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The Carolina Panthers host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at 1:05 pm est. in a game that can be seen on FOX. The current line at sportsbook.com has the 49ers as small -1.5 point road favorites with a total of 42. Also at sportsbook.com, a quick look at their betting trends feature shows us that the 49ers are the most heavily bet team of all 4 divisional playoff games this weekend as 77% of the wagers taken on this game have come in on San Fran.
This is the game I'm personally looking forward to the most. Why? Defense. To me, playoff football is all about defense and these two come in with two of the best D's in the NFL this year. While anything is possible in the NFL and a shootout in the 30's wouldn't be a shock (last 6 NFC divisional playoff games saw 57+ points scored), a replay of their earlier 10-9 game won by the Panthers in San Francisco would be fine by me. Of course, both teams have the "x-factor" with QB's that can put their teams on their shoulders and take a game over, both on the ground or thru the air.
Every football season is different in terms of who the top teams are, be it the NFL or College, but the numbers never change. What I mean by that is, in 30+ years of handicapping football, I've seen this EXACT same set up STATISTICALLY, countless times. Not between the 49ers and Panthers. But perhaps the Giants and Bears back in the mid 80's. Or maybe the Eagles and Falcons in the early 2000's. The team names change, but the numbers don't. With that in mind, the Panthers have some home numbers that, historically, have been tough for visiting playoff teams to overcome.
The Panthers were 7-1 at home and outscored their opponents by an average margin of 26-12. Their yards per point numbers at home were 12.8 on offense and an NFL best 24.8 on defense. To compare, the 49ers road numbers were 12.5 and 17.9. Good, but a full 6 points worse than the Panthers home numbers and that difference was entirely on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers gave up the following in each of their home games - 12, 0, 15, 10, 20, 6, 20 and 13. Not much room for error for visiting teams.
I'm not about to knock the 49ers. They have a fantastic team and in fact, these two teams are essentially mirror images of each other, similar to the Colts/Pats as far as the stats go. You can go right across the board in all of the important categories and you'll see numbers that are almost exactly the same, right down to the turnover margin where both teams are +11. One team scores on average 25 points per game, the other scores 23. One gives up 17, the other 15. One rushes for 139, the other 126. One passes for 188 and the other 190. One gives up 97 on the ground, the other 87. They give up 214 and 218 thru the air, a 4 yard difference. I don't mention which teams go with which stats because it doesn't matter. They are nearly identical.
But where they aren't identical, is when you compare one teams numbers on the road and the others at home and that to me, is the difference in this game. Newsflash - NFL teams play better at home. Ok, we all knew that. But in spots like this, it's even more significant. This should be a good one and really, either team can win it. It's going to be decided by a key turnover or mistake more than likely. But I can tell you from experience, the kind of numbers the Panthers have put up at home are extremely difficult to overcome in the playoffs. That yards per point number on defense of 24.8, well, let's just say that historically, it doesn't get any better than that.
I have mentioned using teasers in the playoffs and this is a spot where that could be advantageous. I have seen some shops with the Panthers at +1.5. A 6 pt teaser brings the Panthers up to +7.5 picking up the 3 and the 7 along the way and with a team giving up 12 points per game at home, that +7.5 is huge.
As far as the game, the 49ers got a raw deal this year finishing 12-4 yet having to go on the road in the Wild Card round to face an 8-7-1 team in an ice bowl. I think that comes back to haunt them here as the deciding factor here is the home field edge for the Panthers. If I awoke from a year long sleep and you presented me with the line on this game and just the home and away ypp numbers, I'd blindly bet the home team with a def ypp number of 24.8. I've seen this movie 100 times already. Interestingly enough, the movie doesn't have the same exact ending every time. However, 56 times or so out of 100, the team with the 24.8 defensive ypp number at home gets the money in the end. For me, as a bettor, that's enough to grind out a long term profit. Panthers +1.5
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