The Carolina Panthers have had an awful preseason. In their first two games the Panthers have not been able to score an offensive touchdown. First-string, second-string, third-string, whatever-string – no offensive touchdowns in two games. Not good. The lone Panther touchdown came on a 31 yard fumble return by C.J. Wilson in week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens. Then John Kasay missed the PAT. It has been that kind of preseason for the Panthers.
The Panthers look to get on track Saturday night when they welcome the Tennessee Titans to town. Carolina opened as a 1 ½ point favorite, but according to our NFL point spreads page the Panthers are a 3 point favorite at most books, with a couple hanging at 2 ½. While it may seem strange for the Panthers to be a favorite at all, to make the odds seem odder, the public is betting the Titans at over 70%. But this is the reverse action that can lead bettors to a good play. The wiseguys, along with more substantial wagering, have moved the line opposite the popular public play.
As mentioned above, the Panthers have had a dismal first two weeks of preseason football. Against Baltimore, the Panthers and Ravens combined to commit 5 turnovers and 17 penalties in a game that featured a torrential downpour. In last week’s loss to the New York Jets, Carolina managed only 175 yards of total offense and had more turnovers (5) than points (3). But notice the two defenses that Carolina has had to face so far: Ravens and Jets; probably the two best defenses in the League. And against Baltimore, the Panthers were able to run the ball and create the type of balance they need to be successful – 142 yards rushing/131 yards passing. They actually out-gained the Ravens 273 yards to 225 yards and were +1 in the turnover battle. Last week Carolina out-produced the Jets, too – 175 yards to 112 yards – though they ended up -3 in turnovers. What gets lost in the shuffle is that the Panther defense has been exceptional. In two games, the Panther D has allowed only 337 yards of total offense, collected 5 turnovers, and even scored a touchdown. And if Carolina can quit turning the ball over, they’ve been balanced and able to move the football. So when Tennessee comes calling Saturday night, they’ll get a Panther team poised to break out and get its first win.
The visiting Titans are coming off a sound beating of the Arizona Cardinals, 24-10. Vince Young was 9-13 for 128 yards, and a stable of punishing running backs – Chris Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Javon Ringer, and Samkon Gado – combined for 112 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns. The week before, Tennessee lost a close game in Seattle, 20-18. The Seahawks were amped up for Pete Carroll’s first game as head coach, and 3 costly turnovers were too much for Tennessee to overcome.
Like Carolina, Tennessee’s competition should be considered. Neither Seattle nor Arizona is expected to make the playoffs, while both the Ravens and Jets are generally regarded as possible Super Bowl contenders. Against two middle-of-the-road teams, Tennessee has yielded 616 yards and taken only 3 turnovers, which is nearly twice as many yards as Carolina and nearly half as many turnovers. Offensively Tennessee has been productive, but they haven’t lined up against a defense like Carolina’s.
Both teams have been bit by the injury bug. For Carolina, star linebacker Thomas Davis is out with a torn ACL and maybe the best wide receiver in the League – Steve Smith – is still recovering from a broken left hand he suffered earlier this summer in a flag football game. Smith practiced in full pads on Monday and is listed questionable for the game, but if he plays chances are he’ll be a non-factor. Tennessee has been hit harder in quantity, if not quality. First-round pick Derrick Morgan, the star defensive end from Georgia Tech, has been hampered by an array of injuries, though he’s finally been able to start practicing again. Starting DE William Hayes is recovering from a sprained right knee and won’t play until the regular season. Starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan has yet to play a preseason game as he waits for a groin injury to heal. Defensive tackle Tony Brown and linebacker David Thornton are on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. And veterans Kevin Mawae, Keith Bullock, and Kyle Vanden Bosch were let go as free agents this past off-season.
The Carolina Panthers need more from starting quarterback Matt Moore. If he can deliver, the Panthers should have little trouble moving the ball on the ground. The home Panthers have more to play for in this game, in front of its home crowd. Look for Carolina to play with an urgency usually reserved for regular season play. The wiseguys are siding with the Panthers. To find the plays to pay, sign up for our premium sports picks which our the best NFL picks out there from any handicapping service.