The NFL season returns this weekend, with the Rams travelling to Carolina to take on the Panthers in our highlight game from the opening round of matches. Who will come out on top? Inform your NFL Week 1 predictions.
NFL Week 1 predictions
A regular meeting from the then-five team NFC West division during the mid 1990s, the Rams travel to take on the Panthers in Week One.
LA are the reigning NFC Champions - they exceeded 30 or more regular season points on 12 occasions, but then found scoring progressively more difficult in the post season, culminating in a near three-point shutout in the Super Bowl against New England.
Carolina Panthers analysis
Carolina suffered a much bigger drop off in results. They were well placed at 6-2 going into the second half of the year, but a seven-game losing stretch, partly down to injuries, guaranteed a losing season.
However, even during their barren run, there was some statistical encouragement as they lost five of those seven matches by a touchdown or fewer points.
They conceded fourth quarter leads and shunned scoring from red zone visits while trailing, as the likelihood of another post season steadily receded during November and December.
Carolina ended the year with a small negative points differential, which equates to a near 8-8 Pythagorean win expectation.
The Panthers took the ball away from opponents 23 times and returned it on 22 occasions, so there aren’t any extremes in turnovers.
Offensively, they were a below-average points scoring unit, who relied on the ground game to move the ball efficiently.
Quarterback, Cam Newton, who is increasingly prone to injury niggles, was also a below average passer, in keeping with most of his recent seasons. The sole exception was in 2015 when his dual attacking threat with his arm and legs led them to a near perfect 15-1 campaign.
He enters 2019, with a pre-season foot sprain which is unlikely to prevent his week one participation, but doubts persist about the fitness of the newly 30-year-old player. Defensively, the Panthers also fell away in the second half of the year.
They were below par against both the run and the pass, but they did better at keeping points off the board.
However, they were well short of the overall defensive prowess of the likes of Chicago, who limited the Rams to six points in the regular season and the Patriots, whose defensive adaptability did even better in the Super Bowl and the Rams should score readily in Sunday’s encounter.
Carolina will likely improve in 2019, simply because factors such as their record in close games and injuries are likely to be less extreme than 2018, but they are still only projected to be divisional contenders, rather than having higher, realistic aspirations.
If Carolina’s upside is limited, the LA Rams are expected to see their win totals drift downwards from their 13-3 regular season record in 2018, but they will still be leading NFC contenders.
They had six narrow wins that were far from balanced by just one such loss, and winning games narrowly does not tend to be a repeatable trait.
Teams with that kind of imbalance in their favour during one season, as a group, regress heavily towards a more equitable, 50/50 split the following season.
An in-depth look at the LA Rams
The Rams were also placed fourth in the turnover table with a differential of plus 11, another notoriously fickle driver of good results that rarely defies gravity for long.
We’re on much more sustainable ground when we look at the Rams’ offensive efficiency figures.
They were a top five passing attack, averaging a yard per attempt further than opposing defences on average allowed and were half a yard per attempt ahead of par when running the ball.
Overall, they converted this “built to win now” offensive juggernaut into 33 point per game against defences that allowed 23.7 points per match.
They were just a mid-ranked defence, but had the good sense to be much better against the pass than against the run and they only allowed a point per game more than their opponent’s average rate of scoring.
The Jared Goff led team were a 13-3 team, who got a few breaks in close matches, but their core underlying statistics, along with their Pythagorean win expectation, is that of a 11-win team.
Goff sat out pre-season, hardly impressed in his debut season with the Rams, but made huge strides in 2017, reproduced the effort in 2018 and is established as a top passer.
Where is the value?
An 8-win Pythagorean side entertaining an 11-win team gives the visitors a 60% chance of winning the game, the equivalent of a 3-point spread.
But, if we instead use scoring rates, the expected winning margin for the Rams stretches to a full touchdown.
Both offences have the edge on their defensive counterparts.
The Panthers should be able to pass the ball with average efficiency and move the ball with relative ease on the ground. Whilst, the Rams should be a more balanced offensive package, effectively moving the ball both on the ground and through the air.
Overall and in keeping with Rams games from 2018, just over 50 total points are predicted and with the line pitched around a field goal advantage for the visitors, the Rams are picked to extend their winning margin towards a full touchdown.