Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pick & Prediction JANUARY 7th 2024

A simple math problem awaits the Buccaneers, and the assignment looks rather routine on paper: Beat the lowly Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C., and one of the NFC’s seven playoff spots belongs to Tampa Bay.

“I know their record doesn’t show it, but they’re really scrappy, so we have to come with it,” Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans said.

The Buccaneers (8-8) can clinch the NFC South by winning regardless of what happens with co-leader New Orleans against the Atlanta Falcons. Tampa Bay could have sealed the divisional title by beating the Saints a week ago, but New Orleans halted the Buccaneers’ four-game winning streak to add a dash of drama to the regular-season finale.

“We won four out of five,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said. “If we win five out of six, we get in. We’ve just got to buckle down and win the last one.”

In their first season since Tom Brady retired, the Buccaneers are aiming for their third consecutive divisional title. They’re thankful they have another chance, and the spoils would include hosting a wild-card playoff game next week.

“We’ve got to be able to show up when we need it,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “But, luckily, we have one more game to seal this thing. Once again, (our) back is against the wall.”

The Panthers (2-14) hold the worst record in the NFL and enter following a shutout loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-0. But the Panthers do have teeth. They nearly took down Tampa Bay in the first meeting, a 21-18 loss on Dec. 3. And Carolina knocked the Falcons out of a share of first place in the NFC South last month in a rain-soaked 9-7 home victory.

The turbulent season for the Panthers is about to close.

They’ve gone through a coaching change — again — and the introduction of quarterback Bryce Young, the first player selected in the 2023 draft. On the periphery this week was a $300,000 fine assessed to franchise owner David Tepper for his interaction with fans in Jacksonville. Video surfaced showing Tepper flipping his drink at the crowd.

“I feel that we’ve got a lot to show,” Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown said. “Unfortunately, this season didn’t go the way we wanted it to.”

The season already has been defined for Carolina. Interim head coach Chris Tabor said his message to the team to embrace one last chance to make an impact on the division and playoff race.

“What I have to do as a coach and leading this team at this moment is make sure that we’re pros,” Tabor said. “Be a pro.”

The Panthers gave no consideration to resting Young or others who aren’t truly injured, a trend across the league for teams with more comfortable positions in the standings.

“If you’re available to play, you’re playing,” Tabor said.

In the first matchup with the Buccaneers, Young was sacked four times and intercepted once. His offensive support has dwindled in some regard as only receivers Adam Thielen, Terrance Marshall Jr. and Mike Strachan were full participants in Wednesday’s practice. Jonathan Mingo went on injured reserve.

Carolina’s offense is averaging 167.1 yards per game for the second-worst mark in the league.

Kicker Eddy Pineiro is doubtful with a right hamstring ailment that has prevented him from practicing this week. Matthew Wright has been added to the practice squad in case he’s needed to be activated.

Panthers linebacker Marquis Haynes (concussion) has been ruled out for Week 18, while left guard Cade Mayes (finger) is doubtful.

For the Buccaneers, defensive tackle Mike Greene (calf) is out. Mayfield, cornerback Carlton Davis (concussion) and wide receiver Trey Palmer (hip) are among the Bucs listed as questionable.

The Buccaneers want to take advantage of the Panthers anyway possible.

“We’ve got to win this next game in Carolina to win the division and go from there,” said Mayfield, who began the 2022 season with the Panthers. “All you need is to get a chance to get in (the postseason) and we’re still sitting right where we need to be.”

–Field Level Media

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