NFL Picks: Panthers vs. Saints

Jason Lake

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 2:20 PM GMT

The New Orleans Saints couldn’t beat the NFL odds or the Seattle Seahawks on Monday. This week, they’ll have to fight off the Carolina Panthers for NFC South supremacy.

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to December 2 inclusive:

33-27-2 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

7-12-1 Totals

Now you know why the Seattle Seahawks are such great value on the NFL betting lines. Despite having the top record in the league, and despite playing at home against the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, the majority of the panelists on the Monday Night Football pregame show picked the Saints to win outright. They did not; Seattle shut them down 34-7 as a 6.5-point chalk.

It’s not the end of the world for the Saints (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS). But after getting flattened by the Seahawks defense, New Orleans has a short week to prepare for the Carolina Panthers (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS), who also happen to have one of the best defenses in the NFL. At least the Saints will be back home in the relatively cozy confines of the Superdome, where the early Week 14 NFL betting odds have New Orleans laying a manageable 3.5 points.

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Dome Sweet Dome

The standard knee-jerk reaction to Sunday night’s matchup (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) would be to once again take the small-market team with the strong defense and the mobile African-American quarterback, and fade the public ex-Super Bowl champions on national prime-time television. However, our very early consensus figures for this contest have a slight majority of bettors siding with the Saints. Are the sharps on New Orleans this week? Maybe not; a closer look at the betting patterns from Vegas shows an initial burst on Carolina before the tide started turning toward the Big Easy.

This is hardly the slam-dunk pick that Monday night’s game was. Playing at the Superdome is very important for the Saints – they’re undefeated at home this year at 5-1 ATS. New Orleans had the No. 3-ranked passing offense (No. 17 rushing) going into Week 13, according to the efficiency numbers at Football Outsiders. Make those guys play outside in December, and you’ve got problems.

Newtonian Physics

As for Carolina’s quarterback, Cam Newton (88.1 passer rating, 5.5 yards per carry) gets more credit from the general public than Russell Wilson (108.5 passer rating, 5.7 yards per carry). Again, you could see and hear the MNF guys struggling to come to terms with Wilson’s ascendance – not necessarily because of his race, but because of his height (5-foot-11, allegedly) and his draft position (No. 75 overall in 2012). Jon Gruden scoffing about Seattle’s high literacy rates and love of recycling doesn’t help, either.

Newton (6-foot-5, No. 1 overall in 2011), on the other hand, gets plenty of love from the critics – provided the Panthers are winning. When they’re not, Newton’s maturity invariably comes into question. This year, the narrative on Newton is that he’s grown as a player, but the stats say he’s improved marginally in each of his three NFL seasons. He’s been pretty much the same guy on the field through all the wins and losses.

The Color of Money

This is where I step in and defend myself for talking about race in a sports betting column. When people bet on the NFL, they have a running narrative in their heads, and the narrative for a significant portion of the NFL betting public is biased against African-American quarterbacks. This is a fact, not an opinion or an accusation. Here’s an opinion: You should be willing to consider the existence of bias in all its forms when you’re betting on sports.

In this case, although Newton isn’t quite as follow-worthy as Wilson, the Panthers are still worth a long look on the NFL betting lines – especially after going 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games against the Saints.

NFL Pick: Take the Panthers +4 (–116) at Matchbook