2021 NFL Preseason Week 3: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Carolina Panthers
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
The Play: Steelers +3 -120
The Panthers are 0-2 SU/0-1-1 ATS to-date, after the visiting Baltimore Ravens defense held Carolina to a field goal's worth of offensive productivity last week, en route to a win by three scores. In the face of this offensive letdown, the Panthers are favored by three versus the Steelers in their final game of the preseason. We are not buying the notion that Carolina should be favored, and are happy to back Pittsburgh at the key three level Friday.
Consistent with our predilection against the home favorite, we note that the Panthers have not been great laying the chalk in preseason, generally speaking. Carolina is 16-20-2 ATS (44%) from this spot since 2004-05. Facing the less familiar opposition of the AFC, Carolina is a downright fadeable 10-19-2 ATS when favored in the preseason.
But then again, Carolina has struggled versus the number as the home favorite in the regular season too. The Panthers are 43-55-2 ATS (45%) since 2003-04, including a 10-16 tally versus the betting line from this position over the last five completed seasons and an 0-3 run last year. Most recently, Carolina has lost five games in a row as the favorite at their Bank of America Stadium.
Specific tendencies aside though, broader context too appears to support our play on the road dog Steelers in week 3 preseason action.
Home favorites of up to a field goal that missed the prior post-season have proven GREAT preseason fades versus non-conference competition that did earn a berth in the last playoffs...
As we detailed in the write-up for our (winning) play on the Colts plus the points last week, this angle's 68% cover rate back to 2004-05 proved statistically significant at better than a 95% confidence level, conveying a high level of conviction in its predictive ability. Further, this approach delivered hit rates below 50% in only four seasons, and has been good for a hypothetical, long-term 30% return on investment -- including a 5-2 ATS run this season-to-date.
Separately, per data from NFL.com, starters typically see a slight workload in the first action of the preseason. But this activity rate ramps up to modest by the belly of the preseason campaign, only to slide all the way down to nominal for the final warmup game. Per the following chart, though the tendency in recent years has increasingly been to spare starters the vagaries of the preseason, trends in relative utility (i.e. how starters are played from one week of the preseason to the next) more-or-less held.
The Panthers' starters only played the first series in the loss to the Ravens last week, but head coach Matt Rhule has intimated that he'd like to activate Carolina's core personnel for as much as half of Saturday's action. However running back, Christian McCaffrey appears unlikely to participate.
On the other hand, the man in charge in Pittsburgh is keeping his cards closer to his chest regarding personnel decisions. Coach Mike Tomlin has been rather non-committal about who will and will not go Friday. However, with the Steelers representing one of only two teams enjoying a four-game preseason this year (thanks to their participation in the Hall of Fame game), we might expect Pittsburgh to adhere to a typical preseason rotation -- which implies limited action for the their primary personnel.
Regardless, history regards the present as a tough spot for the Panthers to secure the cover. Accordingly, we are content to back the Steelers plus the field goal here.