ESPN senior writer Mike Sando asks NFL insiders to pick winners in select games each week. Three evaluators joined the panel for Week 10. This week’s games: Panthers-Steelers, Lions-Bears, Saints-Bengals, Jaguars-Colts, Seahawks-Rams and Cowboys-Eagles.
Thursday: 8:20 p.m. ET, Fox | Point spread: PIT by 4 | Insiders pick: PIT (3/3)
Two of the three insiders hesitated before picking the Steelers.
“The thing about Carolina is, they have had five home games, and if you look at the road games, they lost at Washington, they lost at Atlanta and they were down 17-0 at Philly before coming back,” one of the insiders said. “They like to be the bully, but if you punch the bully, sometimes the bully backs down.”
Carolina is a fascinating team, starting with the new offense Norv Turner has built around quarterback Cam Newton and some capable playmakers. The Panthers lead the NFL in explosive rushes (gains of 12-plus yards) per game. They rank near the middle of the pack in explosive passes (gains of 16-plus yards) and dead last with only four completions on throws traveling at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.
“The rookie receiver they got [DJ Moore] and [2017 second-round pick] Curtis Samuel add an element to the perimeter and run game that makes them very dynamic,” another insider said. “They have the motion with the jet sweep and almost a triple option with the quick pass, the handoff or the quarterback run. It is pretty interesting to see Norv Turner’s flair to it.”
With Newton tossing shorter passes, he has matched or surpassed some career bests in multiple categories for the first eight games of a season: 67.3 percent completions, 15 touchdown passes, four interceptions, 3.75 touchdowns per interception, 5.7 percent touchdown pass rate, 1.5 percent interception rate, 100.8 passer rating, 4.4 percent sack rate, 66.8 QBR when not adjusted for opponent.
The Steelers, meanwhile, have held Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore to between 16-21 points during a four-game winning streak. Those four opponents have averaged 25.1 offensive points per game against everyone else.
“Carolina is playing well with a lot of skill on offense, but the line is still a little shaky and that Pittsburgh defense is playing better,” the third insider said. “I like Carolina, I want to say Carolina, but I think Pittsburgh will win that one at home.”