The Carolina Panthers descend on NRG Stadium for an inter-conference Thursday night football showdown against the Houston Texans. Sam Darnold and the Panthers looked good in their first two starts and are undefeated after two rounds of NFL action. On the other hand, the Texans have enjoyed mixed fortunes in their first two starts and are 1-1 on the season. The most recent result was a Week 2 loss to Cleveland after Tyrod Taylor left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury.
Expectations were low for both these teams going into the 2021 NFL season, and those haven’t changed two weeks into their respective campaigns. But as far as this Thursday night football matchup is concerned, the Panthers have the edge according to the odds.
The Panthers opened as the 3.5-point road favorites, but the line has jumped out to 7 points across the board since Taylor’s injury. The total opened on 45.5 points but dropped down to 43.5 points for the same reason.
Carolina Panthers vs. Houston Texans
Panthers Improve To 2-0 With Upset Over Saints
The Carolina Panthers opened their season with a narrow 19-14 win over the New York Jets – a game dubbed the Sam Darnold revenge game after the Jets decided to wipe the slate clean and send the former No.3 draft pick packing to Carolina. Darnold’s debut for the Panthers was encouraging as he lifted his new team to the all-important win. However, oddsmakers and bettors alike weren’t putting a lot of stock into that performance. Expectations were low for the Jets, to begin with, so a win over a team that’s in redevelopment didn’t register any credibility.
As a result, the Panthers went into their Week 2 matchup against the New Orleans Saints as the field-goal underdogs at home. Sean Payton’s side was flush off a stunning victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. Jameis Winston tossed five touchdowns and zero interceptions in the lopsided 38-3 win while the Saints defense steamrolled the 2020 MVP winner Aaron Rodgers. New Orleans dominated Green Bay across all three facets of the game, giving the impression that the Saints would be formidable opponents for the Panthers in Week 2.
Matt Rhule’s side didn’t get the memo as the Panthers stared down the Saints at the Bank of America Stadium and delivered the upset across NFL betting markets. It wasn’t even close as the Panthers defeated the Saints 26-7 and comfortably covered the 3-point closing spread with the 19-point margin of victory.
Injury-riddled Texans Lose To Browns
The Houston Texans – billed as the worst team in Super Bowl 56 futures – went into their season-opener as the +3.5 underdogs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, they ended up defying the NFL odds with a 37-21 victory over the Jaguars in Week 1.
After all the drama, controversy and bad press that revolved around the Texans in the offseason, there was some validation for new head coach David Culley in that victory; though not enough to convince the punditocracy of Houston’s overall merit. The Jaguars were debuting a new head coach, Urban Meyer, and a rookie quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. It wasn’t like the Texans had taken down a legitimate contender and so, the win was taken in the appropriate context.
In fact, the Texans went into Week 2 as even bigger underdogs than they were the first week. With a date against the Cleveland Browns, the market closed with the Texans as the +13.5 road underdogs. Surprisingly though, the Texans were more competitive than they were given credit and managed to cover the spread in the 31-21 loss.
Things might have gone differently had Taylor not suffered an injury in the first half of the game. The Texans were up 14-7 on the Browns in the second quarter after Taylor scampered for 15-yards and the score. But the journeyman quarterback appeared to injure himself on that run. He exited the game and didn’t return.
NFL Predictions and Picks
The Panthers are 2-0 SU and ATS after beating a subpar Jets team and a questionable Saints team. The Texans are 1-1 SU and 2-0 ATS after betting a subpar Jaguars team and losing to the highly-fancied Browns. While neither team has been a total disaster so far, the jury is still out.
It’s a quick turnaround this week for both these teams and given the events of last Sunday, the Panthers have the advantage. Tyrod Taylor is ruled out for Thursday’s clash with the Panthers, which means the weight of expectation falls on rookie quarterback Davis Mills. The chance that Deshaun Watson will start doesn’t look likely, at least not at the present moment.
Mills, a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, stepped in for Taylor in the second half against the Browns. He went 8-of-18 for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Mills’ inexperience does give Rhule’s side the perceptible advantage, even though the Panthers are playing for the first time on the road.
However, the Panthers can’t take Taylor’s absence for granted. Taylor has twice lost the starting job to a rookie quarterback in the last few years on account of injury – to Baker Mayfield (Browns) and to Justin Herbert (Chargers). It might be déjà vu for Taylor all over again if Mills surprises in his first NFL start against the Panthers. It’s a bit of a longshot bet, but there’s some value in Texans at +7.5 against the spread.
NFL Picks: Panthers -3.5 (-110) with William Hill