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The Carolina Panthers have played with a lot of spirit these last couple of weeks. And for that, the coaching staff, including interim coach Steve Wilks, deserves some credit.

Of course, this program had the look of a train wreck until then. Everybody came to dislike Matt Rhule, who tried to micro-manage everything. And he got fired. Robbie Anderson was arguing with an assistant on the sidelines and was dispatched to Arizona. Christian McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco, and the Panthers got some value for him in the form of draft choices.

And there were injuries that had sidelined quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.

Some players were openly questioning the game plan that had been presented to backup quarterback PJ Walker. It seems he was discouraged from throwing the ball downfield.

And what was really interesting is that when the Panthers lined up for action last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, a share of the NFC South lead was at stake.

Such is the state of that division.

Carolina took advantage of the distressed condition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to score a 21-3 upset. At Atlanta, they fought tooth-and-nail, scored 21 fourth-quarter points to force overtime, and would have won if not for an ineffective placekicker. They lost. But they showed some heart.

On Sunday they go to Paycor Stadium to face the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a particularly disappointing 32-13 defeat to Cleveland. Kickoff is slated for 1 PM ET.

NFL Bengals vs. Panthers Betting Lines & Picks

In the NFL betting lines as they have been posted at BetAnySports on this game, the Bengals are favored at home:

Team SP/RL TOTAL ML
Panthers +7 ( -105 ) 42½ ( -110 ) +275
Bengals -7 ( -115 ) 42½ ( -110 ) -345
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NFL Betting Lines & Picks – Bengals offense not the same without Chase

The Bengals found themselves in a strange spot on Monday night. They had to go into Cleveland without top receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who is out with a hip injury. Remember that he has been Joe Burrow’s go-to receiver since he put on a Cincinnati uniform. And the relationship goes back to their days together at LSU.

Without the threat of Chase, it put more pressure on Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Each of them caught three passes, and each had a touchdown. But that was after the game had, in effect, been decided. Joe Burrow had a lot of check downs to the likes of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

And he was sacked five times. That should be worrisome as he gets set to face edge rusher Brian Burns, who the Panthers turned down two first-round draft choices for.

NFL Betting Lines & Picks – Panthers offense – looking better?

The Bengals had little success slowing the Cleveland ground game, which had 172 yards. And that is something Carolina could exploit. With Chuba Hubbard out, journeyman D’Onta Freeman rambled for 118 yards, so the O-line is getting the job done. Indeed, they showed up pretty favorably at the analytics site Football Outsiders, ranking eighth in “Adjusted Line Yards.”

The offensive playbook was opened up more for Walker. The XFL standout had 317 yards through the air. And it’s rather well-known that his teammates have no problems rallying around him.

NFL Bengals vs. Panthers Betting Lines & Picks – Our conclusion

At 2-6, the Panthers are not completely out of the running in the NFC South. And it is almost miraculously awful that they could not win last week. Walker threw a desperate 62-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore in the waning moments. But a personal foul on Moore pushed the potential winning extra point back to 48 yards. Eddy Piniero missed it. And then he missed a field goal in overtime. The Falcons kicked a field goal and won.

Carolina’s yards allowed per drive is ninth best in the NFL. And not only does Cincinnati have difficulties protecting its passer and running the ball. They also are rather suspect in stopping the run. These things present openings for the Panthers, who continue to fight hard and can take this to the wire.

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