NFL Betting: Carolina Surprising at 2-0
by Robert Ferringo - 09/15/2008
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if two months ago someone had told you that a critical NFL Week 2 game in the NFC would take place between Carolina and Chicago, both vying for a 2-0 start and a piece of first place in their divisions, your would have thought it was only slightly more likely than the Republicans nominating some hillbilly chick from the Alaskan backwoods as John McCain's running mate.
But, to everyone's surprise, that was the scenario last Sunday. Carolina and Chicago had pulled the most stunning upsets in the NFL in Week 1 and were forced to square off against each other in Week 2. If these teams had been facing just about any other teams I likely would have played for a letdown and bet against them. But since they were on each other I decided to stay far, far away from that tantalizing three-point spread. So, given the circumstance, I guess it's pretty fitting then that this ended in a 'push'.
That said, those holding a Carolina ticket better thank the Gambling Gods for that one, since the Panthers really had no business winning that game. They had been outgained 148 to 47 in the first half but only trailed 10-3. They played sloppy, mistake-prone football in the first half and I still think if Chicago hadn't been in a little letdown mode they would have been down about 21-0 at the break.
But, alas, the Panthers won the battle and advanced to 2-0. Here are the rest of my thoughts on this intriguing affair:
--I used to be a Jake Delhomme fan. And, in some respects, I still am because I respect his daring and his ability to cash as an underdog. However, Delhomme is a whiny bitch and he makes it awful tough to root for him. It seems like every sack, every penalty, every drop he is rolling his eyes, complaining to officials, or slamming the ball into the turf. He has manufactured two outstanding comebacks. But this team is going to face some challenges and not have the breaks go their way. They will need him to be a steady leader if this team is going to overtake New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
--Carolina has a very, very tough front four, but Chicago has to be impressed with the way they were able to run the ball against them. Pass protection broke down a bit in the second half, but I thought that the Bears' offensive line was going to be their Achilles Heel this year and doom them to a six-win season. Through two games that hasn't been the case at all.
--What I love most about this Carolina team is their unflinching commitment to the running game and to working both running backs. They had earned just 32 yards rushing in the first half and had gone nowhere on the ground. Yet they finished with 114 yards and it was the bruising running of Jonathan Stewart that made the difference.
--What I was most disappointed with in Chicago was their reversion back to a predictable offensive team. Against Indianapolis they showed daring and cajones. They threw the ball in obvious running situations. They took shots down the field and threw caution to the wind. But against Carolina all of that was gone and their game plan was a little vanilla.
The perfect example was that pathetic excuse for a final drive. On third-and-1 from the Carolina 48, in need of a FG to send the game to overtime, they threw a ridiculous quick screen to Rashied Davis. That play hadn't worked all day and the corner jumped the route, almost making it a pick six. And then on fourth-and-one, their biggest play of the day, they went back to a FB dive. Really? A handoff to the fullback? Chicago fooled them with that play once early in the game. Then they used it near the goal line on a play in which Jason McKie was stopped, but used a great second-effort to get in the end zone. Did they really think that it was going to work three times? But what's worse, on their most important play of the game they didn't give their best offensive player - Matt Forte - a touch.
On that same mode of thought, did they see something in the Carolina secondary that I have not? What was up with all of the bubble screens and quick WR passes in the flat? I don't get that at all. That was from the Kyle Orton 2005 playbook, and we all know how well that worked. That method of attack was COMPLETELY ineffective against the Panthers. And what's worse, it prevented Chicago from taking advantage of what has been an obvious Carolina weakness for the last several years: their safeties.
--This offseason, Chicago actually cut several of the key special teams performers from what had been one of the best units in the league over the last several years. On Sunday, it showed. Despite blocking a punt that resulted in a touchdown - which had more to do with a Panthers breakdown - Chicago had a terrible SPT day. They had three illegal blocks in the back, including a critical one with eight minutes left on the drive directly preceding Carolina's go-ahead score. Brad Maynard, a Pro Bowl kicker, had an off day and Devin Hester got hurt after a pretty unimpressive afternoon. Carolina got themselves together after the early miscue and their performance in the Third Phase helped them earn the comeback.
--Greg Olsen was supposed to take part in big plays FOR Chicago. His two fumbles were crippling to the Bears' cause.
--I would have loved to play on Carolina in either of their first two games, but didn't dare as they were without Steve Smith. I think if you had told them that they would start the year 2-0 without him they wouldn't have believed you. It will be interesting to see what his return does to the chemistry of this team. And while you assume that his return will only boost the offense - and it sure should - I just hope they don't move away from their devotion to the running game just to get him touches. Remember: they have managed 20+ points against two no-joke defenses.