Browns vs Panthers: NFL Week 1 Odds, Picks, Prediction
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey.
- The Browns are favored in Week 1 against Baker Mayfield's Panthers.
- Mayfield was traded to Carolina during training camp and won the starting job over Sam Darnold.
- Cody Goggin breaks down both sides and lays out a player prop he's betting today below.
Browns vs. Panthers Odds
We’ve seen very few games of healthy Christian McCaffrey lately, but he's electric when he's active.
Matt Rhule, despite his many shortcomings as a coach, knows this. Rhule wants McCaffrey to be his bellcow back in an offense that heavily skews towards the run. On a few different occasions, Rhule has alluded to wanting to run the ball more, and that is even believed to be why he fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady during the Panthers' bye week last year.
That's where my focus is for my betting pick in this game.
Browns vs. Panthers Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how the Browns and Panthers match up statistically:
Browns vs. Panthers DVOA Breakdown (Stats from 2021)
McCaffrey had one of the toughest jobs in football when he was on the field last year. He faced seven or more defenders in the box in 75 of his 99 rush attempts last season, which was among the highest percentages in the league. Obviously, it becomes harder to run the ball when there are more defenders in the box to run against.
Per Pro Football Focus, the Panthers faced almost 0.2 more defenders in the box than expected based on game situation, team strengths and offensive formation. This was the third-highest mark in the league during the season and likely would have been even higher if McCaffrey was playing.
Baker Mayfield is a tremendous upgrade at quarterback from the three starters Carolina rolled out last season. Teams will need to respect Carolina’s passing game more now and dedicate more defenders to the back side of the defense rather than just stuffing the box to stop McCaffrey.
Carolina’s improved offensive line will go a long way towards helping McCaffrey out as well. McCaffrey averaged just 1.90 yards before contact last season. In 2021, the Panthers graded out as the 25th-best run blocking unit.
In the first round, Carolina drafted Ikey Ekwonu out of NC State, who was hailed as one of the best run blockers to enter the draft in years. The Panthers also added guard Austin Corbett, who had the 29th-highest run blocking grade last year with the Rams out of 80 qualifiers.
On the other hand, the Browns' defensive scheme under Joe Woods is more predicated on defending the pass and dropping most of their guys into coverage. The Browns don’t drop quite as many players into coverage as the true Vic Fangio-tree defenses, according to PFF, but they still drop the fourth most defenders into coverage.
The Browns' roster construction shows this tendency, as well. Their roster build focuses on edge rushers (Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney), plenty of talented defensive backs, and linebackers like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who’s best attribute is his pass defense. This leaves a gap in their run defense. The interior of their defensive line this season is projected to include Jordan Elliott, Taven Bryan, and Tommy Togiai among others.
If you’re a Browns fan, having these names in your starting lineup can’t inspire any confidence. None of these men had a run defense grade over 50 last year, which is dreadful.
The line on this game is pretty much a pick'em, so this shouldn’t be a game script where the Panthers are trailing and having to throw to catch up in most situations.
The more likely scenario is that they are in either a neutral game script or a positive game script for most of the day, which would favor McCaffrey.
Over the last two years, in games that McCaffrey has started and finished, he has averaged almost 71 yards per game and 16.77 attempts per game. If his workload on the ground either stays the same or increases against this poor Browns run defense, McCaffrey could be in for a big day on the ground.