NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers
We split on our first Thursday night pick of the 2019 season, missing on Chicago on an alternate line of -2.5 at home vs. the Green Bay Packers but easily winning "under" the total as the Packers won a 10-3 snoozefest. Neither Mitchell Trubisky nor Aaron Rodgers took a snap this preseason, and it 100 percent showed despite what both head coaches might claim.
This Thursday, it's another intra-divisional affair, but from the NFC South, as Tampa Bay visits Carolina. We nearly saw every NFC South team lose in Week 1; these two did as did Atlanta. New Orleans needed a minor miracle to win on Monday night against Houston in one of the wildest fourth quarters we may see all season.
I didn't really expect either Tampa Bay or Carolina to make the playoffs this season, but the loser can all but forget it with a 0-2 start. Could also be the last matchup as division rivals between former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks who led their alma maters to national titles in the Bucs' Jameis Winston and Panthers' Cam Newton. The latter isn't going anywhere, but by the time these teams play again Week 6 in London, Winston might already have been benched if the plays like he did Week 1. He also might not be a Buccaneer in 2020.
Bucs at Panthers Betting Story Lines
Tampa Bay was a 1-point home favorite Sunday to a San Francisco 49ers team that hadn't won a game in the Eastern Time Zone since 2014 (12 straight losses) and had dropped its past eight road games overall. Naturally, the 49ers won 31-17. The Tampa Bay defense gets none of the blame for that and Winston all of it. He was picked off three times (one more potential pick was dropped), with two being returned for touchdowns. That's 17 career multi-pick games for Winston, most in the NFL since he entered in 2015. Winston was just the third player with multiple pick-sixes in a season opener in the last 15 seasons, along with Joey Harrington (2007) and Scott Tolzien (2017). Winston also fumbled twice, although both were recovered by Tampa.
Did I mention that the 49ers had just two interceptions all of 2018? Those were the fewest of any defense in NFL history. You don't want to overreact to Week 1, but wow Winston looked no different under supposed quarterback whisperer Bruce Arians. At least the defense was much improved under new coordinator and former Jets coach Todd Bowles. San Francisco had only 256 yards. The Bucs apparently got out of that game healthy.
Carolina was a 1.5-point home underdog against the defending NFC champion Rams, who won 30-27. About the only positive from that for the Cats was fantasy god Christian McCaffrey rushing for 128 yards and two touchdowns while leading the team with 10 catches for 81 yards. He's about the only offense this team has. In addition, the Panthers are now 3-6 all-time when McCaffrey gets more than 20 touches, and 0-10 when he catches at least seven passes.
Newton barely played in the preseason off shoulder surgery and was clearly rusty in going 25-for-38 for 239 yards with a pick. It also was like he was scared to get hit on that shoulder in rushing for a career-low minus-2 yards on three carries. Newton never took deep shots down the field. He says the shoulder is fine.
I'm starting to think that Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is in some trouble. Remember, this team was 6-2 and looked like a Super Bowl contender last year and has one victory since: A meaningless Week 17 game in New Orleans. It appears Carolina got out of Sunday healthy but didn't have rookie offensive tackle Greg Little or defensive end Bruce Irvin as both were inactive due to injury. Too early to tell about them here, although the quick turnaround obviously doesn't help. Little did practice Monday, so that's a positive, but he has to clear the concussion protocol.
An additional story line here is former Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy now playing with Carolina. Things did not end well for McCoy in Tampa as he was unceremoniously dumped in May for salary reasons. Last year, McCoy's streak of consecutive Pro Bowl appearances ended at six. I promise you he will be fired up Thursday.
Bucs at Panthers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes, Carolina is a 7-point favorite (+110) with a total of 49.5. On the moneyline, the Panthers are -280 and Bucs +240. On the alternate line (just one so far), the Panthers are -6.5 (-110). It's Tampa's first road game, and last year it was 3-3-2 against the spread away and 6-2 "over/under." Carolina is 0-1 ATS at home this year and 1-0 O/U.
The Bucs are 6-13 ATS in their past 19 in September. They have failed to cover five straight Thursday games. The Panthers are 2-5 ATS in their previous seven following a loss. They have failed to cover four in a row on Thursday. The under is 6-1 in the Bucs' past seven. It's 4-1 in Carolina's past five following a loss. The under is 5-1 in the previous six in the series and the underdog has covered five of those.
Bucs at Panthers Betting Prediction
These teams split last year, each team winning by at least a touchdown at home. Winston didn't play in Charlotte with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing four touchdown passes but also two picks in a 42-28 loss. Newton threw for two scores, and both McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel scored two.
I expect much the same this season with each team winning at home by at least seven points. I think the offenses will remain very sloppy playing in such a quick turnaround early in the year. Take Carolina at -6.5 and go under.
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