Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 1: Seahawks vs Panthers

Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers: SEA -3 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

If there was one game on the board that split the "squares" and "sharps", it's this one. Right now you have to lay some extra juice for the favorite, but that's no problem for me. This line opened at -3.5 back in May and the sharps took the extra half point.

The thinking is that most sharps like the Panthers to be dramatically improved this season. I'm not questioning the talent on this roster, but there are three significant red flags for me: coaching, wide receivers, and secondary. I know what I'm getting with Seattle (the most trendy Super Bowl pick in the NFC), and I really like how they match up in key areas. Carolina has to prove me wrong before I adjust my power rating for them. Let's see how it shakes out.

80% of the bets are currently on the Seahawks.

When the Panthers have the ball

When it comes to Carolina, where do you want to start? They've started like crap for two years in a row. 15 times in two years they've blown a lead and lost (tied for worst in the NFL).  In games that are decided by 8 points or less? A 6-13 record. I still don't know how Ron Rivera has kept his job, but it's also a lack of execution on behalf of the players. Their leader, Cam Newton, has also had well-publicized maturity issues. Both Rivera and Newton are apparently ready their previous issues around this year, but I'm not sold until I see it on the field.

The bigger question I have is whether or not Newton has improved his accuracy enough to overcome what is the best secondary in the NFL. Steve Smith is a legit #1 WR, but after him it gets dicey with LaFell, Ginn Jr, and Hixon. They'll be tasked to go up against the likes of Sherman, Browner, Thomas, Chancellor, and Thurmond. Greg Olsen had decent production as a pass-catching TE, but the Seahawks are equipped at safety and KJ Wright is a good in coverage at linebacker.

It's good news that the Panthers have some stability on the O-line and two pro-bowlers at the most important positions (LT Jordan Gross) and (C Ryan Kalil). It also helps that Irvin and Clemons are out, and Avril's status in uncertain.

Can Carolina take advantage with their run game and play-action passing? Tolbert is on track to play which will help Williams, but Seattle have a good run defense, especially with the secondary locking things down on the outside.

When the Seahawks have the ball

The biggest challenge this Carolina defense is going to have on Sunday is what to do with their secondary. The 'Hawks love to run the ball and they are stacked with Lynch, Turbin, and Michael. Their zone-blocking scheme is led by LT Okung and C Unger.  At the center of it all is read-option dynamo Russell Wilson.

How should the Panthers play this? Last year they played their secondary off-coverage for the most part and got picked apart. Nothing much was done to improve this group. Munnerlyn and Thomas will try to contain Rice and Tate. There's a chance Norman gets the start too, but he was opposing offenses favorite target last year. They had to sign Quintin Mikell because of Mike Mitchell's injury, but neither are good in coverage. The only stable person back there is Godfrey.

Instead they'll rely on what many are calling the best front seven in football. There are still questions on the D-Line though, so I'm not ready to crown them just yet. Charles Johnson is their every-down DE and 1st rounder Lotulelei could make waves right away. They are backed up by superstar Luke Kuechly and solid vets Beason and Davis.

This so-called formidable front is going to be put to the test. Not many teams ran the ball as effectively as Seattle last year, and even if they do get pressure on Wilson, he scrambles with control. He's very accurate throwing on the run, doesn't take big hits, and usually runs as a last resort. Last year he improved dramatically in the last half of the season and the playbook was expanded to include more read-option plays.

I think Carolina's defense can disrupt Seattle's offense throughout the game, but they are still asking their secondary to do far too much with far too little.

Bottom Line

In the end this is a passing league and I'm not sure Newton has progressed enough to overcome the Seahawks secondary. On the flip side, Seattle can scheme mismatches on their own, Carolina's backfield love to blow coverages, and then you have Wilson creating something out of nothing to add insult to injury.

Given the recent trend in this league, combined with even more rule changes favoring the passing game, I love how Seattle matchup in the air on both sides of the ball. If it was relegated to a ground game showdown, I think the Seahawks are every bit as stacked in that area too.

And if things get close, I'd much rather have the Seahawks coaching staff/QB in crunch-time than the Panthers.

NFL Pick: SEA -3.