The Carolina Panthers will try desperately to snap out of their four-game losing streak this weekend when they visit the Cleveland Browns. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 9, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Fans in certain markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Panthers as 1.5-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 47 points. Click here to check out a full list of the Week 14 NFL odds.
As mentioned, the Panthers are in the midst of a four-game losing streak that has their playoff hopes in jeopardy. In their defense, three of Carolina’s four losses during their current streak have come on the road. However, losing to the likes of the Lions and Buccaneers, even on the road, has been puzzling for a team that was once 6-2. Now the 6-6 Panthers find themselves half a game out of the last wild-card spot.
After last week’s loss to the Bucs, Ron Rivera made some changes to his coaching staff. He also said that he would be taking over the defensive playcalling. However, time is running out for Rivera and the Panthers. Not only are they in a crowded playoff race, but the Panthers still have to play the Saints twice in the final three weeks of the season. That will make a late-season turnaround all the more difficult, especially if the Panthers lose again this week.
The Browns, meanwhile, saw their slim playoff hopes disappear completely after last week’s loss to the Texans. To be fair, Cleveland has started to play better since parting ways with Hue Jackson. But at 4-7-1, it’s safe to say the Browns are out of the playoff picture in the AFC.
On the bright side, the Browns could still finish above .500 if they’re able to win all of their remaining games. On the surface, that seems difficult, as the Browns only have one win against a team that currently has a winning record. However, the Browns are a young team playing without a ton of pressure down the stretch, making them ideal candidates to play the role of spoiler for teams like the Panthers that are desperate for a win.
It’s still hard to believe that Carolina has lost four straight games. Three of those four losses have come by a touchdown or less, so it’s not as if they’re getting outclassed. The Panthers are bound to break out of their skid sooner or later, and the Browns have more than enough flaws for Carolina to expose. I think the Panthers will get back on track this week and cover the 1.5-point spread.
Obviously, Cam Newton is going through a rough stretch. He threw four interceptions last week and has thrown seven during Carolina’s losing streak. Rivera also admitted that his shoulder was a little sore after last week, which is a concern less than two years removed from surgery on that shoulder. However, I still find it hard to believe that these struggles will continue until the end of the season. Newton was a borderline-MVP candidate a month ago, so I still think that he’ll bounce back one of these weeks.
It’s also important to remember that the Panthers are a run-first team and that Cleveland’s defense has struggled to stop the run most of the season. Christian McCaffrey has 231 rushing yards over the past two weeks, and that doesn’t even include his production as a pass catcher. He’s a tough matchup for a Cleveland defense that’s giving up 136 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry on the ground. With McCaffrey’s play the past couple of weeks, he’s likely to have another big game against the Browns and take some pressure off Newton.
Meanwhile, Newton’s counterpart, Baker Mayfield, is still a little up and down. He was outstanding against Atlanta and Cincinnati, two teams with bad defenses. But he came back down to earth last week against Houston’s defense. Despite throwing for nearly 400 yards, Mayfield also threw three picks. More importantly, the Browns only scored 13 points, making it a fairly hollow 397-yard performance from Mayfield.
The Browns are still reliant on Nick Chubb and the running game to help set up Mayfield and the passing attack. Chubb was limited to 31 yards on nine carries last week, which helps explain Cleveland’s offensive struggles. Chubb will have another hard matchup this week against a Carolina defense that only gives up 4.1 yards per carry. Even in their recent losses, the Panthers have done a good job of limiting how much they give up on the ground, which should put them in good shape to defend Mayfield and the Cleveland passing attack.
Ultimately, the Panthers should do enough defensively to give themselves a chance to win this game. Newton, of course, has to play better and avoid turnovers. But McCaffrey and company should give the Panthers enough offensive firepower to pull out a tight game in Cleveland. With such a small spread, this game is essentially a PK, and I like my chances with Carolina.