Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
The Buccaneers are just 4-10, in the middle of a disappointing injury riddled season that started with strong playoff hopes, but they’ve competitive in most of their games and they have been better than their record suggests. Just 4 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or more and they rank 12th in first down rate differential at 0.92%, as they have 15 more first downs than they’ve allowed. Their big issue has been their inability to create big plays (just 4 plays of 40 yards or more, 2nd fewest in the league), but that tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much.
Last week, the Buccaneers kept it close with the Falcons, losing by 3 in a game they won the first down rate battle by 6.65%. That was despite the fact that the Buccaneers were without outside linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, two of their best defensive players, who could both return from 1-game absences after getting in some limited practices this week. The Buccaneers could easily keep it close this week in another tough divisional matchup against the Panthers, especially if one or both of McCoy and David are out there.
The Panthers have a strong record of 10-4, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, as they have just 3 wins by more than 8 points and are 7-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer. They’re also going to be without linebacker Thomas Davis and right guard Trai Turner this week, a pair of important players. Given that and how many close games these two teams have played this season, I have this line calculated at Carolina -7, even factoring in the uncertainty with David and McCoy.
The Panthers are also in a tough spot, with a huge divisional game on deck in Atlanta, a game that could have implications in both the NFC South and the NFC Wild Card races. Divisional home favorites are just 26-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which the Panthers definitely will be next week. On top of that, double digit favorites are just 58-78 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Buccaneers have a tough game next week too, as they host the Saints, a game in which they are 8.5-point underdogs on the early line. Teams are just 25-50 ATS before being home underdogs of 7+, as it’s tough to be fully focused with a tough home game on deck.
I like their spot a little bit better than Carolina’s tough, especially with the Panthers coming off back-to-back tough wins over the Vikings and Packers. They could definitely be a little flat this week. I also like the line value we’re getting with the Buccaneers a lot, as they are 10.5-point underdogs. This is just a small bet because of the uncertainty with McCoy and David, but the Buccaneers should be the smart play this week. If this line stays put and both McCoy and David play, I will consider raising this bet.
Sunday Update: Both McCoy and David are active, but this line dropped to 10, so I will not be raising this bet.
Carolina Panthers 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +10.5