The NFL is back in full effect. That’s great news if you’re fond of late nights and prolonged ad breaks, and apparently awful news if you follow the Miami Dolphins, but we digress. With Week One in the books, the second round of gridiron action kicks off with two clubs trying to find their first win of a season that just has to offer more than 2018. Tampa Bay, with the usually reliable arm of Jameis Winston, make the trip up the East Coast to face the Carolina Panthers, who have one of the league’s most watchable players in the versatile Christian McCaffrey – a rushing and receiving threat who fell just short of 2,000 total yards from scrimmage last season.
It’s Tampa’s second consecutive in-division match-up, having lost last week to San Francisco. They’ll be hoping Winston rebounds from a horrific opening game where he threw three interceptions. Two of those picks were returned for touchdowns, making the difference in a game where the Bucs moved the ball better than their opponents, but lost by a 31-17 scoreline. While they don’t have a backfield weapon as dangerous as McCaffrey, a promising performance from second-year running back Ronald Brown saw the elusive sophomore pick up 67 yards rushing before the team – at an average of 5.8 per carry – before the margin dictated they had to abandon the ground game.
Panthers start as narrow favourites
In Week One, the Panthers – like tonight’s opponents – suffered a defeat on their own turf at the hands of a West Coast team. A narrow reverse at the hands of the Super Bowl runner-up LA Rams is far from shameful, though, and the home side were very much in the game before a late Cam Newton pass was intercepted. This week, they very much merit the favourites tag against a side that won once on the road last season, thanks in no small part to the difficulty the Bucs will have in stopping both McCaffrey and the mobile Newton from gaining yards on the run.
If Newton seeks to air it out – something which, despite the skepticism of many pundits, he insists he is willing to do – then he has wide receivers who are liable to get some change from a defence that allowed 464 points (the second worst tally in the league) last season. DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel caught ten passes between them last week to match McCaffrey’s own tally, and Unibet reckon that’s enough to post the home side as favourites by 1-6 points. In truth, if Tampa find themselves behind early on and need to take risks – which is far from unlikely – we’d back the Panthers by 7-12 at odds of 4/1.
Bucs need to back their offence
You don’t go from being one of the leakiest defences in the league to being able to shut the door in one off-season, and even though 14 of the points Tampa conceded last week came from interception returns, they’re off to a bad start in trying to trim that points-against column in 2019. Against a side that can hit them through the air and on the ground, they’re not going to come into this game with any illusions about keeping it tight and winning 7-3. If the Bucs are to avoid opening the season with consecutive losses, they’re going to need to take the “we’ll score one more than you approach” and back their offensive weapons to get it done.
Winston, for one thing, needs to treat his last game as an aberration, especially as his career numbers show he throws more touchdowns than interceptions. In his fifth year as a pro, this former #1 draft pick has to show he has a game-winning arm, especially now that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t there to come off the bench when things get dicey. Betway have Winston at 11/10 to surpass 300 yards through the air, and there are two reasons to like those odds. First, he’s got the arm to do it against Carolina’s porous defence. Secondly, he’s probably going to have to throw often given that Tampa will be chasing the game.
McCaffrey offers the X Factor
While both sides can offer talented – yet inconsistent – quarterbacks, and both have defences that could benefit from a bit of leadership, Carolina have at least one thing Tampa can’t compete with – and that’s Christian McCaffrey. A dependable every-down back with shades of Emmitt Smith about him, the Stanford product became the first player in the modern era to post double-figures for both catches and rushing attempts in last week’s loss against the Rams. He also broke 100 yards rushing and 200 total offence in the game, and that was against a side much better than the Bucs. Tampa are set to spring a 3-4 defence in this game, the extra linebacker allowing them to better cope with his threat out of the backfield.
That being said, a bad 3-4 defence is still a bad defence, and we’ll have to see whether it has any effect in keeping McCaffrey from punishing Tampa this evening. The evidence of last season and the first week of this one is that it will be a long night for whatever defenders find themselves trying to stop a player determined to top 2,000 yards this season. William Hill have odds of 2/1 on the back to score more than one touchdown tonight – and given that he can score as a receiver or a rusher, there’s a great deal of value in that bet.
Bets of the Day
Panthers by 7-12 (Unibet, 4/1); Jameis Winston to throw for more than 300 yards (Betway, 11/10); Christian McCaffrey to score at least two touchdowns (William Hill, 2/1)