Who's the best team in the NFC? Is it the undefeated Carolina Panthers, or the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals? The football odds say there isn't much difference.
Jason's 2015 record as of Nov. 18: 39-34-2 ATS; 0-1 ML (-1.00 units); 22-29 Total
Is there any doubt now about the Carolina Panthers (9-0 SU, 7-2 ATS)? All they do is keep winning football games. Their latest masterpiece: a 27-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans (+3.5 at home). Okay, it's only the Tennessee Titans, but c'mon. What are they supposed to do, win by 30 points?
Apparently. Looking at the NFL odds on the futures market, the Panthers are in a heated battle with the Arizona Cardinals (7-2 SU, 6-3 ATS) for supremacy in the NFC. Some of our featured online sportsbooks have them tied at +225 to win the conference; some prefer Carolina, others Arizona. It's a toss-up, folks. And the Green Bay Packers (6-3 SU, 5-4 ATS) aren't very far behind in third place at around +450.
Carolina's “problem” all year long has been strength of schedule. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers had the No. 27-ranked schedule through Week 10, and it only gets easier from here at No. 28 overall. Taking the opposition into account, Carolina has played well enough to earn 7.7 Estimated Wins.
Fair enough. But the Cardinals (No. 30 SOS) have had it even easier than Carolina up to this point. They check in at 7.3 Estimated Wins, although they're two spots higher than the Panthers at No. 2 on the efficiency charts. However, at Pro-Football Reference, Arizona is considered the better team by more than a field goal, at +9.9 SRS to Carolina's +6.2 SRS. Too bad they won't meet until the playoffs if they meet at all this season.
So what happened to the Packers? Injuries, mostly. They were neck-and-neck with the New England Patriots on the Super Bowl 50 market before dropping three straight games SU and ATS – including a 37-29 loss to the Panthers (+2 at home) in Week 9. With his offensive line starting to fall apart, Rodgers has been taking a lot of abuse in the pocket, and now he's got a sore throwing shoulder to go along with his other bumps and bruises.
Could the Minnesota Vikings (7-2 SU, 8-1 ATS) end up stealing the conference? They've only had the No. 31-ranked strength of schedule through Week 10, so it's hard to take their run too seriously – Football Outsiders has them at 5.0 Estimated Wins to 6.6 EW for the Packers. But at around +800 to win the NFC, Minnesota might be worth a shot with your NFL picks.
There is one other team in the conference with a winning record: the Atlanta Falcons (6-3 SU, 4-5 ATS). They've had the easiest schedule of them all, but the Falcons are running out of gas, going 2-3 SU and 0-5 ATS in their last five games. A Wild Card berth seems very likely, though, so the Falcons could be a sneaky value pick at +950. Somebody has to be New England's punching bag at Super Bowl 50.