The Buccaneers come to this 1 p.m. game still holding a chance to make it into the postseason as a wild card team. The Panthers, who went to the Super Bowl last season, can completely spoil Tampa Bay’s chances. In our Carolina Panthers play Tampa Bay Buccaneers free pick, the Bucs are favored by three.
The Carolina Panthers (6-9) are holding down last place in the NFC South. They are two and three for their last five games. Last week, Carolina lost to the Falcons 33-16. Prior to that loss, they beat the Redskins 26-15 and Chargers 28-16. During this string of games, they also lost to Seattle 40-7 and Oakland 35-32.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) it’s been a rough two weeks. They lost 26-20 to the Cowboys on Dec. 18 and to the Saints 31-24 on Dec. 24. Those two losses have made all the difference in their season. Prior to those last two weeks, the Bucs had won five straight.
Carolina Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
One question regarding this game is how long will Panther quarterback Cam Newton (52.7 COMP%, 18 TDs, 11 INTs, 33 Sacks) play? Newton is expected to take the field despite being questionable for today’s contest. Top pass catcher Greg Olsen (77 REC, 1,051 YDs, 13.6 AVG, 3 TDs) is questionable, while wideout Kelvin Benjamin (57 REC, 848 YDs, 14.9 AVG, 6 TDs) will play. The team’s primary rusher, RB Jonathan Stewart (198 ATT, 759 YDs, 3.8 AVG, 8 TDs), is also questionable. The Panthers are scoring on average 23.5 PPG.
In a strange coincidence, Tampa Bay is allowing 23.5 PPG, which is the same average number of points scored by Carolina per game. Tampa Bay is especially impressive in forcing fumbles, 16, and by the fact that they have recovered 12 of them. Plus, they have 14 INTs and have defended 71 passes. They also have 35 sacks and 46 TFL, which are both respectable numbers. LB Lavonte David (81 TCKLs, 3.0 Sacks, 11 TFL) leads the team with four forced fumbles. CB Brett Grimes (20 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) is tops in the secondary. LB Kwon Alexander (135 TCKLs, 3 Sacks, 9 TFL), who leads the team in tackles, has defended six passes and made one interception.
Tampa Bay Offense vs. Panthers Defense
Jameis Winston ( 61.1 COMP%, 27 TDs, 17 INTs, 32 Sacks) has played well overall, but does have to reduce the number of mistakes he makes. The bad news for the offense is their second top receiver, TE Cameron Brate, is out. Their leading receiver, wideout Mike Evans (91 REC, 1,256 YDs, 13.8 AVG, 11 TDs), will play. The rush attack is minimal so Winston will have to get it done through the air. The Bucs are averaging 22.5 PPG.
The Panther D is allowing teams 25.7 PPG. They have a tough pass rush that has made 44 sacks and decent secondary with 16 interceptions and 64 passes defended. Plus, Carolina has forced 18 fumbles, recovering nine. Their top man in sacks, Mario Addison with 8.5, is questionable. DT Kawaan Short (6 Sacks, 8 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FF) and safety Kurt Coleman (6 PD, 4 INTs, 1 FF), both important contributors on defense, will play. An essential part of the Panther defense, LB Luke Kuechly, is out
Carolina Panthers Play Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Pick
When these teams first met this season Tampa Bay won 17-14. To make the playoffs, Tampa Bay must beat Carolina again, plus a bunch of other teams have to lose. But they do have a shot if they beat Carolina. Our Carolina Panthers play Tampa Bay Buccaneers free pick is the Buccaneers at -3.0.