On paper, the Carolina Panthers are an intriguing team. They have a former No. 1 overall pick at quarterback in Baker Mayfield. They have arguably the best all-around running back in the NFL with Christian McCaffrey. D.J. Moore is one of the more productive and underrated receivers in football. They added a top-10 pick to their offensive line this year in Ikem Ekwonu. They have numerous former first-round picks scattered through their defense in Jaycee Horn, Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and Shaq Thompson.
However, the on-field results haven't been there. Through two-plus seasons, Matt Rhule is 10-25 overall. Rhule actually started his coaching tenure as a profitable bet, going 12-7 against the spread through his first 19 games. The Panthers and Rhule, however, are just 2-14 against the spread in their last 16 games.
Fade Matt Rhule?
Dating back to last season, the Panthers have lost nine straight games. That's the longest active losing streak in the NFL. Under Rhule, the Panthers are 1-25 when they allow 17 or more points. Carolina has had a lead in 17 of its last 19 games, but is just 5-14 during that span. Overall, 16 of Rhule's 25 losses have been by one possession. Rhule is 0-for-14 in fourth quarter comeback/game winning drive opportunities as coach of the Panthers.
Losing one possession games is often viewed as being unlucky, and there's an expectation that there will be some regression over time. However, losing one possession games has been consistent for Rhule through his tenure. At this point, it would be silly to write it off as bad luck. Close games are often decided by coaching, and Rhule has proven to be one of the worst coaches in the NFL.
Playing close games might be viewed as a good thing for bettors, as bad teams playing close games sounds like a recipe for covering spreads. That couldn't be further from the truth with Rhule. In their last 16 games, the Panthers are just 2-14 against the spread.
Carolina opened its season with a home game against Cleveland and a road game against the New York Giants. Oddsmakers viewed both games as a toss-up, with both closing with a spread under a field goal. In fact, Carolina ended up closing as the betting favorite in both games. But the Panthers found a way to lose both games.
In the opener, Baker Mayfield moved the Panthers to Cleveland's 14-yard line with two passing plays that equaled 46 yards. Rather than going for the touchdown, Rhule decided to run three running plays and settle for a field goal, leaving the Browns over a minute to go down the field and kick a winning field goal. Last week, down three points, Rhule punted with 2:12 remaining and the Panthers' offense never saw the field again after his defense couldn't make a stop against Daniel Jones.
Fading Baker Mayfield has been money as well
To be fair to Rhule, he hasn't exactly hit the jackpot when it comes to quarterbacks. He started with Teddy Bridgewater in 2020. Last year, Sam Darnold, Cam Newton and P.J. Walker all played snaps for Carolina at quarterback. This season, the Panthers are rolling with Baker Mayfield. Mayfield might be the best quarterback he's had, but that's not saying much.
Last week, Mayfield completed less than 50% of his passes and had just 145 yards on 29 attempts. It's a performance that has been all too common for Mayfield the last two seasons. Sure, he has some excuses at his disposal. He was injured last season and he was acquired late in the offseason this year and is still getting comfortable. But, the results for Mayfield have not been good.
Since October of last year, Mayfield is just 3-10 against the spread as a starting quarterback. Mayfield is also just 3-10 straight up in his last 13 starts. Of course, Mayfield is 0-2 against the spread to begin this season.
Panthers are a short home dog this weekend
The next opportunity to fade the Panthers, Rhule and Mayfield comes this weekend when the Panthers are a 3-point home underdog against the New Orleans Saints. Rhule is 2-2 both straight up and against the spread against the Saints as coach of the Panthers.
We're still trying to figure out the Saints. They opened the season by allowing Marcus Mariota and the lowly Falcons to march up and down the field and score 26 points. Last week, they were very good defensively against Tom Brady before some late turnovers from Jameis Winston put them in a tough spot.
Home divisional underdogs are usually a solid bet, especially early in the season. However, it's hard to trust the Panthers and Matt Rhule.