Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2017 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Carolina Panthers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (11-5)

The Saints are my pick to come out of the NFC. With the Eagles losing Carson Wentz for the season, the Saints are now the most complete team in the NFC, with the Rams and Vikings following close behind. I give the edge to the Saints because quarterback Drew Brees is better and more experienced than either Jared Goff or Case Keenum. The Saints also get to open their post-season at home against a Carolina team that they’ve beaten twice so far this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Saints are definitely going to win a 3rd time, as teams are just 4-2 in the post-season against a team they defeated twice in the regular season, but the Saints have had a significant edge over the Panthers in their first 2 matchups, winning both by double digits.

The Panthers also finished the season significantly behind the Saints in point differential and first down rate differential. The Saints had a point differential of +122 and a first down rate differential of +3.73%, while the Panthers were +36 and +1.85% in those two metrics. Both teams finished at 11-5, but the Panthers got to 11-5 on the strength of a 8-1 record in games decided by 8 points or less, so they easily could have finished 9-7 and out of the post-season if a few things had gone differently. Their point differential is 3rd worst among playoff teams and worse than two non-playoff qualifiers, the Chargers and the Ravens. We aren’t getting enough line value with the Saints to bet on them this week, but they should be the right pick for pick ‘em purposes.

New Orleans Saints 27 Carolina Panthers 19

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)

This is a big game for both teams. The Falcons can clinch a playoff spot with a win, but if they lose then they would need the Seahawks to lose at home to the Cardinals to remain in the playoff picture. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a playoff spot locked up already and are also still in the NFC South race. If they win this week and the Saints lose in Tampa Bay, they will win the division. This line (Atlanta -4) suggests that the Falcons are the better of these two teams, but I think that’s backwards.

In addition to having a better record, the Panthers are slightly better in both point differential (+48 vs. +26) and first down rate differential (+2.04% vs. +1.31%). The injury situations of these two teams also has to be taken into account. The Panthers are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all season right now. Tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil returned a few weeks back after missing most of the season and right guard Trai Turner is expected back this week after missing the last 2 games with a concussion. On top of that, outside linebacker Thomas Davis returns from a one-game suspension.

On the other hand, the Falcons have been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season, but they could be without center Alex Mack in this one, as he hurt his calf in practice and has not practiced since. The Falcons have not ruled him out, but it seems unlikely that he plays and, even if he does, he won’t be at 100%. Outside of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Mack is their most valuable offensive player, so that’s a big blow to this team. Given that, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -1.5, so we’re getting good line value with the Panthers at +4. Even if the Falcons win, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less and about 25% of games are decided by 3 points or less, so we’re getting a good cushion with the Panthers. They are worth a bet as long as this line stays above 3.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Carolina Panthers 23

Pick against the spread: Carolina +4

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)

The Buccaneers are just 4-10, in the middle of a disappointing injury riddled season that started with strong playoff hopes, but they’ve competitive in most of their games and they have been better than their record suggests. Just 4 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or more and they rank 12th in first down rate differential at 0.92%, as they have 15 more first downs than they’ve allowed. Their big issue has been their inability to create big plays (just 4 plays of 40 yards or more, 2nd fewest in the league), but that tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much.

Last week, the Buccaneers kept it close with the Falcons, losing by 3 in a game they won the first down rate battle by 6.65%. That was despite the fact that the Buccaneers were without outside linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, two of their best defensive players, who could both return from 1-game absences after getting in some limited practices this week. The Buccaneers could easily keep it close this week in another tough divisional matchup against the Panthers, especially if one or both of McCoy and David are out there.

The Panthers have a strong record of 10-4, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, as they have just 3 wins by more than 8 points and are 7-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer. They’re also going to be without linebacker Thomas Davis and right guard Trai Turner this week, a pair of important players. Given that and how many close games these two teams have played this season, I have this line calculated at Carolina -7, even factoring in the uncertainty with David and McCoy.

The Panthers are also in a tough spot, with a huge divisional game on deck in Atlanta, a game that could have implications in both the NFC South and the NFC Wild Card races. Divisional home favorites are just 26-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which the Panthers definitely will be next week. On top of that, double digit favorites are just 58-78 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Buccaneers have a tough game next week too, as they host the Saints, a game in which they are 8.5-point underdogs on the early line. Teams are just 25-50 ATS before being home underdogs of 7+, as it’s tough to be fully focused with a tough home game on deck.

I like their spot a little bit better than Carolina’s tough, especially with the Panthers coming off back-to-back tough wins over the Vikings and Packers. They could definitely be a little flat this week. I also like the line value we’re getting with the Buccaneers a lot, as they are 10.5-point underdogs. This is just a small bet because of the uncertainty with McCoy and David, but the Buccaneers should be the smart play this week. If this line stays put and both McCoy and David play, I will consider raising this bet.

Sunday Update: Both McCoy and David are active, but this line dropped to 10, so I will not be raising this bet.

Carolina Panthers 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Carolina Panthers (9-4)

When the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone in week 6, many assumed it was the end for the Packers. They were still 4-2 after losing to the Vikings in the game Rodgers went down, but it was unknown if Aaron Rodgers would return at all this season and backup quarterback Brett Hundley was not going to lead this team to the Super Bowl like Rodgers could have. Even making the playoffs seemed like an uphill battle at that point.

Fast forward to the present in week 15 and Rodgers is able to return to action after missing the minimum 8 weeks and, despite playing in a tough NFC, the Packers are still alive in the playoff race at 7-6. Hundley certainly did not play great in Rodgers’ absence, but he played well enough to sneak out 3 wins against a weak bunch, the Bears, the Buccaneers, and the Browns. The latter two victories both came in overtime in the past 2 weeks, as the Packers have held onto their playoff hopes by a thread. If the Packers can win out and finish 10-6, they’ll be right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the NFC.

Even with Rodgers back though, that’s going to be easier said than done. While the Packers’ schedule was relatively easy during Rodgers’ absence, their schedule is arguably the hardest in the NFL to close out the season, as they face a trio of teams with better than .500 records, the Panthers, the Vikings, and the Lions. The good news is their first opponent, the Carolina Panthers, are in a bad spot this week. They are coming off of an emotional home victory over the Minnesota Vikings last week, winning 31-24 in upset fashion, and they could struggle to maintain that kind of intensity two weeks in a row. Teams understandably only cover at a 45% rate after a win as home underdogs.

The Panthers will also be missing talented right guard Trai Turner in this one with a concussion, which will be a big blow to this offense. The Panthers are a little bit overrated right now too, as they aren’t quite as good as their 9-4 record. They are 6-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and could easily be 7-6 or so right now had a few things not gone their way. I have the Packers as the significantly better team in this one and I love getting a full field goal with the better team in the better spot. This is a high confidence pick at +3 and I like the money line at +125 as well, as this game is no worse than a 50/50 toss up for the Packers.

Green Bay Packers 26 Carolina Panthers 24 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +3

Confidence: High

Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at Carolina Panthers (8-4)

One of my favorites things to do as a bettor is go against significant week-to-week line movement, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. That’s definitely the case in this game, as this line has shifted from Carolina -2.5 last week on the early line to Minnesota -3 this week. The Vikings won in Atlanta last week, but Atlanta was missing their top cornerback Desmond Trufant and had another game in 4 days, so that win wasn’t a huge surprise.

The Panthers lost to an undermanned Saints team (Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Terron Armstead) that also had another game in 4 days, but that game was closer than the final score, as the Panthers botched a punt in their own territory and then extended a New Orleans drive with a personal foul penalty 3 plays later. Had that not happened, the Panthers might have been able to kick a field goal early in the 4th quarter, rather than going for it on 4th and 6 down 14. The Saints only ended up winning the first down rate battle by +0.09%, despite the 10 point win.

The Panthers were also without center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen last week, both of whom figure to be back this week. That should be a big boost to this offense. I still have this line at Carolina -1.5, so getting a full field goal with the Panthers at home is a great value. The Vikings are also in a tough spot in their 3rd straight road game. Teams are 77-95 ATS in that spot since 1989. I like the Panthers a lot this week. As long as you can get the full field goal, this is a high confidence pick. I also like the money line at +125.

Carolina Panthers 17 Minnesota Vikings 16 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (8-3) at New Orleans Saints (8-3)

The Saints had their 8-game winning streak snapped last week in Los Angeles. The Rams are a tough opponent and the Saints were missing their top-2 cornerbacks, Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, so it wasn’t a huge shock, especially since the Rams were home favorites. The Saints return home this week, but they have another tough matchup with the Panthers coming to town. They also still have injury issues. While Crawley is expected to return, the Saints will be missing talented rookie safety Marcus Williams and pass catching tight end Coby Fleener, while Lattimore and left tackle Terron Armstead are questionable after being limited in practice all week this week.

Making matters worse, the Saints have to turn around and play an even tougher game in Atlanta on 4 days rest on Thursday Night Football next week. That might mean the Saints hold out either Lattimore and/or Armstead with the intention of them being 100% for the Atlanta game, but even if both play the Saints are still in a terrible spot with that game on deck. Favorites are 64-95 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football and divisional home favorites are just 24-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. Both of those trends are very much in play here.

The Panthers have a tough game next week too, as they face the Vikings, but at least that game is at home in Carolina and on normal rest. The Panthers are favored by 3 in that one on the early line, while the Saints are 3 point underdogs in Atlanta. Underdogs are 67-41 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. That trend is not quite as relevant as the two aforementioned trends because Carolina’s next upcoming game isn’t easy, but there’s no denying that the Panthers enter this game in a much better situation schedule wise.

The Saints beat the Panthers 34-13 in Carolina back in week 3, but that was when Cam Newton was still working his way back from off-season shoulder surgery. The Panthers also didn’t have either center Ryan Kalil or tight end Greg Olsen in that one and both could play this week, though they might not be 100%. Teams tend to avenge on divisional home upsets anyway, as divisional road underdogs are 66-37 ATS since 2002 in regular season, same season revenge games against a team that previously pulled an upset against them. These two teams aren’t far off in talent, so it makes sense that the Panthers would at least come close to evening the season series this week, especially since the Saints could overlook them a little bit, given that they’ve already beaten them and that they have another big game in 4 days.

All of that being said, I wish we were getting a better line than Carolina +5. That’s about what I have this one calculated at, so we aren’t getting any real line value with the Panthers. The Saints are banged up, but they are the better team, as they rank 3rd in first down rate, while Carolina ranks 11th. The Saints’ 8 victories have all come by more than a touchdown, while just 3 of Carolina’s have. The Panthers still worth a bet because of the terrible spot the Saints are in and they should be able to keep this within a field goal or so, but this is just a medium confidence pick. I will upgrade this to a high confidence pick if the line shoots up to 6 before game time or if either Lattimore or Armstead are ruled out.

New Orleans Saints 23 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Carolina +5

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at New York Jets: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (7-3) at New York Jets (4-6)

The NFC is loaded with playoff contenders, but the Panthers are in good position for at least a wild card coming out of their bye at 7-3. They are also big road favorites this week in New York against the Jets, which is typically a good spot for a team coming out of a bye. Road favorites of 3.5+ are 53-28 ATS since 1989 and the Panthers are 6 point favorites here. However, that record drops to 11-10 ATS when the opponent is also coming off of a bye, and the Jets are also coming off of their bye. On top of that, I don’t think the Panthers deserve to be 6 point favorites, as I have this these teams about 6 points apart in my rankings, meaning I have this line calculated at just 3 in favor of the visiting Panthers. Given that 30% of games are decided by 3-6 points, that’s a significant difference.

The Jets are not that talented of a team, but they are relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league and they at least try hard and are well coached under Todd Bowles and his staff, which makes them the best of about 7 or 8 bottom tier teams. They Jets are also 5-0 ATS this season at home, including an overtime win over the now 7-3 Jaguars and close losses against the 8-2 Patriots and 6-4 Falcons. If they can give those teams tough games, they should be able to give the Panthers a tough game as well. Carolina is a good team, but they’re not quite as good as their record, as they are just 3-2 in games decided by a touchdown or more. The Jets are worth a small bet as this could be another close win for the Panthers, who have 3 victories by at least 3 points already this season.

Carolina Panthers 20 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +6

Confidence: Medium