Do you remember how people kept complaining about the Thursday night games last year? Or was that this year? Or is it every year? Anyway, tomorrow night we get a rare bird: two sub-.500 teams playing for first place in their division. The Saints and Panthers are decent teams and historically have had some good games, so I’m optimistic that the game will be better than that description gives them credit for, but let’s take a quick look.
The Saints, by some measures, actually have the best offense in football. They lead the league in yards per play, for example. Pro-football reference has their offensive rating at 6th in the league if I counted correctly. Unfortunately for the Saints, they also have the league’s worst defense by yards per play (tied with the Giants and Rams) and only three teams have a worse defensive rating. Fortunately for New Orleans, two of them (Atlanta and Tampa) are in their division. So the Saints are basically a shoot-out waiting to happen every week.
The Panthers, on the other hand, are really just a mediocre team. Maybe even bad. Despite being 3-4-1, which is basically average, Carolina has a -41 point differential, suggesting that they’ve lost each game by 5 on average. That leads to a poor SRS. Three of the four losses, excluding the Seahawks, have been big ones (by 18, 21, and 28). Their wins have been fine, but not as big (6, 7, and 17). Aside from the tie, Carolina is basically an all-or-nothing team. But, going along with their differential, the lows have been lower: their yards per play are well below average on both sides of the ball.
Despite that, the line for the game started at Carolina -2.5 according to SBR. It’s now Saints -3, which is quite a swing. It’s also basically in agreement with the models. Given their record this year, the Panthers will win by 30.
Here are your updated power rankings:
Not too much to note here. The Broncos are still on top. Tampa is still on the bottom. Some of the better teams by record, like Detroit and Arizona, aren’t all that high on the list. That’s because they’ve been getting by on close wins and some unusually high turnover ratios. You have to assume that once Megatron is healthy, though, the Lions will be in pretty good shape. But the Broncos-Patriots game this weekend, as usual, should be a good one and tell us more about how the teams at the top are shaking out.