Carolina is the NFL’s only double-digit underdog this weekend. Yet the people who set odds are not instruments of evil. They simply want to entice bettors to put as much money on Carolina as they do Seattle. To accomplish this, they had to take a high line.
So who would pick a double-digit underdog to win outright? I won’t make the pick with my heart. Las Vegas has a word for people that bet with their hearts. The word is thanks.
I last picked the Panthers to win a playoff game in which they were extreme underdogs in 2004. They went to St. Louis to play the Rams, still boasting plenty of key cogs from the offensively dynamic teams known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The longer the game went, the tighter the Rams became, and the Panthers won in double overtime.
I didn’t make the pick so Panthers fans would like me. Hello, friends, already has been claimed.
That Carolina team had a quality both special and cool that metrics can’t define. So does this one.
The Panthers have lost three straight games to Seattle. Each was close, and each was in Charlotte. The Seahawks won because, when a game-winning play had to be made, they made it.
On Saturday, I think the Panthers do. To compete, Cam Newton has to play a superior game, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula has to put him in position. I foresee both.
There is plenty working against Carolina. Seattle’s fans make so much noise we’ll probably hear them in Boone. And with Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei out after breaking his foot Tuesday in practice, running back Marshawn Lynch may be so happy that he actually speaks to the media.
But check Carolina’s five-game winning streak. The Panthers won two close games at home and, last week, a game that was close until late in the third quarter. On the road, the Panthers blew out New Orleans and Atlanta. The Falcons are the best team they played during the streak, and the Saints might be second.
The Seahawks are the sport’s most complete team. But the Panthers have a quality that’s tough to define. It’s not destiny; no team is destined to win. And it’s not that, as is often stated, the Panthers have nothing to lose. Football-wise, they have everything to lose.
They also have a combination of old and young, of experience and speed, and of powerful leaders and players willing to be led.
And Carolina will win, 24-23.