The Carolina Panthers kick off the 2014 NFL season as the defending NFC South champions, but bettors would not know that by looking at the point spread as they head to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers.
Instead, there is optimism in Tampa, with new head coach Lovie Smith joining the team while the Panthers suffered some significant personnel losses in the offseason.
Point Spread: Panthers opened as three-point favorites, but the line moved four points to sit at -1 for Tampa—the total was 39.5 (line updates and matchup report).
Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 24.6-12.7 Panthers.
Why the Panthers Can Cover the Spread
As stated earlier, Carolina won the division last year and took a big step forward after head coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton had each been criticized in the past.
Rivera and Newton helped the Panthers rebound from a 1-3 start, both straight-up and against the spread, as they won 11 of their last 12 and went 8-3-1 ATS before losing in the playoffs.
Newton may have lost his starting receivers in Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, but the strength of this team is running the football and playing great defense, which should still continue this season.
Why the Buccaneers Can Cover the Spread
The Buccaneers needed a culture change following a brutal start to last year, which saw them lose eight straight SU and go 2-6 ATS. Enter Smith, who brings a no-nonsense and relaxed approach with him after spending a year off since getting fired in Chicago.
Smith is a strong defensive mind and knows that’s what it takes to win in the NFL. He also has a loaded lineup on both sides of the ball, and some even consider Tampa Bay to be a sleeper to make the playoffs if everything falls into place.
First and foremost, the Bucs should be much more competitive under Smith, something that was severely lacking at the end of last year, when they dropped four of five both SU and ATS. They catch Carolina in a tough spot, where they seldom win or cover in Week 1.
Carolina’s worst trait over the years has been poor starts, backed up by the fact that the team has lost five straight season openers.
The Panthers are also 2-9 ATS in their past 11 openers and do not know exactly what they are facing here in a new-look Tampa team. Home field can be a big factor in a situation like this, especially since Smith knows this environment from his days as linebackers coach for the Buccaneers under former head coach Tony Dungy between 1996 and 2000.
He also knows Rivera, who was his defensive coordinator with the Bears from 2004 to 2006. That familiarity should not be underestimated and is the main reason to bet on Tampa in this spot.
- Carolina 2-9 ATS past 11 openers, including five straight
- UNDER is 9-2 past 11 Tampa Bay openers
- Panthers 8-3 SU past 11 visits to Tampa
- Panthers are 7-1 ATS past eight as road underdogs