New Orleans Saints vs Carolina Panthers: CAR +3 (Bodog)
MarketsThis line opened with the Saints as -3 favorites at even money and there's been some disagreement on what the right line should be. There is a hint that giving the Panthers a full field goal at home might be too much value and some have it at -2.5. I like this play at +3 because I think it's a bit silly to have New Orleans rated this high. I would be surprised if it remained there come kickoff.
Did Week 1 Really Happen?Both of these teams put up perplexing performances on offense last week. Drew Brees looked visibly frustrated and had a very subpar day, while Cam Newton's imperfections dominated most of their game with the Bucs. Given their track record, I think Newton's performance is more alarming. His accuracy and decision-making were drawbacks at times last year, which means he needs to overcompensate with everything else that he does great. Brees might miss Sean Payton more than we thought, but that really can't come as an excuse given his familiarity with the system and the weapons around him. They simply didn't execute.
Run Forrest Run?Another strange thing to come out of Week 1 was the running game for both teams. They have some of the deepest rotations in the league, but neither of them came close to even an average day of production. Granted Jonathan Stewart was out, but DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, and Newton should be more than enough. I don't expect either run offense to be nearly as bad going forward so I would scrap last week's results as a misnomer. Some credit needs to be given to the Bucs aggressive scheme and the fact that the Saints were playing catchup all game and shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
Advantage Who, What, Where?Someone is going to have to explain to me why the Saints are favored by three points in this matchup because I fail to see the advantages that warrant this spread. Part of the reason why I liked New Orleans so much last week was due to their impressive home field advantage. I don't feel the same about them on the road - especially outdoors.
Personnel-wise, both QBs and running games are capable of putting up gaudy numbers. I've already talked about the insane options that the Saints have to play with and they should have opportunities against a secondary lacking depth behind Chris Gamble and against a pass rush that fails to generate consistent pressure without blitzing. The saving grace for Carolina is having a healthy Jon Beason back and first round pick Luke Kuechly leading the way in the middle.
Yet, things are just as bad for the Saints defense. I expected Steve Spagnuolo to have a bigger impact from the start, but I need to remind myself that his defense gave up 80+ points in the first two weeks during his time in New York. He had a bunch of guys in the lineup that seemed questionable just a couple weeks ago, but it didn't seem to matter vs a dynamic RG3. If Jabari Greer and/or Johnny Patrick are out again this week, Newton could have a monster day in the air.
The Panthers changed from their two tight-end base set this year after letting Jeremy Shockey go, but by adding Mike Tolbert they present new challenges for defenses. Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell should be ready for semi-breakout seasons, Steve Smith is a big weapon outside, and Louis Murphy adds another option in the receiving game. There's no reason to think this offense can't hang with the Saints, with or without Jonathan Stewart (who Carolina insists doesn't have a high-ankle sprain). If Stewart is back, it's one more thing for a banged up Saints defense must contend with.
Bottom LineOn paper, I have the Panthers as slight favorites according to my ratings. Even if I was more conservative it would be a pick em at worst. Giving the home team three points is too much and it's a line I can't pass up. It could have the makings of a shootout, but I like Newton and company to hold their own against a Saints team suddenly facing issues on both sides of the ball.
NFL Pick: CAR +3.
The rest of my Week 2 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.