Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals Point Spread – Pick ATS

Carolina Panthers (0-0 SU 0-0 ATS) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0 SU 0-0 ATS) Week 1 NFL, U of Phoenix Stadium, (Bermuda Grass) Glendale, AZ 4:15 PM EST Sunday September 11, 2011
by Jeff Hochman, NFL Football Handicapper, JH-Sportsline

Point Spread: Car +6.5/Ari -6.5
Over/Under Total: 37

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Two abysmal teams from last season hook up in week one hoping to start anew in 2011. The Carolina Panthers suffered through a dreadful 2-14 campaign and was rewarded with the No. 1 pick. The Arizona Cardinals went 5-11 after finishing 10-6 in 2009. Look for the Cardinals to be much improved especially later in the 2011-12 season.

Carolina got the big prize of this year’s draft when they selected Cam Newton first overall. Newton will not be the only one getting his feet wet with his new surroundings, as Ron Rivera is entering his first season as an NFL head coach. Rivera has his work cut out for him after the departure of long-time head coach John Fox. Fox knew how to win games in this league. I watched all of Newton’s games this preseason. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket and looked to run a lot, especially in his last two games. But, the future looks brighter than it has been in awhile for the Panthers.

If Cam is smart he will look for Steve Smith this season. Smith, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro selection, has emerged as one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers when healthy, leading the league in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns in 2005. He just needs to stay healthy and you can count on 80-90 receptions, 1,000+ receiving yards, and at least 7 touchdowns.

Jon Beason is a “beast” on defense but he is iffy for this game as he has a bone bruise in his heel. Beason underwent a second MRI to pinpoint the problem and had screws inserted to speed up the healing process. He said how he first experienced the problem last May and it eventually got worse where he couldn’t participate in any activity. Jon has started all 64 regular season games in his four-year career and re-signed in the off-season to a reported five-year deal worth nearly $50 million big ones.

Arizona went through a slew of quarterbacks last season and if you called them they might of brought you in for a look.

The QB problems should be a thing of the past after the Cardinals got their man via a trade. Keven Kolb was the talk of the NFL off-season during the lockout. Stud wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald requested him, and the Cardinals did not disappoint. In the preseason, they developed a chemistry not seen in the desert since Kurt Warner was running the offense, including an 80-yard touchdown bomb against the Chargers’ first-team defense in week three. Beanie Wells is now the man at running back after Tim Hightower was traded to Washington. The Cardinals will look for Wells to finally live up to his potential as a former first-round draft pick. He was very good in the preseason, carrying the ball 27 times for 129 yards for a 4.7 yard average. If Wells can stay healthy (That’s a big IF), he could rack up multiple touchdowns in a hurry as the feature back in the desert.

Carolina defeated the Cardinals last season 19-12 as 2.5-point home chalk. The Panthers out-gained Arizona 303-218 and held the ball for 13 more minutes. Jimmy Clausen and John Skelton were the quarterbacks in that game. Cam Newton and Keven Kolb will be starting this game. Newton makes his first start as an NFL Pro on the road. Tough!

Carolina is 0-7 SU and 0-7 ATS in all September games over the last three seasons. Arizona is 1-5 SU and 1-5 ATS against the AFC South over the last three seasons.

Jeff’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Arizona Cardinals -6.5.

Tough line but I will lean to the home team. Carolina has a new QB, new head coach, new offense, new defense, new everything, while Arizona has basically the same team from the 2009 that went 10-6. The Cardinals dismal performance last season overshadows the fact that the 2009 playoff roster is still largely intact. Last year’s quarterback woes left the defense in bad field positions. Things should be different in the deseert this season. Lean to Arizona in this one.

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