Carolina Panthers (-7.5, 44) @ Houston Texans
September 23, 2021
8:20pm EST on NFLN
The Carolina Panthers may be the surprise team in the NFL after week two. After defeating the Jets by five in the opener, they shocked the Saints, who pummeled the Packers in their opener, by the score of 26-7. Heading into a short week with confidence and momentum, the Panthers look to take down the Houston Texans.
After a 37-21 win over the Jaguars in their opener, the Texans fell flat against the Browns, losing by the score of 31-21. To make matters worse for the Texans, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who started the season completing nearly 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions. While it’s possible that the Texans activate Deshaun Watson, that is highly unlikely after everything that has gone down between him and the organization.
The Panthers are getting excellent production from quarterback Sam Darnold, who has thrown for 584 yards and three touchdowns over the first two games. He looked poised and smooth against the Jets, hitting top targets over the first two weeks in DJ Moore and running back Christian McCaffery 28 times for 314 yards. He even connected deep with former teammate on the Jets Robby Anderson on a 57-yard strike.
Make no mistake about it, the return of McCaffery has done wonders for the Carolina offense. In addition to his 154 yards receiving, McCaffery has rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown over the first two weeks.
Keeping up the torrid pace on offense may be a challenge for a relatively young group, but the longer they play well, the more confidence will build. Overall, the Panthers have very few weak links on the offensive side of the ball.
There were some prognosticators seeing a winless season for the Texans this season. The team proved those wrong very early with a win over the Jaguars. However, a substandard performance against the Browns, particularly along the defensive line, could bode troublesome against the Panthers, who will likely open holes for McCaffery and give Darnold ample time to throw. This could get ugly for the Texans quickly if they don’t find a way to control the pace of the game.
To do so, they have to get the running game going behind Mark Ingram, who has carried the ball 40 times this season, but for only 126 yards. This will be particularly important with David Mills under center. Mills completed just 8-of-18 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown after taking over for Taylor following his injury against the Browns. There are some weapons Mills can look for if given time, such as Brandin Cooks, who caught 9 passes for 78 yards and a score last week.
The game will be televised on the NFL Network on Thursday, September 23 at 8:20 PM Eastern Time. The Panthers are a 7 ½-point favorite with an over/under of 44.
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