Carolina Panthers (3-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)
Typically, the better team not only prevails but also covers when they don’t have any distractions on the horizon and the Panthers are in a good situation as a result, as they are 3.5 point road favorites in Tampa Bay this week, ahead of their week 5 bye. Road favorites of 3+ points going into a bye are 37-23 ATS since 2002. Tampa Bay also has no distractions on the horizon, with Jacksonville in town next week, but typically not having a distraction benefits the better team more. The Panthers have also typically done well against weaker opponents in the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era, since 2012, going 18-12 ATS against teams with a losing record, including 11-5 ATS on the road.
On top of that, the Panthers have played drastically better than the Buccaneers this season, ranking 9th in rate of moving the chains differential, as opposed to 32nd for the Buccaneers. I don’t like using that statistic quite this early in the season because there aren’t enough data points, but it’s consistent with what we saw last season, when the Panthers finished 14th and the Buccaneers finished 30th. The Buccaneers thought they improved themselves this off-season, adding guys like Jameis Winston, Henry Melton, and Bruce Carter, but Winston has struggled mightily as a rookie, Carter has already lost his starting job, and injuries have wreaked havoc on this team, as they are missing cornerback Johnthan Banks, center Evan Smith, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and possibly left tackle Donovan Smith with injuries for this one. Meanwhile, top defensive player Gerald McCoy is at less than 100% with a shoulder problem. The Panthers are missing Luke Kuechly for the 3rd straight week with a concussion, but they’ve still played well without him, while the Buccaneers have not played well at all this season.
The Buccaneers have also never really had much of a homefield advantage. Since 2009, they are 14-35 at home, getting outscored by an average of 6.20 points per game, as opposed to 17-33 on the road, getting outscored by an average of 6.12 points per game. On top of that, the Buccaneers are just 15-33 ATS at home over that time period and have already gotten destroyed at home by the Titans by the score of 42-14 week 1. They haven’t won at home since week 14 of 2013. This line seems too low and I’m happy to lay the points.
Carolina Panthers 23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13
Pick against the spread: Carolina -3.5