• Carolina, a surprise 2-0, looks to remain undefeated on Thursday Night
  • Houston lost starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to a hamstring, handing the offense over to rookie Davis Mills
  • Christian McCaffrey seems poised for a big game

I’ve certainly seen more exciting matchups come down the pipeline, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a few quality bets worth making when the Carolina Panthers take on the Houston Texans this Thursday Night.

The Panthers are 2-0, fresh off a surprising 26-7 win over New Orleans, while the Texans are 1-1, losing last week to Cleveland 31-21.

Houston lost more than just the game, with starting QB Tyrod Taylor going down and expected to miss upwards of a month. In slots rookie passer Davis Mills, making his first NFL start against what has been one of the best defenses in the league through two weeks.

Panthers vs Texans Matchup at a Glance

  • Sport: NFL
  • Teams: Carolina Panthers vs Houston Texans
  • Where: Houston, TX | NRG Stadium
  • Date: Thursday, September 23, 2021, 8:20 PM EST
  • Betting Odds: (at DraftKings)
  • Spread: CAR -7.5
  • Moneyline: CAR -425 | HOU +320
  • Total: 44.5 points

Panthers Preview: Defense and Running the Ball

Panthers vs Texans Panthers Preview

It remains quite early to proclaim definitive rankings, but on both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, Carolina has been one of the strongest defensive teams in the league.

PFF has the Panthers down as the second-best defense, and DVOA ranks them third. Considering one of these games was against New Orleans, a very able team, the rankings are impressive. I’d expect Carolina to handle the rookie Davis Mills on Thursday.

For the Panthers offense, the game plan funnels through running back Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey is one of the highest-volume players in the NFL through two weeks, second among all RBs in carries and targets, with 60, and first in red zone usage, with 13 combined carries/catches.

With a weak run defense on tap and a projected positive game script, McCaffrey would be my preferred target for props.

His current lines:

  • 83.5 rushing yards (-115)
  • 16.5 rush long (-120)
  • 18.5 rush attempts (-130)
  • TD (-250)

Yes, McCaffrey is a workhorse back, but the team has been quite inefficient rushing the ball thus far. McCaffrey is averaging just 3.8 yards per rush and PFF has the Panthers rushing offense graded out as the worst in the NFL.

Off workload alone, however, he’s the best bet on this Panthers offense in my eyes. I like his rush attempts over at 18.5. It avoids the reliance on a big play and is instead a bet on volume, which he does better than just about anybody.

The Texans struggle to slow down the run, McCaffrey has 45 rush attempts in two games, the game script suggests plenty of Panthers running, and he’s hit this number in back-to-back games to start the year.

  • Official Prop Pick: McCaffrey OVER 18.5 rush attempts (-130 on DraftKings)

Texans Preview: Davis Mills Gets the Call

Panthers vs Texans Pick David Mills Gets the Call

Houston hasn’t been particularly strong in terms of offensive efficiency metrics, though receiver Brandin Cooks has had a strong start to the season. Cooks has 21 targets, 14 receptions, 210 yards and 1 TD so far this season, and no other pass-catcher on the team has over 6 targets.

Mills targeted Cooks 10 times on Sunday, completing four of the passes, one for a short touchdown, so there’s at least some semblance of data that Cooks remains the focal point of the game no matter who is throwing the ball.

We’ll build a pick around Cooks here using the same logic we used for McCaffrey.

The volume is there for Cooks, and the game script suggests plenty of passes. As such, let’s roll with one plus-odds prop that Cooks has hit in four of his last five games.

  • Official Prop Pick: Cooks OVER 5.5 receptions (+120 on DraftKings)

Odds & Free Betting Analysis for This Panthers vs Texans Game

The Panthers should be able to handle the Texans on Thursday, but I can’t get myself to bet on the current 8-point spread.

Instead, I have a teaser I like for this one: Panthers -1.5, UNDER 50.5 points (-105)

The Panthers’ defense is the strongest the Texans have drawn yet, and they should be able to have their way against the rookie Mills and this lackluster offensive group.

The Texans themselves have performed better than expected on the defensive end, ranked 6th in Defensive DVOA through two weeks. One of those games was against Cleveland, so there’s some merit to suggest Houston may be an ok defensive team this season.

With two able defenses and two inefficient offenses, lock me in a teased up under, with the Panthers winning by 4-6 points.

Good luck Thursday night, and for more NFL betting takes, be sure to follow me on Twitter, @griffybets.

Panthers vs Texans Pick

KnupSports.com Free Betting Pick: 6-pt teaser (-105): CAR -1.5, UNDER 50.5 points (at DraftKings)

Be sure to check out our other free picks and betting plays to bet on today!
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