Carolina heads into Baltimore Sunday afternoon, as Panther legend Steve Smith (WR), suits up as a Raven, and faces his former team for the first time. As the hype swirls around Smith's return, together with Baltimore's emotionally draining win last week over Cleveland, we may have a situation where Vegas is out ahead of itself. The Ravens come in at (-3.5) but in our view, it looks more like a pick 'em. That could be good news for some.
Last week, on the heels of the Ray Rice scandal, Baltimore secured a victory over the Browns with a field goal just as time expired. Now, they stand at 2-1 in their eminently winnable division. Had they lost that game to Cleveland, this game would be more important to them, and often times, a big win can cause a team to lose some of their hunger the following week.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are looking for a rebound after being demolished by the Steelers on Sunday Night Football last week. Unlike the AFC North, where the Ravens reside, the NFC South has offensive powerhouses in Atlanta and New Orleans. Carolina needs every win they can get to keep their playoff hopes alive. Sure, Carolina is on the road, but in the NFL, the team that wants it more is tough to beat.
Now, we're not diminishing the impact that Steve Smith could have on this game. After all, he was possibly the greatest player in Carolina history. He's still one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL, and has emerged as a high-volume target for Joe Flacco on this play-action based offense in Baltimore. Still, the Panthers let him go for a reason. As of now, it's looking like Carolina's rookie WR, Kelvin Benjamin, has an order of magnitude more athletic ability that Smith does at this stage in his career, so no regrets in Carolina for replacing the old veteran. Not to mention, Smith may not even be the best pass-catcher on his own team. Torrey Smith has had a quiet year to date, but he has averaged 941 yards per season over his three year career. So Smith is a clear cut number-two target on the Ravens, who are, at-best, an average passing team.
In addition, RB DeAngelo Williams will be back in the lineup for Carolina after missing last week with a thigh injury. The Panthers struggled to get the ground game going against Pittsburgh, which derailed their entire offense, and made the score look a lot worse than it was. The rushing attack is generally their bread and butter, and since Williams practiced the entire week, we expect him to come out firing on all cylinders. Defensively, Baltimore isn't strong against the run, ranking 20th in terms of yards-per-carry allowed, so Williams should see some opportunity to gash the defense. If he opens up the field for Cam Newton to do his thing, watch out.
Need some statistics to pull you over the line? Cam Newton has a stellar record following a defeat. Over his four seasons, Cam is 14-7 against the spread after a loss, as long as he's not favored by more than a touchdown. In games where he's an underdog following a loss, the Panthers are 10-4 against the spread. These cats know how to bounce back.
Certainly, the Ravens are difficult to beat at home, but they have failed to cover in four of their last five games at M&T Bank Stadium. They would really have to amp it up for this non-conference game to cover, and we just don't see it happening.
Don't be dissuaded by last week's beat down. We're not locking in a road victory for the Panthers, but it seems like this should be a physical, hard-fought game, and points are too juicy to pass up in this type of contest. Want to be entertained during the game? Download our app from Apple or Google and join in the predictive fun. SnapCall will have plenty of football coverage for you to choose from starting tomorrow at 12:55 PM ET. Get in the game!