The NFC South was its usual unpredictable self in 2015, as the Panthers came out of nowhere to almost run the table this season. They’re still an excellent football club and head into the final week of regular season action with just one loss to their name. It’s a remarkable feat, but now this squad will be ultimately judged by what it achieves in the post-season. And even though we aren’t there quite yet, how the Panthers perform in Week 17 could go a long way to ultimately deciding their fate. Carolina still needs this win to lock-up homefield advantage, so they’ll be going all-out to try and secure that. Tampa Bay meanwhile, has played poorly for sometime now. There have been many positives to their season, but it has been one mired by inconsistency and shoddy defensive play. It’ll be interesting to see which teams show up to close out the final week of the regular season. It’s always fun when there’s something on the line in Week 17, so read on below to have it all broken down for you! It’s the Panthers and Bucs in an NFC South divisional clash.
Buccaneers vs. Panthers Betting Odds:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +11 (-115)
@ Carolina Panthers -11 (-105)
Over 46 (-110)
Under 46 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Buccaneers vs. Panthers Pick:
Last week’s loss for Carolina to Atlanta said a lot of things about the playoff-bound Panthers. It was quite puzzling to suddenly see this unit struggle against such a porous defensive corps. Perhaps Carolina thought all they had to do was show up, but it wasn’t good enough, and now they’ll need to play until the final week of the regular season just to clinch homefield. Credit should not be taken away however, as what they’ve done against all odds has been nothing short of remarkable, but it goes to show you that the NFC is tough, especially with the Arizona Cardinals breathing down their necks. The Falcons didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to beat the Panthers, I just think it was a case of Carolina not playing to their full ability last week. However, the key thing now will be putting that defeat in the rear-view mirror and moving forward. In recent years, we have seen many teams struggle following the loss of an undefeated season, and there’s a chance Carolina could endure a similar fate. And even though they still have something to play for, you just know playing for homefield is a poor consolation prize compared to going for that perfect season.
On the other side of the football, expect a young and talented Buccaneers squad to treat this as their own Super Bowl. They’ve been characterized this year as a group loaded with skill, but one that frequently makes crippling, irrecoverable mistakes. Last week against Chicago was no different, but I expect a fully healthy and motivated group for Sunday against Carolina. Tampa Bay has given great protection to quarterback Jameis Winston all season long, and if that continues this week, look for Winston to have a big game connecting with Mike Evans. We finally saw some flaws in Josh Norman last week, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues going against the lengthy Evans. Doug Martin also has a lot to play for from the running back position, as he continues to chase down Adrian Peterson for the rushing title. There’s a lot on the line too for the Bucs, and expect the future core of this team to step up and make a big statement to end the 2015-2016 season.
While I think we will see a much improved effort from the veteran Panthers, this is a huge number to cover when it’s tough to pinpoint their motivation. It has to be crushing to lose a perfect season, even moreso when you consider it was lost against a hated and pretty awful divisional rival in the Atlanta Falcons. Tampa Bay is as hard a squad to project in the NFL as you just never know which unit will show up. This week however, expect their best, and this group has proven their best is usually pretty good. They’ll be motivated to prove themselves against a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and have the talent to strike fear in Carolina for a second-straight week.
I think the Bucs have a very good shot of covering this lofty spread. Carolina hasn’t even been double-digits all season long, and Tampa Bay, when motivated and healthy, has the talent to stay with many groups in the NFL, the Panthers included. Roll with the Bucs +11 on Sunday afternoon.
PICK = Buccaneers +11 (-115)