Carolina Panthers vs. San Diego Chargers Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

Carolina Panthers (4-9 SU, 6-7 ATS) vs. San Diego Chargers (5-8 SU, 6-7 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 16th, 2012, 4:05 p.m. EST
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
TV: FOX/DirecTV 714
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: Car +3/SD -3
Over/Under Total: 45

Two of the most disappointing teams in the National Football League will get together on Sunday to try and salvage some respect and save their head coaches their jobs when the Carolina Panthers travel West to Qualcomm Stadium to take on the San Diego Chargers in a late afternoon contest on Fox.

A lot more was expected of the Panthers this season, from themselves (remember C Ryan Kalil’s full-page ad predicting a Super Bowl before the season?) and from others, but they just have failed to meet expectations in head coach Ron Rivera’s second year at the helm. With one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in Cam Newton behind center the Panthers were expected to stay in contention until this point of the season, but that just hasn’t been the case and it’s sort of ironic that Rivera returns to San Diego this week where he was the Chargers defensive coordinator for so many years looking to fight to keep his job.

Carolina has been playing much better in recent weeks, getting two of their four wins the past three weeks including their strongest, most complete game of the season in a, 30-20, victory over the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons last Sunday. But like most young teams, the Panthers seem to suffer huge ups and downs from week to week, so a big swing in momentum is what they’ll have to avoid this week when they travel to San Diego.

What can possibly be said about the Chargers, their quarterback Philip Rivers, and their head coach Norv Turner that hasn’t already been discussed repeatedly for the past two or three seasons? San Diego is starting to make their annual late season fade a habit, thanks in part to Rivers questionable decisions and his 15 killer-huge interceptions (the same amount as rookie Brandon Weeden), all of which will likely cost Turner his job when all is said and done at the end of the season.

The Chargers gave everyone a brief glimpse of what could be last week when they went on the road to Pittsburgh and handed the Steelers a beat-down, 34-24. But the win was just their second in the last nine weeks, so it’s a classic case of too little too late for the Bolts and probably Turner as well, even if they play out the last three weeks (at NYJ, finale vs. Oak.) the way they should have been playing all season.

As you would expect in a matchup of two underachievers, the oddsmakers set the opening point spread with San Diego as “standard” 3-point favorites at home in order to let bettors move the line with their gut reactions. As most would predict, with both teams coming off of big wins over quality opponents last week, the reaction from the short-memory public has been mixed on both sides. This has caused the number to remain steady at minus -3 at most sportsbooks, but a late flurry of sharp money on Carolina has forced a drop off the key number and down to minus -2.5 at a few of the bigger offshore sportsbooks on the Web.

The over/under total opened at 46 and has been dropping every since, falling all the way to 45 at most books with a few at 44.5 and even a few still hanging around at 45.5.

Part of these teams lack of success stems from offenses that just can’t seem to get out of their own way this season. If I told you that the Chargers and Rivers were only the 27th-ranked offense in the league (320 ypg) you’d probably look at me with a look of stunned surprise, but when you can’t run the ball at all (95 ypg - 27th) and you’re totally reliant on Rivers to move the chains there’s not much else to expect.

The same could be said for the Panthers offense it’s totally reliant on Newton to make plays with the pass and the run. A team that has Jonathan Stewart (336 yards, 1 TD), DeAngelo Williams (415, 3) and former Charger Michael Tolbert (90, 2) should be able to pound the ball all game long and just grind it out over and over, but Newton is the team’s leading rusher (640 yards) and he’s just not getting much help even though the team has huge amounts of cash invested in those three running backs.

The Panthers lack of success running the ball will likely continue this week too, because if there is a lone bright spot in the Chargers this season it has to be their run defense. The Bolts are fourth in the NFL allowing just 93 yards a game on the ground, so if the Panthers are going to win this game and steal one on the road it will likely be because Newton has success attack the Chargers secondary (243 ypg - 22nd) through the air.

Carolina did exactly that the last time these two played, stole one on the road when Jake Delhomme found Dante Rosario for a score as time expired to notch a, 26-24, come-from-behind win for the Panthers (in 2008). The Panthers have actually enjoyed their every four years series with the AFC West Chargers, going 3-1 SU since 1997 including a perfect 2-0 mark in the games played in sunny San Diego.

The Panthers are also 3-1 ATS in the series, 2-0 ATS in games played in California, so the East Coast team going West scenario doesn’t seem to have an effect in this series (small sample size though).

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I rarely lay -3 on a home team as this number is somewhat of an indicator that the book thinks Carolina has a legit shot of winning this game straight up. I think the difference here is the Bolts defense vs. the run. I expect a close game throughout with SD edging out the Panthers in the end. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the final score margin landed right on 3, giving us all a push.

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