A pair of expansion brothers will reunite this weekend as the Jacksonville Jaguars pay a visit to the Carolina Panthers. Kickoff is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, October 6 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Fans throughout much of the southeast can watch the game on CBS.
Based on the Week 5 NFL odds, the Panthers are 3.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 41 points.
Things are trending upward for the Jaguars after winning back-to-back games, including a comeback win last week in Denver after trailing 17-6 at halftime. For a team that lost its starting quarterback to injury in the first half of Week 1, the Jags are in a good position. Just imagine if they had converted their 2-point conversion against the Texans in Week 2.
Nevertheless, Jacksonville will settle for being 2-2, especially since the rest of the AFC South is 2-2 as well. The Jags play a favorable schedule in October, and if they can still a win on the road this week, they have a good chance to get a leg up on the competition inside the AFC South.
Likewise, the Panthers have won back-to-back games after starting the season 0-2. The most surprising part is that they’ve turned things around with Cam Newton on the sidelines and Kyle Allen starting. Allen has led the Panthers to wins in his first two career starts, made more impressive by the fact that both games were on the road.
Carolina now returns home before next week’s trip to London with a great opportunity to keep things rolling. They are a game behind the Saints inside the NFC South, but with Drew Brees sidelined, now could be the best time for the Panthers to make their move if Allen can continue to perform the way he has the last two weeks.
With both teams winning two in a row, I’m actually more of a believer in the Jaguars than the Panthers right now. It’s worth noting that the Panthers have lost five games in a row at home, including Weeks 1 and 2 this season, which is a little troubling. More importantly, I’m not yet sold on Allen, which makes me more comfortable leaning toward Jacksonville and the points.
The Jacksonville offense hasn’t exactly been humming since Gardner Minshew took over for the injured Nick Foles, but they’ve been efficient. Minshew is completing close to 70% of his passes and has thrown just one interception to seven touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, he’s been unfazed late in games and able to lead the Jags down the field in the clutch. Technically, Minshew is questionable due to an ankle injury. If he can’t play, that changes the equation. But as long as Minshew plays, there’s no reason to expect a meaningful drop-off in his performance from the past couple of weeks.
Of course, Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville running game deserve plenty of credit for Minshew’s success. Fournette is starting to look like the back he was a couple of years ago when he carried the Jacksonville offense for large stretches of the season. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the season and ran for 225 yards on 29 carries last week against Denver.
Fournette poses a big problem for the Carolina defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run. The Panthers have given up at least 100 yards rushing in every game this year with three of their four opponents averaging over five yards per carry against them. That bodes well for the Jags, who will remain committed to the running game and take some of the pressure off Minshew.
On the other side of the ball, it’s fair to say the jury is still out on Allen. Leading Carolina to two wins looks great on paper, but one of those wins was against the winless Cardinals. Despite winning last week in Houston, Allen didn’t throw a touchdown pass and lost three fumbles. That has to be a concern for the Panthers, who aren’t good enough offensively to survive multiple turnovers, managing just 16 points last week.
Obviously, Carolina will lean on Christian McCaffrey as much as possible. But the Jags are going to be ready for him. The Panthers are a little light on outside threats and aren’t likely to roll the dice with Allen at quarterback. That should allow the Jags to stack the box against McCaffrey. Jacksonville also has a potent pass rush, which could be a problem for the Panthers given Allen’s fumble issues last week, especially if the Jags are able to keep McCaffrey contained.
In the end, I’m not confident enough in the Carolina offense to cover more than a field goal. If you take away their game against the Chiefs, the Jaguars are allowing less than 15 points per game. With the way Jacksonville can run the ball and the way Minshew has played late in games, this is destined to be a close game, making me lean toward the underdog with the 3.5-point spread.