The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a win away from clinching the NFC South division crown. With the Panthers serving as their last roadblock get Buccaneers vs. Panthers odds, picks and predictions below as our best bet is Buccaneers -5.5.
Buccaneers vs Panthers Prediction
This is it- after blowing their first chance to cap off an improbable season by clinching the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a second shot this Sunday. The Bucs were viewed by many as a “Capitulate for Caleb” team, a real possibility to secure the first pick in the draft, but an inspired comeback season for Baker Mayfield has them on the verge of pulling off the seemingly-impossible and winning the division.
If that’s going to happen, Tampa needs to beat the team that actually will finish with the worst record in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately for Carolina, they traded away this year’s first round pick, so they won’t have a chance to take Williams either, but they have nothing to lose and would be happy to play the spoiler to Tampa Bay, just as they did by beating the division-rival Falcons.
The last time these two teams met, back in early December, the Bucs won by just three points. They never fully pulled away, but they led more or less the entire time- Carolina briefly took the lead in the third quarter before Tampa reclaimed it with a long strike from Mayfield to Mike Evans on the very next play from scrimmage.
The Bucs are playing much better football than they were back then, as the December matchup was on the heels of a 1-6 run for Tampa, and sparked a 4-game winning streak. If their recent results are any indication — save for a stinker against the Saints last week — they should be able to dominate much more than they did last time out.
That being said — until a shutout loss to the Jaguars last week — there were signs of life for Carolina as well. The Panthers’ pass defense, a relative positive all year except for a slight midseason dip, took another step up as key contributors like top corner Jaycee Horn got healthy.
A strong secondary just might be the best way to slow down the Bucs, whose defense is sometimes vulnerable and run game is very poor. This team’s success is predicated on great play from the wide receivers, Evans and Chris Godwin, and if defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s unit is able to slow down that duo, it could put Tampa on upset alert.
That being said, it probably won’t be enough. The Tampa defense has actually taken a step up, sitting above average by DVOA against both the pass and run. Evans and Godwin may not be in for the biggest days of their respective seasons, but they’re likely to make some sort of headway, enough to outpace an anemic Carolina offense. With a tremendous motivation edge as well, expect Tampa to impose their will a bit more than last time in this do-or-die scenario.
Buccaneers vs Panthers Prediction: Buccaneers -5.5
Buccaneers vs Panthers Best Odds
With everything on the line against the league’s worst team, the Bucs are -5.5 road favorites. They’re -250 on the moneyline, compared to +200 for Carolina. For a total of 37.5 points, the over and under are both -110.
Buccaneers vs Panthers Key Injuries
The Buccaneers were missing a couple of key defenders last week, linebacker Shaquil Barrett and cornerback Carlton Davis, although either could be back against Carolina. For the Panthers, they’re shockingly healthy for this late in the season, but cornerback Troy Hill is on his way back from a concussion.
Buccaneers vs Panthers Key Matchups
While the Bucs’ main challenge will be testing Carolina’s defensive backfield, the Panthers will simply want to see some positives for Young in the final performance of his rookie year.
Bryce Young Vs. Buccaneers Pass Defense
At this point in the season, it’s not about results for Carolina; it’s about Young proving that he’s the man for the job going forward. That’s why this is an individual matchup; whether his receivers are wide open or covered up, making circus catches or dropping gimmes, Carolina will mostly care about how their quarterback looks. After perhaps his best pro performance yet in a nailbiter against the Packers, Young came right back to Earth with just 112 yards and a pick as Carolina was shut out by the Jaguars.
The Bucs’ pass defense relies heavily on a secondary that is pretty banged up right now, due to a pass rush that ranks near the bottom-five in pressure rate despite being one of the most blitz-heavy units in the league. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has once again been fantastic, but he’ll be relatively alone if top corner Carlton Davis isn’t healthy and ready to go.
Buccaneers Receivers Vs. Panthers Secondary
This one’s pretty simple; if Evans and Godwin are running free, or anything close to it, Mayfield is going to hit them for big gainers. Evans has been truly incredible this year, making history seemingly every week with 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns thus far, while Godwin’s 77 receptions are just above Evans’s total as the team high. With just a couple of catches against Carolina, he has the chance to crack the thousand-yard plateau for the fourth time in five seasons.
Horn is really at the heart of this Carolina secondary, and his health is by far the greatest reason for its resurgence. Safety Xavier Woods provides some solid support, but Troy Hill, top corner for most of the year with Horn hurt, is banged up now; if he’s out, one of Evans or Godwin will likely be open more often than not.
Buccaneers Depth Chart
Panthers Depth Chart
North Carolina Sports Betting Update
North Carolina sports betting is currently legal though not yet live. State legislators have stated that they hope to launch by March Madness, though no formal date has been set. Under the current structure of the bill, the latest that online operators could go live is June 14th. Were North Carolina to meet their March Madness goal, residents of the Tar Heel state would be able to bet on all NCAA tournament games in addition to the end of the Hornets and Hurricanes season via major sportsbook platforms such as BetMGM North Carolina and Caesars North Carolina. Both sportsbooks are expected to offer the same new user bonus they are offering in other states, which is a $1,500 first bet offer and a $1,000 first bet offer, respectively.
For up-to-date North Carolina sports betting coverage — including the best new user promo codes — check out the “NC Sports Betting” tab on Lineups.