Free Expert NFL Picks: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 12/30/2014
I'd like to tell you that I had both Arizona and Carolina making the playoffs back in the spring. That would be 100 percent false. I absolutely expected the Panthers to slide way back from last year's 12-4 mark. Guess I wasn't totally off the mark as Carolina won five fewer games, but it still won the laughable NFC South -- becoming the first team to ever repeat in that division. The Cats also join the 2010 Seahawks as the only clubs in a non-strike shortened season to finish below .500 as the division champion. I had Carolina no better than third behind New Orleans and Atlanta, which actually would have happened had the Falcons won in Week 17.
I had Arizona finishing last in the NFC West but moved it up to third when St. Louis lost Sam Bradford to a season-ending injury in the preseason. The Cardinals' Bruce Arians was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2012 while on an interim basis for Indianapolis, and I believe he wins that award again this season. How Arizona is 11-5 after losing Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, the team's top QBs, to major injuries is a credit to Arians and his staff. The Cardinals defense was so good this year that you can expect rising coordinator Todd Bowles to get a few head coaching interviews -- the 49ers and Falcons already have asked permission to speak with him. This has to kill Bears fans. Chicago GM Phil Emery chose Marc Trestman over Arians two years ago, and Arians had planned to bring Bowles to the Windy City with him. The Bears fired Emery and Trestman on Monday.
The winner of this game probably heads to Green Bay next week. That only way it doesn't is if Detroit upsets Dallas on Sunday. If that happens, the Cardinals-Panthers winner goes to Seattle. Neither locale is exactly hospitable.
Cardinals at Panthers Betting Story Lines
I can totally understand why a below-.500 team is a favorite over an 11-win team here. Carolina is playing as well as it has all season in closing with four straight wins. Remember, Game 2 of that winning streak was after Newton was in a major car accident and suffered two fractures in his lower back. He missed a 19-17 win over Tampa Bay. Newton hasn't exactly lit the world on fire in the two games since returning, throwing for a combined 315 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. But he hasn't needed to do much because the running game and defense have been so good. Newton also has rushed for at least 51 yards and a score in both outings since the one-game absence.
Carolina hasn't allowed more than 17 points during the four-game run after giving up 24 or more in the previous 10, only one of which was a victory (one tie). How does a team make the playoffs going 10 straight games with just one win? Carolina forced three Falcons turnovers in the winner-take-all Week 17 game at the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan threw two picks, and both were returned for scores. The Cats also rushed for 194 yards. Newton is now 14-3 career in December but 0-1 in his playoff career. Carolina was dominated last year at home in the divisional round by the 49ers. Newton threw two interceptions and was sacked five times. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 267 yards and one touchdown.
It will be third-string QB Ryan Lindley under center again for Arizona. I don't want to call him the worst starting quarterback in history in a playoff game, but I can't think of a worse one in recent times. Actually Lindley didn't look too bad in Arizona's Week 17 loss in San Francisco. He was 23 of 39 for a career-high 316 yards and the first two TD passes of his career. He was also picked off three times. Michael Floyd was his top target with eight catches for 153 yards and those two TD throws. The team hasn't officially ruled Stanton out yet for this game, but it would take a minor miracle for him to play. He underwent arthroscopic surgery last Wednesday and doctors discovered an infection, which had led to a lot of swelling in his knee.
For a large chunk of the season Arizona was one of the NFL's best defenses against the run. However, the Cardinals have given up more than 100 yards rushing in five of their last six games and have lost four of them. Seattle ran for 267 yards in Week 16 and San Francisco for 206 on Sunday. What do the Seahawks and 49ers have in common? A mobile quarterback like Newton. Carolina has rushed for more than 100 yards 12 times this season. When the Panthers have run for more than 200, they are 2-0. When Arizona has allowed 100 or more, it is 2-4.
These teams didn't meet during the 2014 regular season. They did play in the desert Week 5 of last year, and the Cardinals won 22-6. That loss dropped Carolina to 1-3 and had Coach Ron Rivera hugely on the hot seat. The Cats won their next eight and would lose just once more during the regular season. Newton threw for 308 yards but three interceptions and was sacked seven times (including once for a safety). Palmer was the QB that day and also had three picks but a TD throw. Carolina actually outgained the Cardinals by 103 yards and won the time-of-possession battle.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers NFL Wild Card Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Carolina is a 7-point favorite (+120) with alternate lines of 6.5 (-102) and 6 (-110). The Panthers are -255 on the moneyline and the Cardinals +215. The total is just 37.5, by far the lowest of any of the four games this weekend. Arizona was 11-5 against the spread during the season (5-3 on road) and 5-10-1 "over/under" (2-5-1 on road). Carolina was 8-8 ATS (4-4 at home) and 8-8 O/U (2-6 at home).
The Cards are 9-1 ATS in their past 10 road games vs. teams with a losing home record. They are 9-3 ATS in their past 12 after a loss. Carolina is 0-4 ATS in its past four following an ATS win. The under is 5-2 in Arizona's past seven after a loss. The under is 9-1 in Carolina's past 10 after allowing less than 15 points in its previous games. The under is 14-5 in the Cats' past 19 vs. the NFC.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers Picks and Betting Predictions
The Cardinals haven't won a regular-season game in Charlotte since 2002, going 0-3 since, with losses in 2004, 2008 and 2010. This line seems very high -- I've seen it at 5.5 at many books. I would definitely shop around not got give 7. But I do think Carolina wins what should be a defensive slugfest. So give anything under 7 and go under.
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