Oakland Raiders vs. Carolina Panthers Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

Oakland Raiders (4-10 SU, 4-10 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (5-9 SU, 7-7 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date/Time: Sunday, December 23rd, 2012, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
TV: CBS/DirecTV 709
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: Oak +8.5/Car. -8.5
Over/Under Total: 46

The Carolina Panthers have finally put together their first winning streak this season, a modest two-gamer that they will look to keep rolling when the Oakland Raiders travel from Coast-to-Coast to face Cam Newton and crew in Bank of America Stadium Sunday on CBS.

Carolina notched win number two in a row last week when they went West and handily beat the San Diego Chargers, 31-7. Running back Michael Tolbert enjoyed rubbing it in on his former team with two touchdowns and Newton continued his end of the year surge with two touchdown throws as the Panthers are finally playing like most people expected them to play all season long.

In fact, I’m not sure which was more impressive in the Panthers win over the Chargers: their 31-0 lead early in the third quarter, the Panther defense that held the Chargers and their “franchise QB” Philip Rivers to just 164 yards of total offense, or the fact that Norv Turner still has a job (seriously, why?). But I digress.

Oakland is also coming off of a big victory last week, a 15-0 shutout of the Kansas City Chiefs at home that snapped a six-game losing streak and gave the Raiders their first win since the last time the played the Chiefs in late October. If only the Raiders could play the Chiefs each week they’d be living up to their expectation this season too, but for a week the league’s worst scoring defense will be smiling after hanging a donut before they travel to face the dynamic Newton and a Panthers offense that seems to be hitting on all cylinders right now.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game is what has happened to the betting line since it opened.

The game originally open with Carolina as rather large 9.5-point favorites, and that number has held at several sportsbooks on the Web including big boys like 5Dimes and BetOnline.ag. But yet others have been forced to drop the number down to minus -8.5 or even as low as -8, even though a large portion of the early money (and sharp money) has been coming in on Carolina. Anytime the number moves opposite the steam it should make you step back and wonder, but since you can find this game anywhere from -9.5 down to -8, including on the ground in Las Vegas where it always seems to be monkey see monkey do, it should raise a red flag or two.

The over/under total hasn’t been nearly as turbulent, opening at 46 and hanging right there with a few 45.5s mixed in to take the push out of the equation come Sunday.

Oakland’s offense has been a huge disappointment all season, especially since they rank 12th overall in total yards (361 ypg) but just 26th in points scored with an average of just over 18 points a game (18.8). Quarterback Carson Palmer was supposed to be better with a whole offseason to work with his new team, but at just over 60 percent passing and 22 TDs to 14 interceptions put him right smack dab in the middle of the NFL (17th) in passer rating despite the fact he throws for 271 yards a game (7th).

Part of Palmer’s problems has been the revolving door behind him at running back, where Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece and Mike Godson have alternated in taking turns sitting out and playing, but all them have cost the Raiders consistency and a forced the Raiders to be one-dimensional (90 ypg rushing - 29th) which is death in the NFL.

The opposite could be said for Carolina, which has invested a lot of money in their running game, and although it has taken 14 weeks to come to fruition, it’s starting to pay dividends with a top-10 ranking at 122 yards a game (9th). Newton works the play-action game like a puppet, and it has opened up the Carolina passing attack with wide open looks to Steve Smith (1,056 yards), Brandon LaFell (17 ypc) and TE Greg Olsen (team-high 5 TD) in recent weeks.

The Panthers have averaged 28 points a game in the past four weeks (3 of their 5 wins), a full touchdown more than they have averaged all season long (21.2 - 21st), and considering the Raiders allow over 28 a game this season against every team other than the Chiefs (28.7 ppg - 32nd), you have to think that momentum is on the side of the Panthers.

Since these AFC-NFC matchups only happen every four years, the last time these two played it ended in a, 17-6, Carolina victory at Oakland back in 2008. But all told, the Raiders-Panthers series has been really even with both teams going 2-2 SU and 2-2 ATS, including a 1-1 SU/ATS when the teams play at home.

The over has covered in three of the four previous matchups, including both game played in Charlotte.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Oakland has actually looked like a much better team over the past few weeks. I like them to stay within the spread. I’m betting the Raiders at +8.5.

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