When it comes to the hierarchy of holidays in my household, Christmas is No. 1 and Halloween is No. 1A.
It’s a neck-and-neck race between the two traditions, but while I love Xmas Morning as much as the next guy (even if the kids have us up at 4:35 a.m.), Halloween has always intrigued me as a societal phenomenon.
Most holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, are reserved for the closest of friends and families. Halloween, however, is a community event shared with perfect strangers and people you “kind of know” from down the street (is it John or Jim? Maybe Jerry…). Then you have the element of costumes, so half of the time you don’t know who the hell is ringing your doorbell in the first place. But you bought candy for them, and hand it over free of charge. Fantastic.
The other reason why I rank Halloween as the King Kong of holidays is its macabre roots. It’s the one time of the year in which we embrace the things that go bump in the night and steer into the fear. We allow ourselves to be put in danger – well, store-bought danger.
Danger also has me knocking on the door of the Carolina Panthers in Week 8, like they’re giving out full-sized candy bars. The Panthers are a dangerous team, specifically on defense where they’ve generated 54 points off turnovers this season. Carolina, which has won four in a row and is coming off a bye week, is currently a 6-point underdog at undefeated San Francisco this Sunday.
The Panthers rank third in the NFL with 15 takeaways, including nine interceptions. Carolina is also the second overall team in terms of sacks, sending QBs to their doom 27 times through the first six games of the schedule, including seven sacks in a win over Tampa Bay in London, England two weeks ago.
That dangerous defense just so happens to be facing a quarterback that’s easily spooked by pressure. Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo has seven touchdown passes and six interceptions for an offense in which he’s really been asked to do nothing. In his time with the 49ers, Jimmy G has a TD-to-INT count of 19 to 14. Now that’s scary.
Carolina, which allows only 4.9 yards per play on the season, will focus its force on stacking the box and slowing down this San Francisco running game, flipping the switch on Garoppolo to make things happen through the air. The Panthers secondary should be able to hang, and the pass rush will bring the footsteps that have haunted the Niners’ QB during his time in the Bay Area.
Trick-or-Treat. Gimmie Carolina and the points… and some peanut butter cups while you’re at it.
PICK: Carolina +6
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT TENNESSEE TITANS (-2.5, 45.5)
The last time we saw the Bucs they were getting the Yorkshire pudding knocked out of them by the Panthers in London (as we mentioned above). Tampa Bay is also coming off a bye week and catching 2.5 points from the Tennessee Titans in Week 8.
Despite that sloppy showing in Week 6, Tampa Bay has plenty of pluses. For one, the Buccaneers can put up points. They’re averaging almost 29 points per game and have faced some solid stop units along the way. Tennessee is another tough test but even if the Titans slow down Tampa a touch, it’s still enough to eclipse whatever Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee offense puts up – especially with two weeks to prep for this team.
Defensively, the Bucs seem tailormade to face this Titans Offense. Tampa Bay has the No. 1-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing only 2.9 yards per carry to opponents and takes on an uninspired playbook that hands off almost 45 percent of the time.
That puts it all on Tannehill, who despite a solid showing against the Chargers last week, plays behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league (31 sacks allowed). I feel more comfortable fading him than going against Jameis Winston, whose high-profile turnover troubles have pretty much been limited to two really, really bad games (eight of his 10 INTs came in Weeks 1 and 6).
PICK: Tampa Bay +2.5
NEW YORK GIANTS AT DETROIT LIONS (-7, 49)
In a battle of three-game losing skids, the Lions are giving a touchdown to the Giants. One team is getting healthier while the other is starting to fall apart.
Detroit will be without RB Kerryon Johnson for the immediate future after he suffered a knee injury in the loss to the Minnesota last week. The Lions are also beat up on the other side of the ball as well, with defensive standouts like Darius Slay and Snacks Harrison battling through injuries.
New York returned second-year RB Saquon Barkley in last weekend’s loss to Arizona, getting just 72 yards on 18 carries and only eight yards receiving from the Penn State production on the soggy sods at MetLife Stadium. I expect a much better day for him, given an extra week to heal up from that ankle sprain, a nice clean carpet in Ford Field, and a Detroit defense getting gashed for 139.2 rushing yards per game – 28th in the league.
Seven seems like a lot of points for the Lions to give, especially with the best parts of a very bad defense operating at less than 100 percent.
PICK: N.Y. Giants +7
Week 7: 1-2 ATS
Season to date: 12-9 ATS