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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers Point Spread - Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10 SU, 4-9-1 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (10-4 SU, 9-5 ATS)
Week 16 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 1PM EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
TV: Fox

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: TB +10/CAR -10
Over/Under Total: 46.5

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte for an NFC South matchup with the Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, the Panthers won a nice one at home with a 31-24 win over the Packers in Green Bay's first game with Aaron Rodgers back. He was outdone by Carolina QB Cam Newton, who led the Panthers to their 6th win in their last seven games. They look to fortify their postseason position this week at home against an incoming Tampa bunch that gave it a good go against the Falcons on Monday, losing 24-21, when a potential game-tying FG was missed. At 4-10, it's been a rough season for what supposed to be an upwardly-moving team. But with the cover on MNF, they show that they're still trying hard. On October 29, the Panthers beat the Bucs in Tampa, 17-3. Three Tampa turnovers were key, as was Tampa's general inconsistency and lack of firepower that they've had most of the season.

The Panthers have really started cooking and scored their second straight 31-24 win on Sunday over a good team, having beaten the Vikings by the same score the previous week. They are smack-dab in the hunt in a top-heavy NFC South division. An offense that sagged a bit earlier in the season has been putting up a lot of points. In conjunction with a defense that has a lot of balance, it's a familiar formula for success for the 2015 conference champion. The defense was a key part of the win on Sunday, with a big game coming from the other side of the ball.

Cam Newton looks sharp heading into the stretch-run of the regular season. He threw four touchdowns on Sunday and added some big runs along the way. He connected twice with seldom-used receiver Damiere Byrd, with Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey also catching touchdowns. Olsen had 116 yards and his return from injury is going to be big for this offense. McCaffrey had 73 yards receiving and 63 rushing. Between McCaffrey, Newton, and Jonathan Stewart, they can run the ball well. And Newton making so many plays aerially with a quiet day from Devin Funchess was also a good sign, as their top receiver had only one reception on the day.

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The Carolina defense has been solid this season. The front-seven is stout and can rush the heck out the passer. They are also solid in the back and after a lack of playmaking in recent weeks, they got after it on Sunday, with Daryl Worley, James Bradberry, and Colin Jones each picking off Aaron Rodgers. S Mike Adams also got a big recovery on a Green Bay fumble after a Bradberry strip. They got customary good play in the middle from Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. It wasn't an easy task, with Green Bay feeling optimistic upon the return of Rodgers, but Carolina's defense was able to tip the scales in their favor with a huge game from the secondary and a solid overall game on this side of the ball.

In their last four times, the Bucs have lost 34-20, 26-20, and now 24-21 in two consecutive games. Their games are following a pattern that's been familiar this season—an offense that can't quite keep pace and a "D" that has not been up-to-snuff. They have the last-ranked pass-defense in the league and in terms of total yardage allowed, they rank second-last in the whole league. An offense that has some aerial firepower has lacked the overall balance and consistency to be that good this season.

The effort on this side of the ball was there on MNF against the Falcons. Jameis Winston is still trying and you can see he wants to win and is dragging after starting this season 4-10. On Monday, he had 299 yards and three TD passes on 27-for-35 passing. WR Mike Evans had a nice game with a TD and 79 yards, while OJ Howard and Adam Humphries caught TD passes, as well. TE Cameron Brate has been useful this season. With one catch on Monday, DeSean Jackson has been quiet and his addition hasn't provided the fireworks that were anticipated. A group that was supposed to improve didn't, with the additions to the aerial game having a minimal impact, with the running-game having become an afterthought in this offense. Not helping is an offensive line that has suffered personnel issues and hasn't been very good this season.

The Tampa defense has a lot of issues, also exacerbated by a rash of injuries that ate away at this side of the ball all season. It would have been interesting to see how they fared at full-power, but we never saw that happen. Injuries ate away at the front-seven, as the line was never all that stable, with a talented linebacker crew also seldom at full-power. Justin Evans is a rookie safety who could develop, but youth and inconsistency makes the secondary an area that will need to be addressed if the Bucs want to contend in the future. No team has given up more yardage aerially than the Buccaneers this season.

With Tampa's last three games against divisional teams, all of whom are vying for the playoffs, they could be a spoiler. They failed in that role last week, but I'm not too sure that they can't rise to that role at some point in the next two weeks. Carolina, however, seems to be peaking on both sides of the ball at just the right time and they've been tough to beat lately, especially at home, where they are nice and dug-in for their third straight game, while the Bucs are coming off the short week. I see the Panthers sticking it to the Bucs this week.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Carolina Panthers minus 10 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today by signing up and betting the Tampa Bay vs. Carolina game at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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