That Carolina should have left the Georgia Dome last week with the W in their back pocket, just ten days after a public flogging at the hands of a depleted New York Giants team (on home turf, no less) tells you all you need to know about placing your hard earned on the Panthers. So, why do I have a strong fancy for them this week? Some sportsbooks are asking the home team to win by just a field goal in order to cover, available as they are -2.5
Seattle has proven over its first two road games that they aren't reliable ATS away from CenturyLink Field, going 0-2 in Arizona and St. Louis, notably division rivals both. However, they entered each of those contests as the favourite, whereas they're generally a 3 point underdog this week. Still, it does look a little skinny, if I'm honest, particularly through these College Navy, Action Green and Wolf Grey coloured glasses.
Looking at the Panthers' record ATS this season, this game reminds me of Tampa Bay's hosting of Washington last week. The Buccaneers went into that one as a mini covering machine, having been 3-0 ATS, but a closer inspection showed that they'd achieved that lofty perch by covering as the underdog each time. As a home favourite against theRedskins they choked a little on their own gunpowder and never fully recovered, losing both SU and ATS.
Carolina's record shows a similar pattern, although it's hardly identical. As the favourite (vs. the Bucs and Giants), they're 0-2. As soon as they're unfancied (vs. the Saints and Falcons), they're 2-0. That last stat is interesting and one to watch on the season; the Panthers are covering against division rivals.
So, here we have two teams in the Panthers and Seahawks who cover when the underdog. That does it for me. Article over. Just lump on Seattle. What could possibly go wrong..? Plenty...
Oldest news in the NFL right now is that the Seahawks rank dead last in passing offense, a situation exacerbated when Russell Wilson threw three picks against the Rams last week. Seattle fans are craving more offensive balance, if only to make them less predictable, but there's little chance of that this week. Wilson will, arguably, be reined in more than he already has been this season, meaning much (and I get bored typing this) rests on the Charles Atlas-like shoulders of Marshawn Lynch. Fortunately, for the Seahawks, they face a Carolina run defense giving up 134.8 yards per game, 26th in the NFL.
Yes, Carolina will be able to load the box, but that tactic hasn't prevented Seattle piling up an average of 150.8 yards per game on the ground so far this season, numbers boosted last week when Robert Turbin came in to spell Lynch and ran for 45 yards on six carries. That part of the offense shouldn't (ahem) show any sign of stopping this week. If it does, look for the Panthers to cover, probably with considerable ease, despite a Seahawks defense that will keep them in most games this year well into the fourth quarter.
For a team able to boast the not inconsiderable running talents of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton, Carolina musters an average of 122 yards per game on the ground. That's not earth shattering, but their offense possesses a balance Seattle can only dream of right now as Newton averages 240.3 passing yards per game. However, that balance will surely face its stiffest test this season against the much vaunted Seahawks defense.
Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell can expect to feel battered and bruised on Monday morning after facing the most cohesive secondary in football, Olsen in particular as the tight end is Newton's favourite target this season, hauling in 20 passes on 31 targets, both team leading. However, should none of his receiving corps be open on any given play, it's a) hardly a cause for celebration for fans with a Seattle heart and b) the play could only be just beginning as Newton is frightening when forced out of the pocket.
Newton's totalled 167 rushing yards this season at 5.1 yards a pop (5.6 YPA in 2011 when amassing 706 yards) and this part of his game is one of the most intriguing aspects of this matchup. How the Seahawks cope with his running ability is one of the keys to this contest. The Panthers have six rushing touchdowns on the season and Newton can account for half of those.
For us Seahawks, facing the Panthers conjures up images of NFC Championship Games that took place in a distant (but hardly dim) football season of 2005. We had a feared running game them, behind the best left side of an offensive line ever (tell me who is then). Aside from the latter, nothing much has changed. The result, from January 22, 2006, I fear may be very different on Sunday.