Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) vs. Carolina Panthers (3-2) in London
This is the first rematch of the year, as these two division rivals already met back in week 2. The Buccaneers pulled the 20-14 upset in Carolina on Thursday Night Football earlier this year, but the Panthers had a shot to win that game at the end, despite a truly horrible performance from a severely injured Cam Newton on a short week. Not only did Newton complete just 49.0% of his 51 passes in that game, but many of the incompletions were completely his fault, as he was missing open receivers left and right. His expected completion percentage based on the throws he attempted was 60.7% and his completion percentage above expected of -11.7% was the worst of any quarterback who started and finished a game that week.
After that loss, Newton admitted his foot injury was worse than anyone knew and shut himself down for the good of the team, allowing backup Kyle Allen to take over until Newton is back to 100%. Allen has started all 3 games since and, while he hasn’t been incredible, he has been far more accurate, with a +2.8% completion percentage above expected (11th in the NFL) and, simply by being a serviceable NFL quarterback, he has led this team to victories in all 3 starts. Considering they lost by just 3 points week 1 to a Rams team that covered all 4 fumbles in the game, with Newton at far less than 100%, it’s not hard to make the argument that the Panthers could be 5-0 right now if they had a healthy quarterback under center all season.
Some of the Panthers’ wins have been close and they “only” rank 12th in first down rate differential at +2.32%, but this is a pretty complete football team and, with serviceable quarterback play, they are one of the better teams in the league. The Buccaneers, whose defense has fallen back to earth over the past couple weeks (46.62% first down rate allowed) after a strong statistical start to the season (30.73% first down rate allowed through 3 games), should have a much tougher time stopping the Panthers’ offense this time around. The better team tends to cover in these international matchups as well (favorites are 23-11 ATS all-time), which also favors the Panthers.
As 2-point favorites, the Panthers have to just win to cover this game, so they should be the right side. However, their injury situation concerns me enough to not bet them, as the Panthers will be without a pair of starters on the offensive line (left tackle Greg Little and right guard Trai Turner) and possibly starting cornerback Donte Jackson, who has missed the past two games and was downgraded to a limited practice on Friday after practicing in full earlier in the week.
The Panthers haven’t lost a game without those three, but their absence caps the team’s upside. Without them, I have this line calculated at just Carolina -3, so we’re not getting enough line value to bet the Panthers. If Jackson ends up playing and the Buccaneers’ top edge rusher Shaq Barrett, who was a late add to the injury report this week, ends up not playing, I will reconsider this pick, but for now it doesn’t seem like Barrett is in much danger of missing this game.
Carolina Panthers 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20
Pick against the spread: Carolina -2