Carolina Panthers' head coach Matt Rhule may want to keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case his office chair bursts into flames.
A winless start to 2022 has Rhule on the hot seat entering this Week 3 home clash with the New Orleans Saints. Carolina has lost two tight matchups vs. Cleveland and New York and oddsmakers are calling for another nail-biter on Sunday.
New Orleans is a short road favorite in Week 3 despite two unimpressive showings to start the season. The Saints needed miracle ball in the second half to avoid a Week 1 upset at Atlanta then lost an ugly 20-10 grinder to Tampa Bay at home last weekend.
I size up the point spread and total for this NFC South showdown and give my best NFL picks and predictions for Saints vs. Panthers on September 25.
Saints vs Panthers best odds
Saints vs Panthers picks and predictions
Neither offense is lighting up the scoreboard entering Week 3, with this matchup boasting one of the shorter Over/Under totals on Sunday. The number has bounced between 40 and 41 points most of the week, and I’m concentrating on the opening 15 minutes of action: betting Under 7.5 points in the first quarter.
Carolina has been incredibly slow out the blocks in its two games, owning the 31st-ranked EPA per play in first quarters and lugging a 1Q Offensive DVOA of -106.6% at Football Outsiders — dead last by a mile with second worst at -83.3% (Miami).
The Panthers' passing game hasn’t been unable to get going with Baker Mayfield still working his way into the playbook (and perhaps just being a crap QB) and while the rushing attack picked up the slack in Week 2, this Carolina offense is converting on third downs in just 26% of chances (29th). Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is in a tight spot against a Saints defense allowing foes to move the chains on third down just 33.3% of the time.
Not only is New Orleans one of the best run defenses in the land — locking down Christian McCaffrey to an average of just 3.15 yards per carry for his career — but its secondary is solid and could be even deeper if CB Paulson Adebo can return to action. McAdoo is feeling pressure to spread the ball around to different receivers but that’s a big challenge for Mayfield against a NOLA stop unit that mixes up zone and man-to-man looks.
The Saints' offense is nothing to write home about either. Jameis Winston is obviously limited by his back injury and takes a little while to warm up, with his first-quarter numbers in the tank: completing 7 of 12 throws (58.3%) for 33 yards — an average of 2.8 yards per attempt (1Q passer rating of 63.2).
Carolina’s defense continues to quietly shine. The Panthers are 12th in Defensive DVOA and 10th in EPA allowed per play overall — upping that to No. 5 in the first quarter and holding rival offenses to a success rate of just 33% in the opening 15 minutes of games with Cleveland and New York.
Carolina’s Week 1 matchup with the Browns had goose eggs on the scoreboard after one stanza while last week’s matchup in New York was 6-0 G-Men after the first quarter. New Orleans led Tampa Bay 3-0 after 1Q in Week 2 but did trail Atlanta 7-3 in the opening frame in Week 1.
However, beyond the first quarter, the Saints’ two games have seen a combined 70 points hit the scoreboard while the Panthers’ pair of outings has produced 79 points in the final 45 minutes of action.
The market is dealing the 1Q total for this divisional dance as low as Over 7 (-130) but you can find half-point hook insurance on a touchdown at Under 7.5 (-125).
My best bet: First quarter total Under 7.5 (-125 at DraftKings)
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Saints vs Panthers betting preview
The look-ahead line for this NFC South matchup was set at Saints -2.5 in the summer months, which is where this line re-opened following the Week 2 results, with books installing NOLA at -2.5 and seeing quick takers on the Saints to move the line to -3.
Dennis Allen’s defense is commanding oddsmakers' respect, especially taking on a floundering Panthers offensive attack that looked terrible on the road in East Rutherford last Sunday. However, with injuries stacking up on both sides of the ball for New Orleans — including RB Alvin Kamara, QB Winston, and safety Marcus Maye — this line is shortening to -2.5 at some books.
The Panthers have also drawn money from bettors closer to kickoff the past two weekends, moving Carolina from PK to -2.5 on Sunday in Week 1 and from +2 to -1 on Sunday in Week 2. There are a number of Panthers +3 lines out there, which could be a tempting key number if that late action shows up again this Sunday.
DraftKings is reporting 70% of ticket count on the visitor as of Thursday afternoon but the handle is more balanced with only 58% of money backing New Orleans.
This total had a look-ahead number of 41 points before the start of the season — the lowest Over/Under number for the entire 2022 schedule at the time. That’s where the re-opened Over/Under sits at some books in Week 3. Bookies opened this total at 40.5 points and that has climbed to as high as 41 points.
The defenses have remained the backbone of these franchises, with NOLA owning the fifth-lowest EPA allowed per play and Carolina coming in 10th in that advanced metric. The Panthers' offensive game plan is up and down each week, getting McCaffrey more involved on the ground in Week 2 but now saying it needs to get more receivers into the mix in Week 3.
As of Thursday, DraftKings is reporting 53% of bets on the Over but 56% of the handle banking on a low-scoring finish.
Saints vs Panthers betting trend to know
Keep an eye on this spread and if it stays below the key number of a field goal. New Orleans was 9-2 SU and 9-2 ATS as a road favorite of less than a field goal under former head coach Sean Payton (2006-2021). Find more NFL betting trends for Saints vs. Panthers.
Saints vs Panthers game info
• Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
• Date: Sunday, September 25, 2022
• Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
• TV: FOX