Which team is getting too much love from NFL odds makers for Wild Card Weekend? We've got a breakdown of the most overvalued playoff team inside.
Setting the Scene
What an insane season it's been for the Panthers.
Cam Newton and company started off 3-2 and looked like they would be a contender throughout. They had picked up a nice win over Detroit and were still in a good spot despite getting blown out by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore in Weeks 3 and 4. However, after a Week 5 victory over the Bears and a Week 6 tie against Cincinnati, the Panthers went on to lose six consecutive games.
Now, the schedule wasn't all that easy, but you never expect a potential playoff team to go on that kind of losing run. The good news? Carolina responded exceptionally well to that adversity, rebounding to win each of their final four regular season contests to book themselves a spot in the postseason. It was topped off by a dominant Week 17 win in Atlanta, a victory that won them the NFC South title.
Now, funnily enough, the Panthers will be at home in the Wild Card round and will come up against an Arizona team that's been struggling mightily to close out the year. As a result, the NFL odds are heavily in Carolina's favor, with linesmakers listing the home team as 6.5-point chalk at most books.
Why the Panthers DO deserve to be heavy favorites:
So, have you seen the Arizona offense recently? Yuck.
The Cardinals have been incredibly anemic of late, thanks to injuries to both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. The combination of Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas (mostly Lindley) is simply not getting it done, and not having their best playmaker in Andre Ellington healthy is a killer too. These guys just can't move the ball at all right now.
Then, there's momentum. Carolina has built up a lot of it over the last four weeks, and confidence levels have to be through the roof. Home-field advantage is obviously another significant advantage.
Why the Panthers DON'T deserve to be heavy favorites:
Firstly, let's take a look at Carolina's competition during their four-game winning streak: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Atlanta, four teams with losing records who all disappointed in the grand scheme of things this season. We shouldn't get too carried away by the winning streak the Panthers have put together.
And yes, the Carolina Panthers will be at home, but they haven't exactly made Bank of America Stadium a fortress throughout the season. An even 4-4 straight up record, with losses to the Saints and Falcons among others, isn't anything to write home about.
But, most of all: the Panthers were just 7-8-1 this season. They weren't that good of a team in all actuality, and they still have a lot of weaknesses that Arizona could expose. Sure, Carolina should be the favorite in this instance, but by close to a touchdown? We're not so sure.
It's hard not to be impressed with what the Panthers were able to do over the final month of the regular season, yet we can't shake this feeling that they're getting a little too much love from odds makers. It hasn't all been peachy for Carolina this year -- this is a team that's struggled in a big way on multiple occasions.
We also think books might be forgetting just how good this Arizona defense is. The Cardinals have an excellent chance of staying close solely through their defensive effort, and low-scoring games tend to favor the underdogs in any given situation.
It's not like the Panthers have been dominant at home either -- going just 4-4 during the regular season -- so when push comes to shove, we believe Arizona is worthy of backing with your NFL picks.
Free NFL Picks: Cardinals