 Atlanta Falcons 27

Pick against the spread: Carolina -1

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-2)

Contrary to pre-season expectations, these two teams have actually been pretty even this season. The Saints rank 9th in first down rate differential when adjusted for schedule at +2.08%, but the Panthers aren’t far behind at +1.08%. However, the Panthers have outplayed their talent level, particularly on defense, and could regress somewhat going forward, while the Saints typically start slow, have had a lot of injury absences thus far this season, and are still one of the most talented teams in the league when closer to full strength.

Given that, I was expecting to take the Saints in this one, even as 7.5-point home favorites over a capable Panthers team that has been competitive in all of their games, but the Saints are going to be without their top-2 wide receivers this week. They have gotten tight end Jared Cook, defensive end Marcus Davenport, and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore (among others) back from injuries that cost them time earlier this season, but I like the Panthers chances of keeping this one close enough to cover.

New Orleans Saints 31 Carolina Panthers 26

Pick against the spread: Carolina +7.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-1) at Carolina Panthers (3-2)

The Bears have started the season 4-1, but they aren’t nearly as good as their record, as they could have easily lost any of their four wins, with all coming down to the final play and the Bears managing to win all 4 by a combined 13 points. The general public seems to recognize the Bears aren’t as good as their record though. What they may not realize is that the Bears’ opponents this week, the Carolina Panthers, are also not as good as their 3-2 record suggests. This line favors the Panthers at home by 1.5 with limited homefield advantage, suggesting these two teams are about even, but the Bears hold an edge in both first down rate differential (+0.94% vs. -1.18%) and a clearer edge in my roster rankings. 

The Panthers haven’t been terrible on either side of the ball this season, but their talent level on defense, especially without injured defensive tackle Kawaan Short, suggests they’ve overachieved on that side of the ball so far and could regress going forward. Overall, I have the Bears 3.5 points better than the Panthers, suggesting this line should be 1.5 the other way, giving the Panthers two points for having limited fan attendance. Games decided by 1 point aren’t overly common (4.1% of games), so we’re not getting great line value with the Bears, but I at least think the money line is worth betting at +105, as the Bears are slightly better than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

Chicago Bears 23 Carolina Panthers 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (0-4)

I typically like to go against significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play and that is the case here, with the Panthers going from 3.5-point underdogs in this game in Atlanta on the early line last week to just 1-point underdogs now, likely as a result of their home win over the Cardinals last week. That’s a big shift, considering about 1 in 4 games are decided by 1-3 points. The Cardinals were an overrated team entering that game though and they were also very banged up, missing a trio of defensive starters, so the Panthers shouldn’t get too much credit for that.

The Falcons are obviously missing a key player in Julio Jones, who looks likely to miss his 2nd game of the season with a hamstring injury after not practicing all week, but they’re actually otherwise getting a lot healthier, particularly on defense, where they will get safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, edge defender Takkarist McKinley, and cornerback AJ Terrell back this week. None of those players are great, but they provide necessary upgrades for a defense that has been one of the worst few in the league thus far this season. The Falcons should be favored at least by a field goal at home, even without normal homefield advantage, as they are the better of these two teams in their current states. This isn’t a big play, but in a game the Falcons just need to win to cover, they’re worth a bet.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Carolina Panthers 30

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -1

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-1) at Carolina Panthers (1-2)

The Cardinals have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start to the season on both sides of the ball. They have won the first down rate battle in each of their first three games of the season and not only do they rank 4th in the league in first down rate differential at +5.60%, but they’re also the only team in the league with an offense and a defense that both rank in the top-12 in first down rate and first down rate allowed. The Cardinals picked up their first loss of the season last week, but they only lost by three, despite losing the turnover battle by 3, and they won the first down rate battle by 10.50%. Turnover margins are very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and it was actually impressive to see them keep it close despite their turnover issues. 

Unfortunately, the Cardinals are very beat up this week, missing safeties Budda Baker and Chris Banjo and possibly wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. I wouldn’t expect their defense to continue playing this well all season either way, as they’ve largely outperformed their talent level and have had an easy schedule, but missing their safeties is a big blow, particularly Budda Baker, who has been arguably their best defensive player this year. Meanwhile, their offense, which has a good chance to maintain their high level of play long-term, will obviously find that much more difficult this week if Hopkins can’t go after not practicing all week. 

The Panthers have a big injury absence with running back Christian McCaffrey on the sidelines, but they get a big boost on defense this week with stud defensive tackle Kawaan Short returning from injury, as well as cornerback Eli Apple, whose return should help to a lesser extent. With Hopkins being highly questionable for the Cardinals, I have the Cardinals just 3 points ahead of the Panthers in my roster rankings right now, so we’re getting value with the Panthers at home as 3-point underdogs. I wouldn’t recommend betting them unless Hopkins misses or unless this line moves up to 3.5, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Carolina Panthers 23

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (0-2) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)

This is the toughest game of the week for me, as I have the line calculated right at 6.5, which is where it is on the board, and there aren’t any situational edges on either side. The Panthers are one of the worst teams in the league without their top offensive player Chrisitan McCaffrey and their top defensive lineman Kawaan Short, but the Chargers have a raw, unproven quarterback under center in Justin Herbert and, while he showed some success against the Chiefs last week after regular starter Tyrod Taylor was a late scratch with a medical issue, I wonder how much he benefited from the Chiefs game planning for a different kind of quarterback all week. 

Herbert will have a full week with the first team in practice this week, which he didn’t have last week, but the Panthers also won’t be caught off guard by him and at least have some professional tape of him in this offense. Ultimately, I’m taking the Chargers since the most likely outcome is then winning by a touchdown, but the Panthers could easily keep it closer and they have the kind of offense, even without McCaffrey, that is very capable of a backdoor garbage cover late in the game.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Carolina Panthers 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -6.5

Confidence: None

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (0-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)

The Buccaneers lost by double digits in Tom Brady’s debut in New Orleans last week and, as was seemingly the case every time Brady lost in New England over the past half decade, the questions are now swirling about Tom Brady’s long-term ability and even his relationship with his head coach. I think the Buccaneers played a lot better than the final score suggested though, as they actually won the first down rate pretty substantially on the road against the top ranked team in my roster rankings last week in the Saints. The Buccaneers’ +8.18% first down rate differential was actually the 6th highest of the opening week.

The Buccaneers were hurt significantly by a -3 turnover margin and a subsequent defensive touchdown, two things that are totally inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The average team with a -3 turnover margin has a +0.0 turnover margin the following week and I don’t expect a Tom Brady quarterbacked team to continue turning it over like they’re a Jameis Winston quarterbacked team. I also was especially impressed with how the Buccaneers’ defense held the Saints to a 31.82% first down rate and held Drew Brees to one of his least effective starts in years. 

I had many more questions about the Buccaneers’ defense than their offense coming into the season, given that they were one of the worst defenses in the league for a year and a half before some young players came on down the stretch last season, so seeing them continue play well in week 1 of this season against one of the toughest tests in the league is a very good sign for this team’s long-term chances. The offense, which moved the ball well when not turning it over, isn’t the concern on this team.

Speaking of this offense and specifically quarterback Tom Brady, I like betting Brady in this spot, given his track record off of a loss in his career. In New England, Brady was 42-22 ATS off of a loss, frequently silencing critics who prematurely wrote off his team. He has a good chance to do the same thing this week, especially against an easy matchup. I wish we got some extra line value after the Buccaneers loss last week, but even with this line staying put at 8.5, we’re still getting good value with the Buccaneers, as this is a matchup of a top-5 team and a bottom-5 team right now.

I didn’t think much of the Panthers going into the season because, while they have some offensive firepower, their quarterback play and offensive line leave something to be desired, while their defense is arguably the worst in the league. That defense went from bad to worse this week when they lost defensive tackle Kawaan Short, arguably their best defensive player, to an injury. They’ll also be without rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who was supposed to be a big part of this defensive line rotation. Without those two, this is a very depleted group upfront. 

The Buccaneers will be missing wide receiver Chris Godwin, but they’ll get Mike Evans back healthy after he was far less than 100% last week and this team is much better equipped to deal with Godwin’s absence than the Panthers are to deal with Short’s loss. The Buccaneers still have Evans, promising young wide receiver Scotty Miller, and a trio of talented tight ends, while the Panthers are almost entirely devoid of defensive impact players without Short. I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -12.5, even with no fans in attendance for the Buccaneers’ home opener. This should be an easy win for the Buccaneers and I like them enough to make them my Pick of the Week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -8.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week