Not often do two teams with losing records in week 17 still have a chance to win their division, but that’s the case with the NFC South division. This Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play a big role in the NFC playoff race, so we’ll preview the game and go over which side you should consider backing.
The Carolina Panthers won outright as underdogs last weekend against the Detroit Lions, which gave them their third win in the four games since Sam Darnold has taken over at quarterback. Last weekend's win was all about their run game though, as the Panthers rushed for 320 yards and had two guys rush for over 100 yards apiece.
Carolina scored 37 points in the game, which is the most they have been able to score in a game this season. For the first time all year, it looked like the offense was clicking as a unit and found production through the air and on the ground.
Since the Panthers' loss to the Bengals, their defense has looked much better as well, allowing 24 or fewer points in every game since then. The offense they will face this weekend is certainly not the typical Tom Brady offense that fans have known for over a decade.
Tampa Bay only managed to score one touchdown last weekend in their overtime win over the Cardinals and scored only 23 or more points in just two games this season. The lack of a running game has started to catch up to them, as they rank dead last in the league in rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns per game, and average yards per rush.
The Buccaneers' defense has managed to keep this team afloat most weeks, as they allow an average of just 20.3 points per game and have held opponents to an average of just 5 yards per play, ranked sixth in the league.
I’ll be backing the Panthers at +4 for my best bet of the game. Carolina is 4-0 ATS in their last four division games and 5-1 ATS in their previous six games. This team has been impressive offensively, and with the way Tampa Bay is playing on offense right now, I don’t think they can build a lead effectively.
The Bucs are 1-7-1 ATS in their last nine home games and 0-5-1 ATS when playing a team with a losing record this season. Tampa Bay’s turnover problems are also a factor in this pick, as the Bucs have turned the ball over nine times in their last three games, which is just not conducive to building a lead higher than the current spread.
Carolina should also be able to continue their success in the run game from last week, as the Bucs allow an average of 120.3 rushing yards per game this season and are ranked 21st in the league in yards per rush. Overall I think Carolina can carry their recent momentum into this divisional game and be a profitable team to back.
Carolina Panthers (+4)