Last place in the NFC South is on the line Sunday when the Carolina Panthers (3-8) take to the road to battle bitter division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7). The two teams are meeting for the first time this season and will play again in Week 16 at Carolina. The Bucs won both matchups in 2010.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
When: 1:00 PM EST, Dec. 4, 2011
Spread: Tampa Bay -3, according to footballlocks.com.
This spread is generous to the Buccaneers who will struggle to contain Cam Newton and the Panthers' top-10 NFL offense. Carolina should cover rather easily.
Over/Under: 47, according to footballlocks.com
With Cam Newton throwing and rushing for touchdowns against the league's 28th-ranked pass defense and 30th-ranked rush defense, points will be scored early and often. Carolina's defense is hardly much better.
Carolina: LB Omar Gaither (knee), questionable despite full participation in practice, 30 tackles and one sack in 2011.
Tampa Bay: DE Michael Bennett (groin), out, 30 tackles and two sacks in 2011. QB Josh Freeman (shoulder), questionable with limited participation in practice, 2,715 yards, 12 TDs and 16 INTs in 2011. DT Brian Price (ankle), questionable with limited participation in practice, 20 tackles and three sacks in 2011.
Fantasy Big Plays
Cam Newton: The Panthers' QB is a no-brainer. He has scored through the air and on the ground in 2011 and will look to have a huge day against the horrid Bucs' D. Interceptions will be an issue with Newton but he will rack up tons of yardage individually. He has 3,500-plus total yards thus far this season.
LeGarrette Blount: The Buccaneers' RB will run wild over the league's 28th-ranked rush defense which is allowing more than 137 yards on the ground per week. Expect a few hurdles and TDs from No. 27 this week.
Steve Smith: The Panthers' WR is a must-start for any fantasy owner on Sunday. The Bucs are dreadful against the pass as already mentioned, and Smith has caught for more than 1,000 yards this season. His five TDs lead all Carolina receivers and he has consistently been Newton's security blanket.
Key to Tampa Bay Win: If the Bucs are going to win it will be because their defense rallies behind the home crowd. The Bucs are 3-3 at home this season, and have beaten division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans in Florida already. Tampa Bay's offense is nowhere near the unit it was a year ago, and the D will have to slow Newton if the Bucs are going to win in Week 13.
Key to Carolina Win: If the Panthers are going to win it will no doubt be because of the gifted rookie, Cam Newton and the offense. Carolina ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in both rushing and passing. Newton adds another dimension to the Panthers' ground attack as a passer, and is accurate enough to find Pro Bowlers like Smith deep down the field. Carolina's D is nothing to boast about, so the offense will be the deciding factor on Sunday.
Prediction: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 24