Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-4.5, 46.5 o/u)
Cam Newton’s health is in doubt as the Carolina Panthers (1-3, 1-1 Home) head into a must-win game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3, 1-1 Away). It’s not an ideal situation, but also not one backup quarterback Derek Anderson is unfamiliar with. Having bailed the Panthers out against the Bucs twice before, he’ll likely have a chance to go for the hat trick on Monday Night Football at Bank of America Stadium (Oct. 10 at 8:30 PM Eastern).
Twice in 2014, Anderson was called upon to start in place of an injured Newton: in Week 1 after the starter suffered a preseason rib injury, and again in Week 14 after the MVP’s car accident. Both times, Anderson stepped in to lead the Panthers to victory over Tampa, throwing for 507 yards and three TDs.
The Buccaneers were the league’s worst team that year, but so far in 2016, they’ve been playing far more like their 2014 incarnation than anyone would’ve expected. And the most disappointing aspect of this season is that the team’s struggles begin and end with second-year QB Jameis Winston.
Coming off a promising rookie season, his complete lack of ball security in his sophomore season is killing any strides the Buccaneer defense might have been making. Winston has eight interceptions and Tampa has surrendered 51 points off turnovers, the most in the league. If there’s any good news for Winston, it’s that he’ll be facing Carolina’s wildly inexperienced cornerbacks, a position with even less depth after the team cut Bene Benwikere on Friday.
The Panthers do possess great coverage linebackers with Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, and Thomas Davis. However, Davis is on the long list of Panthers who may not play tonight, joining DE Charles Johnson and workhorse running back Jonathan Stewart.
Without Stewart the last two games, the Panthers haven’t had any success on the ground, rushing for 154 yards combined. (One game was against a dominant Minnesota D though, and Carolina fell behind in early in the other.) Tampa Bay has managed to hold opponents to 3.3 yards per carry, so the Panthers could be in for another night struggling to run the ball.
Still, the offense should be able to move, thanks to the luxury of having Greg Olsen over the middle and Kelvin Benjamin on the outside. Given Anderson’s quick release, the Bucs shouldn’t have much of a chance to exploit Carolina’s suspect pass blocking.
While the Panthers should be able to continue putting up points, I’m less confident in the Buccaneers’ offense. They haven’t had any semblance of a run game this season (82 yards a game), even before starting running back Doug Martin went down. No success rushing the ball means more pass attempts for Winston and, as mentioned earlier, that’s been a disaster.
The Buccaneers have dropped six straight to the Panthers while, under Ron Rivera, the Panthers are 20-12-1 ATS after a loss. I can’t see the defending NFC champions essentially coughing up their season already, so roll with Carolina to get it done. And if I’m taking the Panthers to win with Anderson, you can be damn sure I like them even more if Newton plays.
Pick: Panthers (-4.5).
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].