Thursday, January 1, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Cardinals Vs Panthers (update #3)

Arizona Cardinals Vs. Carolina Panthers: CAR -5.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This point spread opened at Panthers -5 after Week 17, and then got bet down to -4 on Monday.  It's interesting that early money was on the Cardinals because since then all we've seen is a climb back up. It's currently at -6.5, but I'd be surprised if it closes at this number. Right now, there is more action on Arizona with 58% of the bets in their favor.

Bottom Line

If you're sitting there with -4 in your pocket, I think you're on the best number available. I wouldn't consider a play on Arizona unless this hit +7, and even then I'd probably just take a pass.

A big reason for that is the fact that Ryan Lindley is starting this game. If they had Drew Stanton, at least the full playbook would be available for Arians to use. With Lindley under center, I don't see how they can come back if they fall behind.

The main hope Arizona has is with their defense, who ranked 5th in the league on the road this year (compared to 15th at home).  The problem is their pass D fell from 7th in the 1st half of the season to 18th in the 2nd half. The run D also dropped from 4th to 11th.

On the flip side, everything is trending up for the Panthers. They made a dramatic turnaround down the stretch on both sides of the ball. They improved their run offense from 23rd in the first half to 11th in the 2nd half, and they've been good on third down all year. This should dictate the game and force the Arizona defense to stay in their base packages more often, ultimately making them less effective.

The bigger challenge for the Cards will be how to combat the Panthers defense. Carolina has been poor in the clutch situations (3rd down/red zone), which is always a big red flag for me, but they climbed from 21st in pass D earlier in the year, up to 5th best by Week 17. On the ground, they finished the year strong at 9th in the league.  This is also a unit that was better at home than they were on the road.

In the end, this could be close if Arizona's D has an A+ effort, but realistically they are going to be hard-pressed to keep this within a touchdown.  I'll be on the Panthers, but I'll wait a little longer to see if I can get a better number before kickoff. I also like Carolina as a teaser option, essentially asking them just to win the game straight up.

UPDATE #3: Line has moved to -5.5. Some books are moving back up to -6, so I think -5.5 might be the best number we can get on Carolina.  There might be another late surge on Arizona, but I'll go ahead and lock in at this number.

NFL Pick: CAR -5.5.

Read more: Wild Card Picks.