Betting Thursday Night Football: Underestimate Cam Newton’s Panthers at your own peril

Thursday, 08 November 2018 16:23 EST

From the Be Careful What You Wish For Department, NFL fans are presented with a genuine beauty of a Thursday Night Football game, as the Carolina Panthers play at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Should be good viewing, but the betting isn’t exactly simple.

Carolina Panthers +3 at Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL bets Pittsburgh Steelers logoA default search for any immediate regression to the mean for these two teams reveals little: Carolina and Pittsburgh are both 5-3 ATS this season. The Steelers are 2-2 ATS at home; the Panthers are a serious outlier at home at 4-0-0 ATS (and NFLbets’ll certainly be looking at the opposition in the next Carolina home game), but are hardly unusual at 1-3 ATS (2-2 SU) on the road.

So let’s talk some offense and defense. In a year of offense, Carolina has nevertheless put together a pretty decent defense, particularly against the run: The Panthers are top 10 in most rushing categories defensively as well as no. 4 overall in interceptions.

Such stats may be irrelevant on this given Sunday, however, as Ben Roethlisberger will throw the ball a lot regardless of opposition. James Conner may capture the mainstream media's imagination, Roethlisberger is second in the NFL in pass attempts this season and fourth in completions. And Steelers are 3-1-1 SU (3-2 ATS) in games when Ben *does* throw an interception.

Pittsburgh also brings a top-10 rushing defense statistically to face Christian McCaffrey, Cam Newton and the league's top ground attack. However, this D's impressive-looking numbers are likely heavily due to the Steelers' passing game on offense. In terms of efficiency, they're a mid-pack 14th in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric -- and below-average against the innovative Newton and oft unstoppable McCaffrey won't really cut it.

NFL bets Carolina Panthers logoAs for the potentially gnarly Pennsylvania weather, the forecast for Pittsburgh calls for lows around 36° with an 80% chance of rain, snow and/or some variant on precipitation thereof.

But in cold weather, Cam & Co. aren't nearly as bad as the average South-based team: In games played in temperatures of 45° or lower at kickoff, the Panthers are 7-3 SU/6-4 ATS going back to 2014 and are currently on a 5-1 SU/4-2 ATS run. Seemingly perpetually underrated by the sportsbook, the Panthers have won SU their last four games as an away underdog in cold weather games.

One final consideration: Are you more likely to believe in a 6-3 -- and therefore on pace for a 11-5 or 10-5-1 final regular-season record -- Panthers or Steelers team? We’re saying it’s the Panthers, and to do so, they’ll have to win this one with a tough schedule remaining. Cover the Carolina Panthers ML at +160 or so, and hedge with a bet on the Panthers +3 at Pittsburgh.

We’ll even predict next week’s storylines: Steelers welcome back Le’Veon Bell after Conner stuffed by Panthers and Is Cam Newton the NFL MVP…?