Tampa Bay and Carolina Set for Low-Scoring Showdown on TNF

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Week 2 of the NFL season will kick off Thursday night with an NFC South matchup between Tampa Bay and Carolina. Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) will travel to face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (0-1). The spread opened at Carolina -6.5, while the total opened at 50 and dropped to 49.5. 

Offensive Struggles

Winston struggled in his first game under Tampa Bay’s new coach Bruce Arians. Winston threw 3 interceptions in a 20-36 day with 3 sacks, ending with a disappointing 45.5 passer rating. He was unable to consistently connect with big targets Mike Evans and O.J. Howard, with third-down back Dare Ogunbowale leading the team in receiving yards. It wasn’t all bad for Tampa, as second-year running back Ronald Jones had the best game of his young career. Jones ran for 75 yards on 13 carries, and CB Vernon Hargreaves III was able to score a pick-six. 

Cam Newton saw his 2018 season end prematurely due to an injury, and early returns in 2019 were not promising. Newton went 25-38 with 239 yards in the loss to the Rams, taking 3 sacks and committing 2 costly turnovers. Newton’s -2 rushing yards were a career low, but RB Christian McCaffrey kept the Panthers close in the 3-point loss. McCaffrey picked up 209 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns. 

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Keys to the Game

Newton hopes to rebound against a Tampa defense that allowed a 111 passer rating last season, worst in the league. Carolina’s defense allowed 32 touchdowns last season, which was the 5th most in the NFL. The Panthers didn’t look much better in Week 1, allowing the defending NFC champion Rams to accumulate 166 rushing yards. 

While both defenses need improvement after allowing at least 30 points, this game comes down to who has less turnovers. Both teams had a -2 turnover margin in their Week 1 losses. Tampa Bay missed out on a season-opening win despite outgaining the 49ers 121-98 rushing and 174-158 passing. TE Cam Brate’s two touchdowns were also called off the board due to untimely penalties. 

The division rivals both looked sloppy on offense and hope to fix their mistakes in time for Thursday. Carolina entered 2019 hoping to contend for a playoff spot, while the Bucs went through a coaching change this offseason. Tampa Bay expected Bruce Arians to be the man to get former #1 overall pick Jameis Winston’s career on track. 

Trends to Watch

The teams are familiar with each other, with the Panthers leading the all-time series 23-13. There will be revenge storylines in Week 2 with former Buccaneers standout Gerald McCoy migrating to the Panthers this offseason. McCoy was cut by Tampa after 9 seasons with the team, and ranks 4th on the franchise’s all-time sack leaderboard. In 2018, Carolina and Tampa Bay split their two matchups, with each team winning at home. The teams have split their last 6 games. Recent games between the teams have been close, as the underdog has covered in 5 of their last 6 matchups. CAR is 4-1 over the teams’ past 5 home matchups, 2 of which were decided by 3 points or less. The road team is also 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings between the Panthers and Bucs. 

Both teams have struggled in prime-time. The Panthers have gone 0-4 ATS in their last 4 Thursday Night Football games, while the Bucs have failed to cover their last 5 games on Thursday night. After a short week of practice, expect a sloppy, defensive game. This matchup will likely be tight between two divisional rivals looking to earn their first win of the season. While both teams struggled on defense in Week 1, two of the touchdowns allowed by Tampa Bay were pick-sixes. The Panthers were burdened with a short field after fumbles by Newton and WR DJ Moore. Tampa will look to continue their success in the running game by burning some clock with Ronald Jones.  

Wolf’s Wagers

6.5 points seems high for a divisional, primetime game between two 0-1 teams, but the Panthers should be able to pull out a win in a close game. My best play for tonight is Under 49.5, with the under hitting in 5 of the past 6 games between the teams and 13 of the past 19 matchups in Carolina. Look to catch the Panthers on a live line if they fall behind early or the game is close. I will also be playing a 6 point teaser on Carolina and the under, getting the Panthers at -0.5 and Under 55.5. 

If you’re looking to play a prop bet, consider taking the over on total sacks in the game, with the line currently set to 4.5. Both teams have questionable offensive lines that allowed 3 sacks in Week 1, and the Panthers had at least 3 sacks in both of their games against the Bucs last year.

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