Saturday NFL Picks: Analysts Aligned On Panthers To Cover vs. Packers
Getty Images. Pictured: Stefon Diggs, Aaron Rodgers, Mike Davis
Saturday NFL Picks
Panthers at Packers
Raheem Palmer: Teddy Bridgewater has been historically great against the spread (ATS) throughout his six-year career. He’s 33-13 (71.1%) ATS overall but 23-6 (79.3%) against the number as an underdog — a role he finds himself in this Saturday in Green Bay.
Bridgewater and the Panthers are 0-3 as favorites this season, but 6-3 as underdogs. Two of those losses came at the hands of the Buccaneers, who have clearly had the Panthers’ number this season. Otherwise the Panthers have covered as 10-point road underdogs against the Chiefs, 7-point road underdogs against the Saints (with Drew Brees at the helm), and as 6-point road underdogs against the Chargers.
Nevertheless, this role is perfect for the Panthers, who are expected to welcome the return of wide receiver D.J. Moore against a Packers team that ranks 20th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA.
The Packers are scoring a league-best 31.5 points per game and ranks first in offensive DVOA and red-zone touchdown percentage, scoring on 77.1% of trips inside the 20. The Packers are also second in expected points added per play and first in total success rate (54%), led by Aaron Rodgers, who is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season.
Still, this Packers team has had trouble putting away opponents.
The Packers barely escaped the 1-12 Jaguars as 13.5-point home favorites in Week 10, were an Aaron Jones 77-yard breakaway in the final minutes from not covering against the struggling Eagles in Week 13, then failed to cover as 7.5-point favorites against the Lions in Week 14.
Despite a prolific offense, the Packers defense is giving up 24.8 points per game. They’ve particularly struggled to stop the run, ranking 23rd in defensive rushing success rate, allowing 52% of runs to grade out successfully while giving up 4.6 yards per carry (sixth worst). While Mike Davis picks up yards on the ground, Bridgewater should have no problems throwing against this Packers defense that ranks 22nd in pressure rate (21.1%).
Overall, the Packers are the better team and look poised to make a Super Bowl run as the first seed in the NFC. They should win this game, however, my projections make them closer to 6.5-point favorites and I see this matchup finishing closer than the market indicates. It feels like we’re getting extra points of value based on the Panthers’ 32-27 loss to the Broncos at home last week.
At +8 (or better), this a positive expected value proposition on the Panthers.
Brandon Anderson: The Packers are in the NFC’s No. 1 spot heading into the week, and heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Green Bay is not your typical 1-seed. The Packers are not a dominant all around team — they’re much more Chiefs than Saints, winning games with a fantastic offense and just enough of everything else. After that poor Mahomes game last week, Aaron Rodgers is getting serious MVP buzz. This is getting real, Packers fans.
The Panthers present a similar sort of challenge as the Lions did a week ago. Carolina has a pretty good offense but little defense to speak of. That was Detroit’s profile, too, which meant that the Lions hung close against the Packers all game and never really let them pull away.
Don’t be surprised if the Panthers do the same thing on Saturday, staying “in the game” all night without ever really feeling like a serious threat.
Carolina’s offense is even better than Detroit’s — the Panthers are a top 10 offense per DVOA and should be able to score on the Packers. Let’s just say you’ll want to get all your fantasy players in your lineup for this one. And while that makes the over look tasty, this line is already high.
Teddy Bridgewater is the cover king, and Carolina has all the juice to grab a backdoor cover here. Even if the Panthers can’t stop the Packers, Bridgewater’s guys should be able to keep the pace.
Expect the Packers to get the job done in the end, so this is a pretty strong teaser a spot for them if you want to set up your Sunday. But if you’re giving me more than a touchdown, I will gladly take the Panthers down to +7.5.
Bills at Broncos
Raheem Palmer: Similar to the stock market, buying low and selling high is the key to success in sports betting.
You never want to buy a team at the peak of their value.
Well, after two primetime victories over the 49ers as 2.5-point road favorites and the Steelers as 2.5-point home favorites, the Bills now have the third-highest odds to win the AFC. We’ve seen their power rating jump substantially, and it’s difficult to say it’s not warranted — Josh Allen has played lights out, completing 56-of-83 passes for 613 yards with six touchdowns to just one interception with a 108.2 rating over the past two weeks.
Nonetheless, the Bills head to Denver, where they opened as 4.5-point road favorites before the market pushed this line to -6. I personally find this to be an overreaction as my projections make the Bills 4.5-point favorites.
Ironically, with the leap Allen has made this season, the Bills are the total opposite of what we thought they would be coming into this season: A dominant offense carrying a struggling defense. Although their defense is trending upward over the past three games after a dreadful start to the season, this unit ranks 29th in defensive success rate and 21st in defensive expected points added play. This is not a unit I’d feel comfortable laying seven points on the road with — especially at Mile High, where altitude creates home-field advantage even in the era in which we’re seeing its impact diminished.
The Bills’ inability to stop the run should be obvious in this matchup — they’re dead last in rushing success rate, allowing 57% of rushing plays to grade out as successful at 4.6 yards per carry — fifth-worst among NFL teams. The Bills are also 29th in defensive explosive rush rate, allowing 14% of runs to go for 20 or more yards.
Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon should have big games, which should take the pressure off Drew Lock, who has played solid football over the last three weeks and comes off a game against the Panthers in which he completed 21-of-27 passes for 280 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Given the struggles of Nick Mullens and Ben Roethlisberger recently, you could argue that Lock and this Broncos offense is actually a step up in class from what the Bills have faced over the past two weeks.
Lock has performed well throughout his career at home and he’s 5-2 (71.4%) against the spread (ATS) throughout his career. He’s 3-1 ATS at home with his only spread loss coming in a blowout against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Vic Fangio is still one of the better defensive-minded head coaches in this league. Despite injuries that have decimated the unit, the Broncos have found a way to succeed — they rank eighth in total success rate, 12th in expected points added per play, seventh in sacks (36) and sixth in pressure rate (25.6%) while holding opposing passers to just 220.7 yards per game.
The Bills are red hot, winning six of their last seven games and covering five out of their last six, losing only to the Cardinals on a Hail Mary. It’s tough to step in front of a train with this kind of momentum, but the Broncos have quietly played solid football, covering three out of their last four games with their only misstep coming in a 31-3 loss to the Saints in a game in which they literally didn’t have any quarterbacks due to COVID-19.
All things considered, I like the Broncos to do just enough to keep this inside of the number. I would bet this no further than +6, so lock it in while you can.
Brandon Anderson: The Bills are riding high after big back-to-back primetime wins over the 49ers and Steelers, and this is an obvious letdown spot on a short week against a team that usually shows up.
But a banged up Broncos pass defense could end up being the difference here. A healthy unit might have kept Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs in check to keep this matchup close and ugly, trending toward the under. But with all the injuries in Denver’s secondary, this could shape up to be another strong argument for Allen’s quietly building MVP campaign.
The way Allen is throwing the ball right now, Denver is simply too banged up to have much chance of stopping him.
At under a touchdown, Buffalo is a good bet to win and cover. And if Denver does keep it close for a half, don’t be afraid of doubling down. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has been a genius at adjustments, and the Broncos just don’t have the horses in the secondary to hold up all game.
I’ll play the Bills up to -6.5, but be sure to use our NFL odds page to shop real-time lines and lock in the best. I’ll also jump back in to double down at a similar spot if the game is close heading into the second half. Allen is just too much against all these Broncos injuries.