This Week 18 matchup features two NFC South rivals in rather differing circumstances.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have clinched the division and a spot in the postseason, while the underachieving Carolina Panthers, who once were thought to be in play for a Wild Card berth, have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Buccaneers have won six of their last seven games and will try to keep that momentum going as they round out the regular season before beginning their quest for a second straight Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have fallen off the face of the earth as losers of six straight and 11 of their last 13.
While Carolina should be considered very heavy underdogs in this one, it’s worth pointing out that Tampa Bay is very banged up at this point in the season and will be playing its division rival in a nothing to lose and everything to gain type of pride game for the Panthers.
Please note that all NFL gameday odds are current as of 1:30 p.m. EST on Friday, January 7.
Panthers vs Buccaneers Prediction
Coming into this game, the Buccaneers are 6-1 at home on the season while the Panthers are 3-5 on the road.
Tampa Bay needed every second of its game last Sunday to beat the Jets in a 28-24 nail biter at MetLife Stadium. The Panthers struggled again in Week 17, losing an ugly one to the Saints 18-10 in New Orleans.
The biggest story of last weekend involved the Buccaneers as former All-Pro wideout Antonio Brown walked off the field and quit the team mid-game.
Tom Brady and company were able to rally back and beat the Jets on the road in a game that could have very well put them firmly outside the top three NFC playoff seeds.
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The Panthers just aren’t playing for much right now and they were a mess again against the Saints. After getting ahead 10-3 in the second quarter, they never scored again.
The defense once again played well, holding New Orleans to under 300 yards and just 15 first downs. But at the end of the day, the Panthers simply turned the ball over too much (twice) in a game that was 12-10 entering the fourth quarter.
The last time the Bucs played the Panthers, just two weeks ago, we witnessed an absolute drubbing that Tampa Bay won 32-6 in Carolina.
The Panthers did hold Brady to 232 passing yards and just one touchdown but they couldn’t get much going on offense. Carolina ended up benching Cam Newton in that contest, which has put Sam Darnold back into the starting role.
Darnold didn’t play horribly against the Bucs, but he didn’t impress either. The Panthers just haven’t been the same offense without Christian McCaffrey in the lineup and so the Buccaneers were able to carve away at the tough Carolina defense and it eventually became too much.
Right now, Carolina gives me nothing to be intrigued about. They are as ordinary as it gets on offense and their defense is good, but has been put in bad positions seemingly all season.
I just don’t see this game ending well for Carolina and since the Bucs still have playoff positioning to play for, you will likely see Brady play the full game as well as the rest of the starters.
Sure, Antonio Brown is gone but Mike Evans is back, Tyler Johnson can play, Rob Gronkowski is still there, and the deep threat who just had back-to-back 80-plus yard games in Cyril Grayson has stepped up and will likely continue to do so.
Prediction: Buccaneers 34, Panthers 20
Panthers vs Buccaneers Best Bets
Jake Ellenbogen is currently 60-54-1 across all sports, including 27-32-1 with NFL bets.
Best Bet: Buccaneers -8 (-110) at Caesars
Wager: 2 Units
This line would be a lot bigger if the Buccaneers didn’t lose Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette over the last couple of weeks. Either way, it’s a fine spread. The Panthers have a good defense but their offense is anemic.
We even saw them do a nice job on defense against Brady and the Buccaneers just two weeks ago and they still gave up 32 points.
There is a very good chance this game turns into a blowout but as my prediction above indicates, the Bucs are bound for a comfortable win in their final game of the season as long as Bruce Arians doesn’t bench his starters.
If he changes his current tune and sits his starters, that changes everything and then you have to take the Panthers here.
Best Bet: Over 41.5 Total Points (-110) at Caesars
Wager: 1 Unit
I have the over here. I know the last meeting between these two teams had a total of 38 points scored but that was also with Cam Newton starting at quarterback.
This Carolina offense isn’t great by any stretch but it’s certainly better with Sam Darnold under center.
Sure, the Buccaneers have key absences on offense, but Mike Evans is going to be healthier than he was last week and he still managed four receptions for over 40 yards and a touchdown against the Jets.
This is the season finale and we’ve seen teams like Carolina “come out of nowhere" to explode on offense, just have a career day from their skill position players, and end up scoring a lot of points.
I don’t foresee them having to do that in this one to reach the over, but I could see this game being played in the 50s and scoring an easy win for the over.
Hammer the over and make this your NFL bet of the day.
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