Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9 SU, 7-8 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (14-1 SU, 10-5 ATS)
NFL Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday, January 3, 2016, 4:25 pm EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
by Badger, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TB +10.5/CAR -10.5
Over/Under Total: 47
The Carolina Panthers wont be chasing a perfect season anymore, but they will still be playing for the NFCs No. 1 seed in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout when they host the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside Bank of America Stadium in Sundays NFL regular season finale.
Everyone sitting inside Bank of America on Sunday will certainly be keeping tabs on the Seahawks-Arizona game going on at the same time out in Glendale, as a Panthers and Cardinals continue to battle for the conferences top seed in the playoffs.
Carolina lost its shot at perfection with a loss on the road in Atlanta last week, 20-13, but with momentum and homefield being a precious thing in the playoffs we should expect to see Carolina at full strength for most of the game Sunday. With a first round bye to get some rest on the horizon, look for Cam Newton and the Panthers to try and race out to a big lead in the home finale before they finally let of the pedal against the Bucs.
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Tampa Bay can look back at six-wins with a bunch of rookies in important positions and be proud of their 2015 season, but an upset of the mighty Panthers in the finale is something the Buccaneers could really build off of going into the offseason. The Bucs lost last week at home in a sloppy game against the Bears, 26-21, but overall are a much better team then they were in a 14-point loss to the Panthers at home back in October.
Oddsmakers set the opening point spread for this potential important playoff-determining game with the Panthers as large 11-point favorites at home. The line has dropped to 10.5 at most sportsbooks already, but its still a double digit spread that would indicate that the bookmakers certainly feel Carolina will play all out for a win come Sunday. The over/under total opened at 46.5 and, like always, can be found anywhere within a point of that number with it hanging at 46.5 to 47 at most sportsbooks both in Las Vegas and on the Web.
The Panthers have missed running back James Stewart these last few weeks no doubt, and its put an even heavier role on Newton to produce down the stretch. Interestingly, the Tampa defense really did a solid job against the Panthers in the first meeting, limiting the Panthers offense to 244 total yards. A pick-six and a fumble returned for a touchdown killed the Bucs and took the Panthers out of attack mode, so its dangerous to use just that one game as an accurate gauge as to how well the Bucs will be able to stop a Panther offense minus Stewart and prepping for a long playoff run.
Tampa has made progress with Jameis Winston at QB this season, but they have hit the wall of late losing three in a row and four of the last five down the stretch to fall back down to reality. The lack of a second threat outside other than Mike Evans means the Panthers can tilt their coverage and double-team Evans on passing downs, but if Carolina decides to let safety Kurt Coleman rest his sore foot (questionable) they may have to play shorthanded from the start.
Carolina has won five straight matchups against the Buccaneers and have gone 4-1 ATS in those games since 2013. The favorite is a solid 12-4 ATS in the last 16 head-to-head matchups as well. The under also has a solid betting trend in its favor, with the under going 11-4 in the last 15 games played in Carolinas Bank of America Stadium.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Carolina still needs to win this week to be assured of the top-dog spot in the NFC playoffs. While I fully expect the Panthers to play full throttle into halftime, I worry about how much of the second half Newton and some of the Carolina defense will play if this game gets out of hand. That worries me a little about a late backdoor cover by Tampa against backups, but if the Panthers pull their starters it will be because they are up and up big already. Im taking Carolina minus the 10.5 points.
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