The Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both fighting for respect in the NFC South and the two teams will square off in Week 1 to kickoff their regular season schedule.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made vast improvements to their roster and are just one year removed from a 10-win season. Even so, they find themselves as a 2.5-point home underdog. People making their NFL picks might be a little wary of betting Tampa Bay at home where they are just 8-16 over the last three seasons.
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Betting Line: Panthers -2.5
The Panthers finished ahead of Tampa Bay last season while starting rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Now that he’s in his second year as a starter, many people have the Panthers pegged as their sleeper team.
But that could be a mistake overlooking the Bucs, who have made several important changes to their team. For starters, new head coach Greg Schiano has instilled a discipline that was lacking under Raheem Morris. Secondly, the team strengthened their running game, offensive line and receiving corps – all of which should help quarterback Josh Freeman perform better than his 16-touchdown, 22-interception season last year.
This will be a relatively even matchup between these squads in Week 1 but Tampa Bay can make a loud statement with a win. To do that, they’ll need to start off with a good one-two punch from running backs Doug Martin and LeGarette Blount to pound a Panthers defense that allowed 130.8 rushing yards per game last season (25th in the NFL).
If they can do that and take some pressure off of Freeman, he’ll be more comfortable in the pocket making decisions.
The Panthers might be a team on the rise but laying points with them on the road seems a little premature. Tampa Bay is on the some playing field as them – if not better – and with home-field advantage, they should be able to get 2012 started on the right foot.