The Carolina Panthers should beat Tennessee. It should not be close. Of the Panthers’ remaining eight regular-season games, this one and next Sunday’s home game vs. Washington would appear to be the easiest.
But the difference in the NFL between and 8-0 team like Carolina and a 2-6 team like Tennessee is far smaller than it would appear. In college or high school football, if you match teams up with records like that, you’re talking about a 30-point margin.
In the NFL, quite frequently, it’s more like 10 points or less. The NFL messes up a lot of things, but its parity formula is almost unbeatable. A draft held in reverse order of record and a hard salary cap that you can’t get around with an NBA-esque “luxury tax” all but guarantee that each team has some serious talent on the field.
The bottom line is the Panthers are right to be worried about each game on their schedule. While very good, they are not good enough by a long shot to just call one in and expect a win – especially on the road.
▪ The strength of Tennessee’s team is its defense. The Titans may make life tougher than you would expect for Cam Newton and company. But the Titans are very inconsistent on offense, notwithstanding last week’s 34-point explosion in an overtime win over New Orleans. Forcing rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and his very forgettable cast of skill players into a couple of mistakes will be important.
▪ Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy has had a strip-sack in each of the past two games, and certainly there may be one for the taking Sunday in Nashville. Mariota has already fumbled five times this year, losing four. Newton, by comparison, has fumbled twice (and lost both).
▪ If you are a regular reader of this column, you have seen the same movie three times so far this season. I pick the Panthers to lose. Then they win. While Carolina is 8-0, I am a pedestrian 5-3 picking the Panthers’ outcomes.
All that is to say don’t put a lot of stock in this pick, but I am betting that Carolina’s defense dictates this game enough to make it a two-score margin. In fact, I am also predicting a Panthers’ defensive or special-teams touchdown Sunday. My pick: Carolina 30, Tennessee 16.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler