Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11 SU, 5-8 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (4-8-1 SU, 7-6 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date and Time: Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 1:00PM EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
by Scott, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TB +3/CAR -3
Over/Under Total: 41.5
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On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers in an NFC South battle. The Panthers broke through with a good performance on Sunday, smoking the Saints in the Superdome, 41-10. The win broke a 7-game winless streak. The Bucs lost their third game in a row with a 34-17 loss to Detroit on Sunday, falling to 2-11 on the season.
The Panthers will be without Cam Newton following a scary-sounding car crash that resulted in Newton fracturing two small bones in his lower back. The injury has been compared to that of Dallas QB Tony Romo, who missed one game following a similar injury recently. The job will be temporarily turned over to Derek Anderson, who has played pretty well in limited time this season. The 31-year old Oregon State product is 19-25 in 44 career starts.
Its unclear how much it matters at this late juncture in the season, but Carolina did beat the Buccaneers in Tampa in week one, a 20-14 game that featured a late frenzy of scoring after a dreary first 3 quarters. Its a more important result just for the fact that Anderson started his only game of the year that week, with Newton out with a rib injury. Tampa turned the ball over 3 times and the defense collapsed again late just as the Bucs were making a run at the win.
The injury to Newton comes at a bad time for the Panthers, who had broken a long run of failure with a hard-to-foresee 41-10 road win over the Saints. They have a chance to create more momentum, but will need to do so without their prized offensive player. But truth be told, Newton was only able to work the Panthers offense into the 23rd-ranked group in the NFL, with the 21st-ranked passing offense. Anderson doesnt have the legs Newton has, but who knows, maybe a new face will help get this offense untracked.
It might not be that hard against a sliding Tampa squad that has been tough in some games, but has very little to hang their hats on in a 2-11 season. They have only beaten the inconsistent Steelers and the woeful Redskins. Those wins are sandwiched by losing streaks of 3 games, 5 games, and this current 3-game slide they are on now.
For Tampa, the problems are multifold. They cant run the ball worth a lick, as running backs Bobby Rainey (questionable) and Doug Martin are mere afterthoughts in this offense at this point. QB Josh McCown has been dicey, which has prevented the two-headed monster they have at wide receiver from fully blossoming. Receivers Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans will both be over 1000 yards on the season by years end, but they have yet to become that consistent weekly threat they may eventually become.
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Defensively, the Bucs havent really blossomed under first-year coach Lovie Smith. It has all the earmarks of a rebuilding season. It doesnt help that they have turned the ball over 28 times this season. Injuries have also handcuffed their effectiveness. The defense has struggled against both the pass and run in recent weeks. They gave up 34 points to the Lions last week. But they were showing progress in weeks leading up to that game, allowing just 42 points in their prior 3 games. With an already-flat Carolina offense now without Newton, maybe they can let their defense do most of the heavy lifting in this game.
The win in New Orleans on Sunday was impressive in how lopsided it was, with Carolina leading 41-3 before the Saints added a late garbage TD. Maybe its dawned on them that they could actually take this division. At 4-8-1, thats amazing to be able to say that about a team, but Carolinas chances are legitimate, with Atlanta and New Orleans at 5-8, with the only other division team in Tampa at 2-11. If the Saints and Falcons lost this weekend and Carolina beat the Buccaneers, they would be in the division lead with two games remaining. It seemed that on Sunday, they started realizing that this season is not a hopeless cause yet and they can still atone for what has been a monstrous 180 in the wrong direction in 2014.
Carolina has a nice 1-2 punch in their aerial attack with a great pass-catching tight end in Greg Olsen, along with rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin. And RB Jonathan Stewart has rushed for 240 yards in the last two games. So its not like Anderson wont have tools at his disposal. And again, he looked good in his only start this season, leading Carolina to one of their small handful of wins against this same Tampa game in week one. And he was good, going 24-34 with a pair of TD throws and no turnovers.
This could be a good spot for Carolina with a 3-point spread at home against a really lousy Tampa team. After all, they do have something to play for. And while having Anderson under center for an extended period of time is not what the doctor ordered, it might not hurt in this one game, with the veteran at home facing a team he already beat on the road this season. You can only be so confident, being that before beating New Orleans on Sunday, Carolina had won only one of their previous 10 games. But I think they get the job done at home on Sunday.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Carolina Panthers minus 3 points.