Expect the unexpected in the NFL this weekend, as Neil Harvey tips a shock win for Philadelphia at Carolina, and backs the desperate Ravens to push Arizona all the way...
"A look at the Panthers' wins shows they came against a veritable motley crew. Every one of their opponents possesses a losing record, which when tallied amount to a miserable (10-20). Far from beating the best, the Panthers have revelled in the role of flat-track bullies."
Philadelphia Eagles @ Carolina Panthers
These two teams top their respective divisions, but the way they got there couldn't have been much different. There was huge expectation that this was going to be Philadelphia's best season in years. But instead of soaring, the Eagles have had their wings clipped repeatedly. Three losses in the opening four games, included a woeful defeat to Washington, left Philly reeling. There was even talk of how long Head Coach Chip Kelly would survive.
Two wide-margin wins later though, and at (3-3) the talk is once again of Kelly's Heroes. Those victories, both by 20 points or more, came at home, and against teams with a combined 5-7 record. This week though they'll be on the road to a Panthers team that's cruising with a perfect 5-0 record. So their good run surely ends there. Or does it?
A look at the Panthers' wins shows they came against a veritable motley crew. Every one of their opponents possesses a losing record, which when tallied amount to a miserable (10-20). Far from beating the best, the Panthers have revelled in the role of flat-track bullies.
Quarterback Cam Newton is being hailed once again as Superman. But is he? Really? Before you buy into the hype, just look at the stats. Cam has thrown for eight touchdowns and 1078 yards this season. And he's being lauded for it because the Panthers are unbeaten. In comparison, Philadelphia QB Sam Bradford has notched nine touchdowns and 1561 yards. Yet he's been labelled as a let-down, purely because of Philly's inconsistent start.
Pre-season great things were expected of the Eagles, after they signed Bradford, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews among others. Carolina however weren't expected to pull up too many trees. The media loves unbeaten records though. Be it boxers or NFL teams. And when they get one, they tend towards hyperbole, exaggerating their brilliance beyond recognition.
The truth though lies closer to those pre-season assessments. The Eagles have a high-octane offense. Running back DeMarco Murray is starting to show the form that made him last year's leading rusher in the league. He can punch some holes in Carolina's much-vaunted defense - one which, like Cam, has been over-hyped. In reality, the Panthers rank only 13th at stopping the run and 15th against the pass. I expect Bradford and Murray to burst those inflated reputations.
The Eagles meanwhile should have few problems dealing with a Panther's offense that intimidates nobody. Jonathan Stewart and a scrambling Newton are up against the league's number nine rushing defense. While Newton has only one receiver to aim for. And surely tight end Greg Olsen can't keep pulling off miracle performances every week.
Philly can win this. And I'll take them with the handicap as some form of cover.
Philadelphia to beat Carolina @ 2.466/4
Philadelphia (+3.5) to beat Carolina @ 1.8810/11
Philadelphia to win at half time @ 2.206/5 or better
Baltimore Ravens @ Arizona Cardinals
The (1-5) Ravens are currently sitting in a big pile of do-do as they stare a season of failure firmly in the face. An amazing situation for a team that won the Superbowl just three seasons ago. Things have changed immensely though in Baltimore. Running back Ray Rice is gone. So are receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. And the vicious Ravens defense is now a mere shell of its former self.
That's what often happens after major success. Rivals come in and steal your most valuable assets. And the Ravens have been picked almost clean to the bone. All that remains of their glory days is quarterback Joe Flacco, seen each week desperately trying to connect with receiver Steve Smith Junior. Increasingly though, they look like stragglers refusing to leave a party, in the hope that it will never end.
Flacco is class though. And his loyalty is admirable. For me he's the single reason the Ravens lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2013. And even as the iceberg approaches, he continues to play, helping Baltimore put up some decent offensive numbers. Despite the fact he has only one credible receiver to aim for, Flacco's team are producing an average of more than 23 points per game, ranking them 11th in the NFL.
It's not enough though when you have such a desperate defense. The Ravens currently rank 27th in the league against the run. That's unheard of in for, well as long as I can remember. Their 10th ranked pass-defense is also below par compared with recent history.
That heady mix of desperate offense and desperately-bad defense should make for some good betting action though. (4-2) Arizona can put up a big score on the Ravens. Quarterback Carson Palmer is playing like a man reborn. He should make a healthy addition to his already 14 touchdowns for the season. I'm expecting pocket-rocket receiver John Brown to get his hands on at least one of those touchdown passes. He'll have to fight teammate Larry Fitzgerald for it though.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals' running back committee of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington can gouge some huge holes in the Baltimore defensive line. Expect them to have run all over the University of Phoenix stadium come the close of play.
But let's not forget, the Ravens are desperate. And that can help people achieve the most improbable things sometimes. As stated, the Ravens offense is still putting points on the board. And if running back Justin Forsett finally gets back in his groove, they could put up even more.
The points total of 48 looks more than reachable here. And for those among you with nerves of steel, the 7.5 point head start for the Ravens looks well worth taking. The Ravens may have lost five out of their six games, but they've never gone down by more than six points.
Back Total Points Over 48 @ 1.9620/21
Back Baltimore (+7.5) to beat Arizona @ 2.1011/10