Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-11, 47 o/u)
The Carolina Panthers (14-1, 7-0 home) saw their perfect season come to an end last weekend, falling 20-13 to the Falcons. Unfortunately for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9, 3-4 road), that means the Panthers still have a lot to play for in Week 17 and won’t be resting any key starters when the teams meet at Bank of America Stadium this Sunday (4:25 PM Eastern).
Thanks to a nine-game win streak by the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers have just a one-game lead at the top of the NFC. If they lose to Tampa and Arizona beats Seattle, the Cards will take top spot in the conference and earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Carolina could have put the race to bed last week with a win in Atlanta, but the Falcons came out inspired – especially on defense – and held Carolina to just 268 total yards. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones exposed the Panther secondary, piling up nearly 300 yards through the air including a 70-yard TD bomb.
The Panthers were without starting RB Jonathan Stewart last week (foot), and will likely be down their top rusher again this Sunday. The team took a running-back-by-committee approach against Atlanta, and it actually worked out pretty well. Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whitaker each had just five carries, but Artis-Payne averaged nearly ten yards per attempt while Whitaker put up a respectable 6.4 yards per rush.
The Buccaneers got themselves to 6-6 and were in the thick of the NFC Wild Card race a few short weeks ago, but dropped three straight winnable games since then against the Bears, Rams, and Saints. Quarterback Jameis Winston continues to play relatively well for a rookie, but has fallen off from the level of play that had his team hovering around .500.
Last week against the Bears, he put up 295 yards passing and tossed two TDs, but he struggled with his accuracy (as he has much of the year), completing just 15 of 29 attempts and tossing one pick. Now that Bene Benwikere is out for the year, the Panthers don’t boast a strong secondary outside of Josh Norman. That said, they still have a very strong front-seven that’s capable of getting consistent QB pressure and, like most rookies, Winston has been at his worst when under duress.
The Panthers are coming into this game as big 11-point favorites. The team has been perfect at home this year straight up (7-0) and has also been very good against the spread (5-2). Tampa is 7-8 ATS on the year including 4-3 on the road. Though they’ve lost all three, the Bucs past trio of games were all decided by one score. That makes the points a tempting play. But given the motivation that should be present on the Carolina sideline and how well they’ve played at home, take the cream to rise to the top and the Panthers to cover.
Pick: Carolina (-11).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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