The playoffs will start a little early for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers, who will meet Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa with a postseason berth on the line.
A win for the Buccaneers will give them their second straight NFC South title and the playoff berth that goes with it, while a victory for the Panthers will prolong the issue one more week.
“It is a playoff game,” Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles, whose team lost to Carolina 21-3 in week 7, told the media. “They need it and we need it, so it’s essentially a playoff game.
The Bucs haven’t won as often as they would have liked, but it has been ugly when they have. The defense, which has permitted 12.7 points per game in the seven wins, has pretty much carried the Tom Brady-led offense, which has averaged just 19 points in those games.
The Panthers have picked it up on offense over the last month, winning three of four games since Sam Darnold took over as the starting quarterback from Baker Mayfield.
The running game, featuring D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, was the main catalyst in the three wins, averaging 45 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Since Christian McCaffrey was traded in week 7, Foreman ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards (774) and second in rushing plays over 20 yards (seven).
Neither team is expected to go far in the playoffs should they make it, as the Buccaneers are +2800 to win the Super Bowl on the NFL odds while the Panthers are +20000.
Since 2002, nine teams with a .500 record or worse have made the playoffs, and six of those have won a wild-card game. None have won a divisional round game.
Panthers vs Buccaneers Betting Lines
Evans Needs To Find First-Half Form
The Buccaneers and Brady need first-half Mike Evans back if they want to get into the playoffs and make some noise once they get there.
In the season’s first seven games, Evans racked up 39 catches on 59 targets for 577 yards and three touchdowns, but in the seven games since, the former first-round draft pick out of Texas A&M has 28 catches on 56 targets for 340 yards and zero touchdowns.
Evans has never finished a season with fewer than 1,001 receiving yards, but his nine-year streak could be in jeopardy unless he can get 83 yards in the next two games. If the Buccaneers win Sunday, Evans may not even play in the finale, so time is of the essence.
In 16 games against the Panthers, Evans has 82 catches for 1,089 yards and seven touchdowns, including nine receptions for 96 yards in the first matchup this season.
Carolina DBs Will Be Tested
The Panthers are in dire straits at the cornerback position, so much so they brought in Josh Norman off the street to fill the void left by the injured Jaycee Horn (broken left wrist).
Norman started his career in Carolina and is familiar with the defense of head coach Steve Wilks, but the Panthers can’t expect too much in his first game since last January.
C.J. Henderson and Keith Taylor will get the bulk of the work, and neither is strong in coverage.
Panthers vs Buccaneers Game Injuries
Panthers vs Buccaneers Head-to-Head
The week 7 win for the Panthers snapped a four-game winning streak in the series for Brady and the Buccaneers. Carolina holds a 25-19 lead in the series, including 12-9 on the road.
Panthers vs Buccaneers Game Information
- Game: Panthers vs Buccaneers
- Date/Time: Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET.
- Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
- How to watch Panthers vs Buccaneers?: FOX
Panthers vs Buccaneers Live stream: NFL Game Pass
Panthers vs Buccaneers Weather Conditions
76°, Light wind, 24% chance of rain, outdoor stadium, grass field
Panthers vs Buccaneers Picks & Prediction
Predicted Score Buccaneers 20, Panthers 16
- Worth Betting on the Moneyline?
The Buccaneers are not attractive at -155, but the Panthers may be at +135.
- Worth Betting ATS?
Tampa Bay has been abysmal against the spread (3-11-1), including losing five straight against the number. The Panthers have covered in five of their last six games. The Bucs will rise to the occasion with a division title and playoff bid on the line.
- Worth Betting on the Totals?
This game should come in under 40 points, making the under a solid bet.
The odds and predictions in the article are based on the time of writing and publication. They may differ as to when the actual event takes place.