Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) +3, 38.5 O/U at Carolina Panthers (9-3)
-3, 38.5 O/U, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C., 8:30 PM
Eastern, Monday, ESPN
by Badger of Predictem.com
After four straight weeks of lopsided duds and sub-.500 pillow fights the folks at ESPN have to be as happy as pigs in slop to finally get
a meaningful game on Monday Night Football, which is what will happen
this week when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers
battle for sole possession of first place in the NFC South at Bank of
America Stadium in Charlotte.
Both teams enter the primetime game with identical 9-3 records, and
both will be coming in with momentum after solid victories the previous week.
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Tampa Bay is on a major roll right now, winning four straight and six
of their last seven games, including a 23-20 victory over the NFC
South rival New Orleans Saints last Sunday in a downpour at Raymond
James Stadium. The Bucs are starting to take on the same look of
their Super Bowl-champion team six years ago, with a dominating
defense that has just enough offense to squeak by each week. Last
week the Bucs defense held Drew Brees to 296 yards passing and picked
him off three times, while the offense barely mustered 250 yards
total in the three-point victory.
Carolina has also played well down the stretch, winning five of their last six games including a come-from-behind 35-31 victory over the
Green Bay Packers on the road in Lambeau Field last Sunday. Carolina
was outgained by the Packers on offense in the game, but the Panther
defense came up with stops when they needed them, and running back
DeAngelo Williams scored four touchdowns including the game-winner
with only a few minutes left on the board.
Oddsmakers opened the game with Carolina as the standard 3-point home favorites, and the point spread has held firm on that number through
early action at the window. The over/under total opened at 38 and has
risen slightly to 38.5 at a few offshore sportsbooks. The moneyline
lists the Panthers as -170 favorites, with Tampa Bay listed as +160
Its a good thing this game is for first place, because only true
football fans will be able to enjoy what both teams present on offense.
As mentioned, the Buccaneers and quarterback Jeff Garcia are the
epitome of managing the game on offense. Last week Garcia had half
as many yards rushing (49) as he did passing (119), but since his
return to the helm in week five of the season Garcia and the Bucs
have won and thats all that matters. Their season-long averages on
offense are strictly middle-of-the-pack (335.4 ypg 14th; 23.3 ppg
17th), but with a +3 giveaway/takeaway ratio the offense is built to
play the game of field position and they do it very well.
Carolinas offense is built around a two-headed power-running attack
featuring Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart. At 133.4 yards per
game (7th), they grind it out between the tackles and wait for
veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme to take advantage of openings via
the play-action pass. The one wild card the Panthers do have is
receiver Steve Smith, and it was a 54-yard pass to Smith last week
that set up the winning touchdown in the Packer game, so they also do
a great job of playing that wild card when they need to.
Defensively this game will feature two of the NFCs best, as the
Buccaneers rank in the top-10 across the board (4th in yards allowed
279.5; 3rd vs. the pass 184.1 ypg; 4th in points allowed 16.7
ppg), and the Panthers are just outside of the top-10 in most
categories except the one category that matters the most, points
allowed, which they are ranked 7th in the league at just 19.2 points
allowed per game.
The way these two teams play defense, going up against the way they both play offense, it will be a wonder if either team scores points
at all. On paper it looks to be a field goal kicking contest, based
upon the special teams units getting them field position, and even
those matchups look dead even because both teams possess good return
games and strong kickers (TBs Matt Bryant and Carolinas John Kasay).
Tampa Bay won the previous meeting between these two this season, a 27-3 decision at home in Tampa back on week six in October.
Ironically, the Bucs blocked a punt for the first touchdown of the
game, and then scored 10 unanswered points in the second half to pull
away for the easy victory. But true to form, neither team really had
much offense as the Bucs total yardage of 315 was only slightly more
than the Panthers 282.
Carolina actually has a better head-to-head record versus their NFC South rivals, as they have won seven of the last 10 meetings, but the
Bucs have won two of the last three including a 20-7 victory over the
Panthers in Charlotte last September. The ATS record also favors the
Panthers, as they have covered in six of the last 10, but again Tampa
has had more recent success covering in four of the last six games.
Other betting trends to note are the fact that the underdog is a
solid 8-3 ATS in the last 11 meetings. The under is also 11-5 in the
last 16 head-to-head contests, as well as 10-3 in the Panthers last
13 home games and 6-2 in Tampa Bays last eight games played on
Badgers Pick: The under may be the safest bet in this game. Both teams like to run the ball as much as possible, which means a running
clock and a shorter game. Neither team really has quick-strike
capability either, except for the Panthers Steve Smith, but hell
have a hard getting deep versus the Bucs cover-two scheme. Cheer for
a lot of three-and-outs by taking the under of 38.5.