Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks
For me, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson have a lot in common. Both have powerful arms, pose a serious running threat, and both arguably carry their teams' offense. To be fair to Jonathan Stewart, he is the one other player who deserves offensive kudos for the Panthers. When he's absent, which is all too often, the brittle but effective running back is missed. Stewart is Carolina's leading scorer, having contributed seven of their 14 rushing touchdowns. Note that was accomplished in just eight starts. I did say he was brittle.
Interestingly, Carolina have a 15/14 split in terms of passing/rushing touchdowns. That's an unusually balanced ratio which suggests the Panthers have a lot of confidence in Stewart in 'goal to go' situations. Seattle have conceded virtually half the touchdowns against them, nine of 19, on the ground. I admit, the Hawks have been extremely stingy in terms of rushing yards conceded, just 3.9 per carry, so Stewart's unlikely to put up much total yardage. But the famous Seattle defense has proven surprisingly vulnerable in the red zone. And so given the chance, I fancy Stewart can punch his way in for a score.
Like I said, Stewart should find it pretty heavy sledding overall though. If so, that would put pressure on Cam Newton to do the business. But how can you be confident in a quarterback who's thrown 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions. That's a poor ratio. Compared to last season, Newton's TDs are way down, and his number of picks way up. Quite simply he's playing much worse, and that goes a long way to explaining why the Panthers as a whole have dipped too, from 15-1 last year to their current record of 4-7.
As well as losing their way, Carolina also seem to have lost their nerve. Seven of their games have been decide by a margin of three points or less. Yet they won just two just two of these. Given they now face a Seattle defense that's made as many picks (10) as it's conceded touchdowns (10), it's hard to foresee anything but disaster for Newton, especially if he's forced to start playing catch-up.
Seattle are strong favourites at 1.321/3. But can we trust them after they slumped to defeat against Tampa Bay last week? Well that loss was on the road. At home, the Seahawks have won five from five. Russell Wilson could still come under pressure though. His offensive line rates near the bottom of the league for allowing quarterback hits, while the Panthers pass rush is one of the league's best. And it's this weakness that was exposed to such great effect by Tampa.
But he should still be able to make some big plays in between, against a Panthers secondary that's conceded 21 passing touchdowns, more than twice as many as Seattle's. Once in the red zone, expect Wilson to go aerial to either Doug Baldwin or Jimmy Graham, who between them have caught nine of Seattle's 13 passing TDs.
Running back Thomas Rawls looks set to struggle. Seattle's struggling O-Line hasn't been making the holes and consequently the Seahawks rank near the bottom of the league at rushing for 10 yards or more. He now faces the NFL 's number one run defense. So going low on Rawls' yardage looks a confident call.
With both teams likely to struggle on the ground, that makes the points quote of 43.5 look high to me. Seattle appear the stronger outfit. And while Carolina have a habit of keeping games close, on the one occasion when they faced an elite defense - Minnesota's - they suffered their biggest loss of the season. The Panthers fare better in shootouts than in trench warfare. They could find this their most arduous test yet.
3pts Seattle (-6.5) to beat Carolina @ 1.9110/11
3pts Total points Under 44 @ 1.9620/21
4pts Thomas Rawls rushing yards Under 64.5 @ [5/6]
2pts Russell Wilson passing yards to be Over 267.5 @ [5/6]
2pts Jonathan Stewart to score anytime touchdown @ [13/10] (Sportsbook)
1pt Jimmy Graham to score 1st touchdown @ [8/1] (Sportsbook)
1pt Doug Baldwin to score 1st touchdown @ [9/1] (Sportsbook)
Indianapolis Colts @ New York Jets
Okay. I'm going to call this one right out of the gate. I'm backing Indianapolis to win.
For those with little patience, here's a short explanation of why. Take Tennessee. They are strong at running the ball, and at stopping the run. They're weaker at both pass offense and pass defense. Now the same template could be used to describe the Jets. The only difference is that the Titans are slightly better in all departments. They are the Jets version 2.0 - they're like the Jets, only better.
I say this because Indy already beat Tennessee, both home and away this season. The Colts won 34-26 in Nashville and then triumphed 24-17 in their home state of Indiana. For me, the Colts strengths and weaknesses match up well against teams in the mould of the Titans and the Jets. And there you have it. But some of you will no doubt be gnashing your teeth at what you consider to have been a horribly over-simplified argument. So for you, here's a more detailed assessment.
Neither of these teams can defend the pass. The Colts (5-6) give up the second most yards per catch in the league, while the Jets (3-8) are in the bottom three for conceding big passing plays of more than 40 yards. Either way they both stink. But who would you rather back to exploit such weakness? Ryan Fitzpatrick? With 10 TDs to 13 interceptions and a passer rating of 72 this year? Or would you feel more comfortable backing Andrew Luck? With his 19 TDs to 8 picks and passer rating of 93? That was a rhetorical question by the way. Luck is the much more accurate quarterback. He's passed for over 500 yards more than Fitzpatrick this season and he possesses the stronger arm.
To be fair, New York should still be able to move the ball. Their offensive line is strong and allows for a stout running game, powered by Matt Forte. He leads the Jets offense and he should put up healthy yardage here. Just don't bank on him to score. The Colts have yielded only eight rushing TDs, compared to 22 through the air.
In those red zone situations, Fitzpatrick is likely to aim for receivers Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa, who've scored three and four touchdowns respectively. No other active player has scored more than one. And this is where the Jets struggle. Having just two receivers getting nearly all the targets is too easy for the opposing defense to cover. This is where the lack of a quality tight end really hurts them, especially in the end zone. The Colts defense might not be great in centre field, but in the red zone it ranks in the top half of the league and I can see New York having to settle for more field goals than touchdowns.
Speaking of red zone defense, the Jets at home have the best in the NFL, as they allow touchdowns just 35% of the time. So we should see the frighteningly accurate Adam Vinatieri add to his 20 field goals for the season.
I don't think they can keep Luck out of the end zone though. As mentioned, New York are particularly vulnerable to the deep ball. And it just so happens that Andrew Luck has a cannon of an arm, and has not one but two deep threat receivers in TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief (five TDs each). Luck won't hesitate to go big downfield and will likely succeed at some stage - as the Colts rank fifth in the league for completions of 20 yards or more. And this is where the game will be won. Indy will rely on Luck, but it's their big play ability that should earn them the victory.
5pts Indianapolis to win @ 1.8810/11
3pts Indianapolis to win at HT/FT @ [29/20]
2pts Indianapolis to win by 7-12 @ [9/2]
3pts Donte Moncrief to score anytime touchdown @ [13/10]
3pts Moncrief receiving yards Over 56.5 @ [5/6]
3pts TY Hilton receiving yards Over 76.5 @ [5/6]
3pts Gore rushing yards Under 65.5 @ [5/6]
5pts Over 3.5 field goals @ [13/10]
1pt Moncrief to score 1st touchdown @ [10/1]
1pt Hilton to score 1st touchdown @ [13/2]
1pt Indianapolis 1st drive outcome to be field goal @ [4/1]