Changes are afoot in Carolina as the Panthers (1-4) head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams (2-3) on Sunday, October 16 at SoFi Stadium. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule was fired earlier this week, and interim coach Steve Wilks steps in. Starting quarterback Baker Mayfield is set to miss at least two games with an ankle injury, and with backup Sam Darnold still recovering from an ankle injury of his own, third string QB PJ Walker is the next man up.
The coach and quarterback are the two most important people for any football team. Will changes at these two spots jumpstart the struggling Panthers, or will they continue to flounder?
Perhaps this matchup is just what the Rams need to get a jumpstart of their own. Coming off back-to-back losses to the 49ers and Cowboys, the defending Super Bowl champs have fallen below .500 for the first time since 2016 – that’s five consecutive seasons that they have never had worse than a .500 record at any point in the season, until now.
Let’s take a look at the odds, injuries and depth charts for this Panthers vs. Rams matchup and see my picks and predictions for the game
Carolina Panthers vs. Los Angeles Rams Betting Odds
The Rams opened as 9-point favorites at home and that number has moved to -10. Their moneyline odds range from -460 to -550 at various sportsbooks. Even with the struggles of the Panthers and the coach and QB change, that spread is a pretty big number considering the Rams have also been struggling. It’s therefore not very surprising that roughly 70% of the money is coming in on the Panthers so far, on about 50% of the bets. On the moneyline, over 80% of the money is on the Rams, as would be expected.
The over/under for this matchup opened is currently at 41.5. Over 60% of the money so far is being bet on the under, which isn’t surprising considering these are two of the worst offenses in the league this season.
Carolina Panthers vs. Los Angeles Rams Prediction
The Panthers offense’ has been dreadful this season, ranking dead last in yards and 25th in points. The Rams haven’t been much better at 26th and 29th, but at least they can point to the schedule as part of the reason for their struggles. The Rams have faced some tough matchups against stalwart defenses in San Francisco, Buffalo and Dallas – all in the top seven in yards allowed.
The big problem for the Rams has been protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has been sacked an NFL-high 21 times on nearly 10% of his dropbacks. Stafford might be able to exhale a bit this week, as the Panthers’ defense has accumulated just eight sacks so far this season, tied for third lowest in the league.
The Rams’ offensive line issues have also contributed to them ranking dead last in rushing offense, but perhaps they can turn that around against the Panthers’ 27th-ranked run defense. Establishing the ground game would also help to take some pressure off Stafford.
Overall, if the Rams can’t get their offense humming this week, it will be time to sound the alarms.
The alarms might be blaring already for the Panthers, but perhaps P.J. Walker can help to turn them off – or at least hit the snooze button on them for a week or two. Walker is 2-0 in his two career starts for the Panthers, including one over a Lions team quarterbacked by Stafford.
Walker has been efficient when he has had time to prepare during the week, completing 73% of his passes in the two games he has started. While he has only averaged 212.5 passing yards in those games and has turned the ball over four times, he has managed to lead the Panthers to a 54-10 scoring differential.
Perhaps the best thing about Walker is that he is not Baker Mayfield. The way the offense has performed under Mayfield, any change under center could be an improvement. I don’t expect Walker to improve to 3-0 as a starter, but I do think he can do enough for the Panthers’ offense to keep this game close.
I also expect the Panthers’ offense to lean heavily on Christian McCaffrey this week, who racked up 151 combined yards and caught all 10 of his targets in the one game Walker started last year. The Rams have been stingy against running backs out of the backfield, allowing the 3rd-fewest receptions and receiving yards to opposing running backs, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking that McCaffrey could be due for a big game.
Those factors lean me towards taking the Panthers to cover 10 points. While I expect the Rams to win, there is enough of an upset chance in this game that the -450 moneyline odds are not worth it to me.
With the struggles of these two offenses, my favorite bet in this matchup is the under on 41.5 total points. If that hits, it would be even more likely for the Panthers to cover the spread, as they would only need to score 16 points to guarantee a cover if the under hits.
My prediction: Rams win 20-13, Panthers cover, under 41.5 total points
- Panthers are 6-20 ATS vs. teams with a losing record.
- Rams are 13-5-1 ATS in their last 19 games following a double-digit loss at home.
- The Panthers are 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine games against the Rams.
- The favorite is 3-0-1 ATS in the last four meetings between these teams.
- The under is 6-1 in the Rams’ last seven games.
- The under is 5-2 in the last seven meetings between these teams.
Carolina Panthers Injuries: CB Jaycee Horn (Q – ribs), CB CJ Henderson (Q – knee), WR DJ Moore (Q – shoulder), WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (Q – hamstring), QB Baker Mayfield (Q – ankle), LB Frankie Luvu (Q – shoulder), S Xavier Woods (Q – hamstring), CB Stanley Thomas-Oliver (Q – thigh) , TE Stephen Sullivan (Q – back), QB Sam Darnold (IR – ankle)
Los Angeles Rams Injuries: TE Tyler Higbee (Q – ankle), C Brian Allen (Q – knee), DL Aaron Donald (Q – foot), WR Cooper Kupp (Q – foot), WR Brandon Powell (Q – hip), DB Taylor Rapp (Q – ribs), DB David Long Jr. (Q – groin), DB Cobie Durant (Q – hamstring)
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Carolina Panthers vs. Los Angeles Rams below.
Rams RT Rob Havenstein vs. Panthers DE Brian Burns
Havenstein is the best offensive lineman on a bad Rams’ line, but he has not played up to his own standards so far this season. Pro Football Focus grades him out at 63.8 so far this season after he earned marks above 80 each of the last two years.
Burns is the Panthers’ best pass rusher and has racked up four sacks, six tackles for loss and six QB hits so far this season. He typically lines up over the right tackle and will be matched up against Havenstein most of the game. With the problems they have elsewhere on the line, the Rams can ill afford to have Burns get the better of Havenstein in this matchup.
Panthers’ RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Rams’ LB Bobby Wagner
As mentioned above, I expect McCaffrey to be heavily involved in this game, both on the ground and through the air. DraftKings has set prop lines for him of 14.5 rush attempts and 5.5 receptions, so they expect him to get 20 touches which is right in line with his season average of 19.6.
McCaffrey has already started to ramp up the volume through the air, with 16 catches on 21 targets over the last two games. With Walker under center, I would expect plenty of checkdowns to McCaffrey and would take the over on 5.5 receptions.
Slowing down McCaffrey takes the whole defense, but Bobby Wagner will be the primary defender tasked with that responsibility. He may have lost a step or two at this point in his career, but Wagner is still one of the best all-around linebackers in the game. Let’s see if he still has enough in the tank to keep up with McCaffrey.