The reigning NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams begin their 2019 season on the road as they pay a visit to the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. The game is scheduled to get underway at 1:00 EST on Sunday, September 8 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Fans in various markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
According to our Week 1 NFL odds, the Rams are 3-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is listed at 50.5 points.
As mentioned, the Rams are coming off a trip to the Super Bowl last season. While they fell a little short to the Patriots, Los Angeles was arguably the best team in the NFL throughout the 2018 regular season. They had one of the most explosive offenses in recent memory, finishing 14-2 and winning the NFC West for the second straight season.
Obviously, now that they’ve reached the top of the NFC, the goal is to stay there. The Rams have signed several key figures to long-term deals, most notably quarterback Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay. However, if the Rams want to get back to the Super Bowl and win it, they will likely have to rely more on their defense, building around defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who is also signed long-term.
The Panthers, of course, were at the top of the NFC just a few years ago and have struggled to stay there. Since losing Super Bowl 50, the Panthers are 24-24 and have missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. The 2018 season was particularly troubling, as the Panthers started out 6-2 before falling apart the second half of the season. Quarterback Cam Newton struggled with shoulder issues and ultimately sat out the last two games of the 7-9 campaign.
However, Newton says he’s healthy after undergoing offseason surgery, creating a sense of optimism heading into the 2019 season. Much of Carolina’s success this season could hinge on the health of Newton. The Panthers also play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, so the road back to the top of the NFC won’t be easy, and it’ll start by hosting the reigning NFC champions.
While I have reasons to be skeptical of both teams, it’s hard not to look at the Rams and be impressed. Regardless of what happened in the Super Bowl, Los Angeles is a juggernaut offensively. It’s tough to bet against that, even on the road. With the spread at three points, I’ll trust the Rams to score enough points to cover.
The biggest question with the Rams is the health of Todd Gurley. I don’t care what anybody says, he was not himself during the playoffs last season. We also didn’t see him during the preseason, so his status is a bit of a mystery. If he’s healthy, the Rams are close to unstoppable offensively, but as we saw in the playoffs, the Rams aren’t the same team without him.
That being said, the Rams are still loaded offensively. There may be no better receiving trio in football than Brandon Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Keep in mind the Rams were also missing Kupp in the playoffs, so his return is big for Goff and company. I also think they’ll be in good shape with Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson backing up Gurley, so I won’t overreact if Gurley doesn’t look like himself.
Meanwhile, it’s important to keep in mind that Carolina’s defense underperformed last season. The Panthers have been one of the most solid and reliable defensive teams for a long time, so this was surprising to see them look a little flat. There’s a chance the Carolina defense will bounce back this season, adding veterans Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin, as well as 1st-round pick Brian Burns. But the Panthers are a little average at cornerback and there are questions about the pass rush, two areas where you can’t afford to be weak when playing the Rams.
Even if the Panthers can put up some resistance against the Rams, they’ll still need their offense to come up big for them. At the moment, I have a hard time believing that Newton will be back to his old self after offseason shoulder surgery. His foot injury in the third preseason game doesn’t help convince me that he’ll be healthy and at his best in Week 1.
The silver lining for the Panthers is they have a game-changer at running back in Christian McCaffrey. Whether Newton is healthy or not, they will lean on McCaffrey as much as possible. Moreover, the Los Angeles defense was porous at times last season. But the talent is there, especially with the additions of Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews. Even a modest improvement from last season will help, especially against a Carolina offense that could be limited depending on Newton’s health.
Again, I’m a little skeptical of both of these teams. But I have a little more faith in the Rams. If the spread were a couple of points higher, I might feel differently. But it’s reasonable to eat three points for a team as explosive offensively as the Rams. I’ll lean toward Los Angeles to score enough to cover on the road.