Carolina Panthers (5-11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
This line, favoring the Buccaneers only by 8.5 points at home over the Panthers, suggests that the odds makers aren’t sure if the Buccaneers will play their starters for this whole game, but I think it’s likely that they do, given that they will want to secure the #2 seed in the NFC, which will get them at least two home playoff games, as well potential NFC Championship homefield advantage if the #1 seed loses in the second round. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has also said they aren’t resting anyone and resting in the final week of the season has never been something Tom Brady has done in his career, even when there has been nothing to play for, so I am not sure why this line is at 8.5, down from 16.5 on the early line a week ago.
The Buccaneers are still going to be short-handed, missing stud wide receiver Chris Godwin, their two best running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, their two best edge defenders Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, and their top linebacker Lavonte David, but they should still be favored by more than 8.5 points against the Panthers, who are 12.5-point underdogs on my calculated line. The Panthers got off to a 3-0 start, but, in large part due to injuries, have lost 11 of their last 13 games and are one of the worst teams in the league.
The Panthers’ offense bottomed out without feature back Christian McCaffrey and talented center Matt Paradis, while their defense is not as good as it was earlier in this season due to all of the cornerbacks they are missing with injuries, most notably top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was acquired to replace the injured Jaycee Horn, who is joined on injured reserve by fellow expected starters Donte Jackson and AJ Bouye. This line is underpriced, so the Buccaneers are worth a bet this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 Carolina Panthers 13
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -8.5