Panthers -8, 1.5 unit
Aside from Davis Mills starting the Texans are down 3 of their best starters on defense – safety Justin Reid, CB Terrance Mitchell, and LB Kamu Grugier-Hill. Reid has 2 INTs already. The Texans just let Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt run for 6.6 yards/carry and Baker completed 19 of 21 passes. Sam Darnold should move the ball pretty easily he has a lot of good matchups and can lean on McCaffrey a lot and any bad games in primetime in the past for Darnold he was under completely different circumstances and not going against a rookie on a short week. The Panthers defense has the most sacks (10) and pressures (32) through two weeks and they look legitimate after adding Haasan Riddick and using 7 draft picks on defense this year. Riddick and Brian Burns put a lot of pressure on Winston and Zach Wilson and it will be more of the same vs Mills. Mills got drilled on a safety blitz vs Cleveland last week and was oblivious to it. He finished the game 8/18, 5.4 yards/attempt. Phil Snow will dial up a lot of blitzes. Mills had a lot of injuries in college and had only 18 TDs in 14 career games at Stanford. Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson are only averaging 3 yards/carry. Mills isn’t going to be able to run like Tyrod Taylor did either he’ll play mostly from the pocket. Brandin Cooks had 14 of Houston’s 28 targets last week so Carolina should give him a ton of attention. The Panthers added AJ Buoye this offseason and he’s playing tonight after being suspended. Buoye, Donte Jackson, and Jaycee Horn at corner and Jeremy Chinn at safety. Obviously there’s risk with a short week Thursday night game but it’s such a mismatch that the Texans will still have a challenge to keep it within one score. There were 2 road teams last year who won by 18 and 9 in September on Thursday night football. Granted there was no crowd noise but the Panthers offense should quiet the crowd down picking up first downs often. The numbers for TNF road teams are worse the last few years later in the season when more injuries pile up and road teams are relying on less experience. The Panthers should score early, build a lead and blitz Davis Mills a lot in obvious passing downs. Carolina should have a lot of chances to make this a two score game and hold a 2 score lead. If a backdoor late is a risk in this game I think it’s worth that risk with a defense that just held the Saints to 7 points and played a complete game then and can now do it in primetime.