Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders (-3, 49 o/u)
Even though Thanksgiving is stealing three games away from our usual weekend slate, we aren’t missing much thanks to all 32 teams being in action for the first time since Week 3. One of the more interesting games we get on Sunday (November 27) is taking place at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum, as the Raiders (8-2 SU, 7-3 ATS) host the Carolina Panthers (4-6 SU, 2-6-2 ATS) at 4:25 PM ET.
If we looked ahead to this game before the season started, and I told you one team would only have two losses while the other was sub-.500, you wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. But you probably would’ve said the Panthers were the frontrunners.
Since starting the season 1-5, Carolina has now won three of its last four to resurrect their chances of heading back to the postseason. If we look back to their six losses, you see that four of them have come by three points or less. In spite of not looking like the same team from a year ago, Cam Newton and the offense have had their team in just about every game they’ve played this season.
The glaring hole for Carolina has been in the secondary, ranking 27th against the pass. However, the unit has looked much better as of late, only surrendering an average of 236.3 yards through the air in the last three. A matchup with the league’s fourth-ranked passing attack in Week 12 calls for a similar effort out of the likes of Daryl Worley, James Bradberry, and Robert McClain.
The Panthers head into Oakland without their leader on the defensive side of the ball, though, as Luke Kuechly is out indefinitely (concussion). Kuechly and his 71 tackles were a big part of Carolina’s second-ranked rush defense. Without him, both Shaq Thompson and Thomas Davis will need to step-up to fill the void.
On offense, Carolina has been shooting itself in the foot with turnovers. Through ten games, they have turned the ball over 19 times (29th). Even when they’re not turning it over, they haven’t looked like the unstoppable force from last season; Cam Newton is not playing to his MVP form (56.5 completion percentage, 2,186 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions) and the whole team has struggled to establish an efficient ground game. Last year’s second-ranked rushing attack is currently 15th in the league and only averaging 3.8 yards per carry (24th). On top of that, they have now failed to break 100 yards on the ground in three straight games, which includes just 50 on the ground against the Saints last week.
Like the Panthers, the Raiders have also played in a lot of close games this season, but they have come out on top more often than not – winning three games by three points or fewer. Their ability to win close games is a direct result of their high-powered offense.
Unlike his counterpart in this game, Derek Carr is putting up MVP-like numbers – 66.2 completion percentage, 2,800 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, four interceptions. His phenomenal play has led to the Raiders ranking fifth in both total offense and scoring. The offense isn’t just Derek Carr, though. This team can attack you in myriad ways. When they decide to hand the ball off, they are averaging 4.6 yards per carry (sixth), and have a bevy of options to compliment their dynamic receiving duo of Amari Cooper (900 yards and three touchdowns) and Michael Crabtree (601 yards and six touchdowns). Their investment in the offensive line (highest-paid in the league) is paying huge dividends.
Oakland has needed these performances from their offense because their defense has been downright awful this season. The unit ranks 29th in total defense and 20th in scoring. Not only can they not stop the run (26th), but they can’t defend through the air either (29th). Though things have gotten a little better of late, as they have held two of their last four opponents under 300 total yards.
The key to this game will be turnovers. Oakland has generated 17 turnovers this season (fifth), which includes four in their last two contests. The Raiders have also been great at protecting the ball, only committing seven turnovers (third). While Carolina has been able to take the ball away lately (six takeaways in the last four games), they will have to do a much better job securing the ball on offense.
Desperation time has set in for the 4-6 Panthers, and they know another loss could result in the end of their season. Look for Carolina to take advantage of an Oakland defense that is surrendering 4.6 yards per carry (29th), and for the Cam Newton of old to make an appearance. The Raiders do not have the physicality on defense to slow him, and outside of Khalil Mack (eight of the team’s 15 sacks), they struggle to pressure the quarterback. Newton and Jonathan Stewart will control the tempo with smash-mouth football and pull off the upset.
Pick: Panthers (+3).
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].