The Carolina Panthers will try to break out of their recent skid when they pay a visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 2, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Fans in select markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
According to the Week 13 NFL odds, the Panthers are favored by 3.5 points on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 56 points.
Just a few weeks ago, the Panthers were looking like a safe bet to make the playoffs. They even looked capable of challenging the Saints in the NFC South. However, things have changed quickly. Carolina has dropped three games in a row to the Steelers, Lions, and Seahawks, making them 6-5 on the season. That record puts them in a three-way tie with Seattle and Washington for the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The bad news is that the Panthers have lost to both teams, putting them on the outside of the playoff picture if the season ended today.
To make matters worse, the Panthers don’t have a lot of time to turn things around. Carolina is on the road against the Bucs and Browns the next two weeks before playing two of their final three games against New Orleans. If they can’t get things turned around quickly, the Panthers could be in serious trouble.
The Buccaneers, on the other hand, kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a win over the 49ers last week. Jameis Winston took back the starting quarterback job last week and played his best game of the season, albeit against a 2-win team. Nevertheless, it snapped a four-game losing streak and kept the Bucs alive in the playoff hunt if they can win out.
Of course, winning out will be easier said than done given Tampa’s schedule. The Bucs have one game left against all three of their NFC South rivals, although those games are all at home. They also have difficult road games against the Ravens and Cowboys ahead of them. In short, it would take a minor miracle to get Tampa Bay into the playoffs.
When these two teams played in Week 9, the Panthers got out to a 35-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter and then hung on to win 42-28. Of course, the Bucs played that game with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, not Winston. That was also Carolina’s last win before their surprising losing streak.
Even after three straight losses, I’m not ready to write off the Panthers. I’ll admit that loss to the Lions was a little puzzling. But I’m not going to overreact too much to losses to the Steelers and Seahawks. The Bucs are still a bad team, which I think will help get Carolina back on track. The spread is reasonable, so I’ll lean toward the Panthers to cover 3.5 points on the road.
Even with the Panthers losing the last few weeks, Christian McCaffrey continues to be a one-man wrecking crew. Last week, he had 137 all-purpose yards, and that was against a good Seattle defense. The Panthers have also seen rookie D.J. Moore continue to be a difference maker in recent weeks. Carolina has some serious playmakers around Cam Newton, which is why they were able to score 42 points against the Bucs a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay defense continues to be one of the worst in the league. The Bucs looked good last week against a San Francisco team with an inexperienced quarterback and a lack of playmakers on the outside. Unfortunately for Tampa, they won’t have the same luxury this week against the Panthers.
Of course, the Bucs are also a talented offensive team. After last week, Winston surely has some of his confidence back after a rocky season. It’s also important not to overlook how lethal the tandem of DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans can be. The Buccaneers are also getting a lot of productivity out of slot receiver Adam Humphries in recent weeks. His presence makes Tampa Bay even more difficult to defend, even without much from the running game.
However, the Panthers will provide far more resistance against Tampa’s offense than the 49ers did last week. Carolina is strong in the front-7 and should shut down a lackluster Tampa Bay rushing attack. That means the Panthers will have an opportunity to pressure on Winston, possibly forcing him to make the kinds of mistakes he was able to avoid last week. It’s also worth noting that the Carolina defense took Jackson and Evans completely out of the equation when these two teams met earlier this year, so they may have a secret for containing those two.
All things considered, I still have no doubt that the Panthers are the better team in this game. Playing the Bucs could be the perfect antidote for their recent struggles, especially now that they’re feeling a little pressure. Even if this game turns into a shootout, the Carolina defense is more likely to get a stop or turnover that can create some separation. With the spread only at 3.5 points, I feel confident that the Panthers will cover.