When analyzing the upcoming NFL season, I look at preseason futures but I also look for data points that could be useful once the season gets underway. This isn’t “OMG, you’re a genius” type of analysis but one wager I'll be looking at taking as often as possible is fading the Carolina Panthers against the spread.
You can look at this five-win team and think, ‘Duh, why would I bet on the Panthers?’ Once the season starts though, your mind shifts and it’s easier to look at the winning teams rather than the losing teams. This is my reminder to myself to hone in on the less desirable as it could provide more value throughout the season.
Baker Mayfield UNDER 3,700.5 passing yards (-110)
In four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Mayfield has surpassed this total twice, both in his first two seasons. Since that, he dipped year after year. It could be that the Browns had a one-two running back punch with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, along with coaching turnover, or perhaps played against solid passing defenses among other things, but I’m looking at this Mayfield/Panthers relationship and don’t see an opportunity for the quarterback to prove his worth in this league anytime soon.
For one, the Panthers have a brutal seven-game stretch to open the season. They face five teams projected to be inside the top 10 for passing defenses, including the Browns in Week 1, the Saints, Cardinals, then the Rams and Bucs in back-to-back weeks. There’s also a period to close the season starting in Week 15 where the Panthers will face a Steelers defense, then the Bucs and Saints in back-to-back games. It’s not a schedule conducive to having passing success. Additionally, Mayfield has a new offensive coordinator and the Panthers are projected to play the eight-toughest schedule of opposing defenses this season behind an offensive line that was bottom 10 in sack percentage allowed last year.
RB Christian McCaffrey is a walking glass table, the wide receiver corps didn’t see an upgrade in the offseason and the head coach is Matt Rhule, who is now 10-23 in his first two seasons. The Panthers' season win total is set at six but they're projected to be underdogs in every game but one. If Mayfield goes over the passing yardage total, it’s because the Panthers are more likely to be winning games (or at least be competitive) and that thought seems like a stretch seeing how the Browns had a better coaching staff, offensive line and running back unit.
Fade the Panthers against the spread
As mentioned, the Panthers will play a tough schedule early on, the second-most difficult schedule of opponents in Weeks 1-7. Taking the under on six games this season certainly looks to be a viable option but what I want instead is to fade the Panthers weekly. Why have just one ticket when I can potentially cash in every Sunday?
In the last three seasons, the Panthers have won 15 games combined. During that same span, Carolina is 20-29 ATS. The trend that has me interested in fading the Panthers – 6-18 against the spread at home, 4-12 against the spread at home in the last two seasons under Rhule. The Panthers will face the Browns to open, but then get the privilege of hosting the Saints, Cardinals and 49ers in back-to-back-to-back weeks, followed by the Bucs, then the Broncos, Steelers and an improved Lions team in Week 16. Sure, Mayfield could surprise but I’m inclined to believe that fading the Panthers will be an often occurrence for me.