Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) at Carolina Panthers (2-7)
The Buccaneers have really turned it around lately and are now road favorites in Carolina, pretty crazy considering they were road dogs in Oakland a couple weeks ago, 6 point dogs in Minnesota the week before that, home dogs for the Saints the week before that, and then just 4 point home favorites against the Chiefs the week before that.
You could argue that they don’t deserve to be road favorites, at least not in Carolina, against an underrated Panthers team that is playing much better defense since their bye and who has only lost 2 games by more than a touchdown all year. The yards per play differential method says Carolina should be 5 point favorites, though the rate of sustaining drives differential method says Tampa Bay should be 2.5 point favorites (Carolina is one of the reasons I created the new stat). Still, if you average those out, you don’t get that Tampa Bay should be road favorites here. The Panthers are also home dogs after a loss as home dogs, a situation teams are 57-39 ATS in since 2002.
That being said, I don’t want to get in the way of Tampa Bay right now. If you showed me tape of this team before the bye, I wouldn’t recognize them. Josh Freeman is 90 of 154 for 1467 yards, 13 touchdowns, and an interception in his last 5 games, going 4-1, with the only loss being a winnable one that went down to the last play.
Their makeshift offensive line is run blocking and pass protecting well. The Freeman to Vincent Jackson combo is deadly and opening thinks up for Mike Williams and Doug Martin, who is running much better since the bye thanks to improved blocking and the defense fearing the pass. Josh Freeman has a cannon for an arm, but he wasn’t using it last year, throwing 20 yards downfield or more on just 6.5% of his throws, by far least frequent in the NFL, despite being the 3rd most accurate deep ball thrower in the NFL.
This year, with a reliable deep threat in Jackson, he’s going deep on 15.4% of his throws and, more important, he’s having a ton of success, going 20 of 42 for 838 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. On the year, Freeman is completing 56.8% of his passes for an average of 8.3 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He ranks 7th in the NFL in QB rating, ahead of established veteran quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Tony Romo, as well as young hot shots like Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck.
Defensively, as bad as their secondary is, they have a great front 7 led by the finally healthy Gerald McCoy and rookie of the year candidate Lavonte David. Even before the bye, they did not lose a single game by more than a touchdown. Their +51 points differential is tied for 5th in the loaded NFC with the Giants, one point behind the Packers, and tied for 9th in the NFL, with Green Bay and Baltimore in striking distance. It’s a small play on the Buccaneers, who are a league leading 7-2 ATS on the season.
Public lean: Tampa Bay (80%)
Sharps lean: CAR 14 TB 11
Final update: No change.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 Carolina Panthers 27
Pick against spread: Tampa Bay -2 (-110) 1 unit