Each week, we break down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches from Week 9:
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (-9.5, 43.5)
Falcons’ injured LBs vs. Panthers’ QB Cam Newton
Those 9.5 points may seem like a lot, even for the fumbling Falcons, but you can point the finger at one man as to why the Panthers are near double-digit chalk hosting their NFC South rivals Sunday. Carolina QB Cam Newton has been a thorn in Atlanta’s side since coming into the league. Last year, the dual-threat QB scrambled for 202 yards and a TD in two meetings with the Falcons and is coming off 50-yard rushing day, with a score, in last Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay.
The Falcons defense is missing its two most important defensive cogs when facing a running threat like Newton and the Panthers’ read-option. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann – used best as a QB spy – are both on the shelf with injuries. Atlanta hasn’t faced many passers with legs like Cam, but did give up 21 yards on the ground to rookie QB Geno Smith in Week 5’s loss to the Jets.
Tennessee Titans at St. Louis Rams (+1, 39.5)
Titans’ coaching staff vs. Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher
You don’t coach a franchise for 16 years and not pick up a little info along the way. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher squares off against his former team Sunday, a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIV. However, this time Fisher is on the other sideline. Fisher downplayed Week 9’s game, stating that he’s only coached 16 players on the Titans’ current roster. But Fisher does have some heavy-hitting intel on the Tennessee coaching staff.
Current Titans head coach Mike Munchak served under Fisher during his tenure in Tennessee, as did Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggain and senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams, who would have been a part of Fisher’s staff in St. Louis if not for the “Bounty-Gate” scandal. With a spread this tight, expect some gutsy calls from both coaching staffs. And Fisher could have the inside edge when it comes to those decisions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks (-15.5, 40)
Bucs’ jumpy offense vs. Seahawks’ 12th Man
CenturyLink Field in Seattle has the reputation as the loudest and toughest venue in the NFL. Look no further than the Seahawks’ stunning 34-16-1 ATS record in their last 51 home games as evidence. “The 12th Man” recently set a record for loudest fans in sports – later broken by Chiefs fans in Arrowhead – and make it hard on even the most seasoned QB to communicate at the line of scrimmage, let alone a rookie like Tampa Bay QB Mike Glennon.
The Bucs already are among the most careless teams at the line, getting whistled for 10 false start penalties and five delay of game calls – both among the league leaders in those infractions. Tampa Bay also has been dinged for 11 offensive holding penalties, handing opponents a total of 108 yards. With Glennon’s play calls drowned out by the Seattle faithful, expect plenty of laundry on the field Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-6, 44)
Steelers’ slow starts vs. Patriots’ first-half play
A big part of Pittsburgh’s poor start to the season has been its poor start to games. The Steelers are averaging only 2.7 points in the opening quarter – getting outscored 54-19 in the first 15 minutes – and mustering just 7.7 points in the first half this season. Last week against Oakland, Pittsburgh dug itself a 14-0 hole and couldn’t climb out, eventually losing 21-18.
The Patriots offense is starting to gain traction, having averaged 28 points in their last three games. New England is scoring 13.7 points per first half in that span. Even more important is the Pats’ defense in the opening frames. They’ve limited opponents to only 3.8 points per first quarter and 8.4 points per first half – second lowest in the AFC. The Steelers may find themselves down again at the break Sunday afternoon.