Panthers vs. Buccaneers: Spread Info, Line and Predictions
The Panthers must hope the rest of the team can play at the level that Rookie of the Year Cam Newton played at last year, while the Bucs are trying to turn the team around under new head coach Greg Schiano.
Here is everything you need to know about this opening-day clash between NFC South rivals.
Where: Raymond James Stadium; Tampa, Florida
When: September 9, 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Carolina -2.5 (via Vegas Insider)
Usually, home teams get somewhat of a boost for playing in front of their own fans, but that will not be the case, as the opener did not even sell out. Without the fan support, the Buccaneers are unlikely to improve upon their 3-5 record at home from last season.
Both teams tried to improve their defenses through the draft, but the Panthers' first-round pick Luke Kuechly can be a difference-maker at linebacker. He has the speed to get anywhere on the field and will rack up tackles with ease.
Combine any improvement on defense with the No. 5 scoring offense in the NFL last season and this team will win a lot of games this year, including their first one against Tampa Bay.
Over/Under: 47 (via Vegas Insider)
Tampa Bay did make some improvements on defense behind Coach Schiano, but this team still ranked dead-last in the NFL in points allowed last season. Carolina was not far behind at No. 27.
Conversely, the Panthers have a great offense that will only get better with experience. The Buccaneers might struggle to keep up, but there will be enough scoring in this game to take the over.
Key Injuries (via ESPN)
RB Jonathan Stewart (Ankle) Questionable
CB E.J. Biggers (Foot) Questionable
Fantasy Big Plays
As a rookie, Cam Newton tied with Tom Brady as the third-most productive fantasy player in the NFL. He got it done with his arm and his legs, throwing for over 4,000 yards and totaling a quarterback-record 14 rushing touchdowns.
Even if the rushing touchdowns go down this season, he is still a great passer that will have even more chemistry with his receivers with a full offseason of practice. Look for an emergence of Brandon LaFell as defenses try to slow down Steve Smith.
LeGarrette Blount flopped as a starting running back last season, so the Buccaneers drafted Doug Martin in the first round. The Boise State product is small in stature, but he is an incredibly versatile back who has already taken the starting job from the veteran.
Martin is a bit of a risky start in Week 1 without knowing the breakdown of carries, but when he is on the field he should be successful. New acquisition Carl Nicks at guard will help pave the way for the youngster to have a great year.
Key to Panthers Victory: Tackle
It sounds basic, but this was something that held the team back last season. Every time the offense would score, the defense would give those points right back.
In 2011, the Panthers ranked 24th in pass defense and 25th against the rush. This team can go a long way if they can simply wrap up and not give up big plays. Otherwise, they will be looking at another year of double-digit losses.
Key to Buccaneers Victory: Avoid Turnovers
Josh Freeman was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in football in 2010 when he threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Those numbers took a turn for the worst in 2011. The quarterback tossed just 16 touchdowns and had 22 interceptions, one away from the NFL lead. Add in eight fumbles, and it really was a year to forget.
This year, Freeman must return to his old form. He needs to be more careful with the ball and make sure he does not force anything that is not there. There are some solid weapons around him this season that he must let do their job, not put all the pressure on himself.
Prediction: Panthers 31, Buccaneers 21
The Buccaneers will have an improved team from last season, but it will not be enough to catch up to the Panthers. Carolina's future is looking bright if they avoid any setbacks or major injuries.
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