The 4-8 Denver Broncos head to Charlotte to take on the 4-8 Carolina Panthers in this Week 14 intra-conference contest.

The Panthers are fresh off their bye, with the likely return of star running back Christian McCaffrey on the way. 

The Broncos dropped their most recent game, 22-16 to the Kansas City Chiefs, and have lost four of five.

The Panthers have opened as 3.5-point favorites.

Carolina Panthers: More than McCaffrey

The Panthers have struggled since a three-game winning streak earlier this fall, losing six of their last seven games. They have been reasonably competitive, going 7-5 against the spread.

Their most recent game was a 28-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a game in which they missed the game-winning field goal with no time remaining. The game prior was a dominant 20-0 shutout win over the Detroit Lions.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leads this offense, which has shown flashes in the passing game. The team has a strong trio of playmaking wide receivers in Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel.

Moore and Anderson are both on pace for over 1,000 yards, likely surpassing the mark this weekend.

If McCaffrey indeed returns from his knee injury, that would be a much-needed spark for this team.

The defense has struggled to stop the run and the pass all year, coming in ranked 27th overall, according to PFF.

Denver Broncos: Dynamic Receivers and a Strong Defense

The Broncos dropped a close one to division rivals Kansas City last weekend. The game prior was the well-publicized loss to the Saints which had Denver without a quarterback on the roster due to the entire roster group being added to the Covid-19/Reserve list the day before the game.

Starting quarterback Drew Lock is back, although he has struggled. On the season, Lock has completed just 55% of his passes for nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Denver comes in as the consensus worst passing offense in the entire NFL. As mentioned above, the Panthers’ secondary doesn’t offer much resistance, but the Broncos may not be well-equipped to take advantage.

The team does have some bright spots on the roster, specifically at the wide receiver position. Tim Patrick has had a strong year, catching 40 balls for 607 yards and five touchdowns. Rookie Jerry Jeudy is right behind him with 38 catches of his own for 592 yards and two scores.

Keep an eye on these two young receivers’ yardage props on Sunday. The lines may be low with Lock struggling to complete passes, but someone will make a play against this Carolina secondary.

The Denver defense is the strongest unit on the field this Sunday, ranked 4th in the NFL. Their pass rush and secondary are strong and could make life difficult for Bridgewater this Sunday.

Thoughts on the Spread

The line has opened with Carolina as a 3.5-point favorite, but when comparing the teams, it’s Denver that has some value in this one.

The Broncos, despite winning just four games, have covered six times this year on the back of their defense and dynamic receivers.

Both Patrick and Jeudy will have chances against the Panthers, and the Broncos’ strong secondary matches up well with the Panthers’ strength of passing the ball.

A lot of this hinges on McCaffrey’s health. The star running back has played just three games, compiling 374 total yards and six touchdowns in limited action.

Broncos at +3.5 feels good if McCaffrey is forced to miss Week 14. If he does play, Denver still has a solid opportunity in this one, currently ranked as the fifth stingiest run defense in the NFL.

It comes down to whether you trust Drew Lock to put it together against a weak secondary. 

The pick: Broncos +3.5