I didn't see this Week 8 Monday night matchup coming. Sure, I thought we might have one team at 6-0 and one at 3-4. One team with a No. 1 overall pick who is an MVP candidate and the other also with a No. 1 overall pick but one having a disappointing season. But I figured the Colts would be the unbeaten club with Andrew Luck as an MVP leader and the Panthers the one struggling with Cam Newton regressing a bit.
Of course, that script has been flipped, although it is a battle of South Division leaders only because Indianapolis plays in perhaps the worst division in NFL history -- something we said about the NFC South in 2014 when the Panthers were champions with seven wins.
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The Cats entered Week 8 as one of an NFL-record five 6-0 teams and easily the most unlikely one. On Bovada's latest MVP odds, Newton is the +900 third-favorite behind Tom Brady (even money) and Aaron Rodgers (+200). Every GM in football would have preferred Luck over Newton this season, but Luck in some ways has been the worst QB in football. It's going to coast Coach Chuck Pagano his job, whether during this season -- perhaps during the Week 10 bye if Indy loses this game and next week at home vs. Denver -- or after the year.
Colts at Panthers Betting Story Lines
How backward is this season? Peyton Manning has the worst quarterback rating of any current NFL starter and second-to-last is Luck at 76.2. He is completing only 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,398 yards, 11 TDs and nine picks. Do you realize in last week's upset home loss to the Saints that Luck didn't complete his first pass until the second quarter? That's astonishing. It's not like that Saints' defense resembles the 1985 Chicago Bears. Bovada pokes some fun at the fact Indy had no passing yards in the first quarter (actually negative if include sacks) by asking how many Luck will have in the first quarter this week: the total is 54.5. The Panthers are No. 6 against the pass. By the way, adding some fuel to this game are rumors you hear that Luck decided perhaps not to leave Stanford following his redshirt sophomore season in 2010 because he didn't want to join a Carolina team that was 2-14. Luck says that's ridiculous and he wanted his degree. The Panthers say they only had eyes for Newton in the 2011 draft.
Newton, meanwhile, doesn't have typical MVP numbers. His rating of 78.4 is only 28th. Newton is completing 55.8 percent of his throws for 1,275 yards, nine TDs and seven picks. But he's also doing much more with less -- the Cats don't have much skill-position talent around him after losing top receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending injury in camp (you keep hearing rumors of Carolina bringing back Steve Smith in trade, but the way Smith left town, that's not happening). Newton has been excellent in the fourth quarter this season.
Carolina is the same team it has been the past few years: win with the running game and defense. The Panthers lead the NFL in rushing at 144.7 yards per game; Newton has accounted for 245 yards and four scores on the ground himself. The Colts were gashed on the ground by New Orleans last week.
Defensively, the Panthers have at least one Pro Bowl-caliber player at every level: breakout tackle Kawaan Short (NFC Defensive Player of Month for October) All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly (who missed three games earlier this season with a concussion) and cornerback Josh Norman (NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September).
Not much to glean from last meeting, a 27-19 Panthers win at Indianapolis on Nov. 27, 2011, although that defeat certainly helped the Colts finish 2-14 -- the loss dropped them to 0-11 -- and get a chance to take Luck. Newton was 20-for-27 for 208 yards and rushed nine times for 53 yards and a score. Jonathan Stewart added 70 yards on 10 carries. The Colts were quarterback that day by, gulp, Curtis Painter.
Colts at Panthers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Carolina is a 7.5-point favorite (+120) with a total of 46.5. It is -300 on the moneyline with Indy at +250. On the alternate lines posted as of this writing, the Cats are -7 (+100) and -6.5 (-120). Indianapolis is 2-5 against the spread (1-2 on road) and 3-4 "over/under" (2-1 on road). Carolina is 5-1 ATS (2-1 at home) and 3-2-1 O/U (1-1-1 at home).
The Colts are 18-6 ATS in their past 24 after a loss. They are 9-4 ATS in their past 13 on Monday. Indy is 1-4 ATS in its past five following an ATS loss. Carolina is 5-0 ATS after totaling at least 350 yards in its previous game. It is 20-8-1 ATS in its past 29 vs. teams with a losing record. The over is 7-1 in the Colts' past eight in November. It is 13-6 in their past 19 on the road. The under is 5-2 in Carolina's past seven November games.
Monday Night Football Picks: Colts at Panthers Betting Predictions
If you had asked me at the start of this season which team was more talented between these two, I would have easily said Indy. Now? It's not close defensively, and the Colts offense, while still having many more playmakers, is vastly underachieving.
I'm struggling with this one. Might Carolina look past Indy to next week's home showdown with fellow unbeaten Green Bay? I'm going to give the Colts one last chance to turn things around, or at least play a strong four full quarters, although they might only need six wins to take the South. I'll take the 7.5 points. Go under.
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