In 2020, first year Carolina coach Matt Rhule seemed like a great hire. The former Baylor coach started 3-2, partly due to the resurrection of QB Teddy Bridgewater.
However, beware the perils of small sample size. Carolina only won two games the remainder of the season to finish 5-11.
In 2021, Carolina brought in Sam Darnold, hoping the young QB could turn around his career in his fourth season. Maybe his problem with the New York Jets was coach Adam Gase, the NFL QB morgue keeper that also almost destroyed Ryan Tannehill’s career in Miami.
This season, Carolina got off to a solid 3-0 start. However, two of these wins came against the lowly Jets and Texans.
Since this start, Carolina has won more two games to have a 5-11 record for the second straight season. While Darnold started strong, his play took a nose dive before he got hurt. For the season, Carolina’s pass offense has been terrible (30th in adjusted success rate, 32nd in adjusted yards per play).
Cam Newton and PJ Walker also contributed to Carolina’s inability to throw the ball. However, Darnold has been back the last two games, taking the majority of snaps against Tampa Bay in week 16 and all the snaps against New Orleans last week.
In addition, the recent decline of the pass defense makes the Panthers a team to fade.
Going into their bye in week 13, Carolina’s pass defense ranked 2nd in my adjusted success rate. After the past four games, Carolina has dropped to 8th.
Against New Orleans last week, they played CBs Rashad Melvin and rookie Keith Taylor, two players who had no chance at starting week 1. Injuries have taken their toll, and even New Orleans QB Taysom Hill had a 50% passing success rate against Carolina last week (44.2% NFL average).
This is a terrible match up against Tampa Bay’s offense, ranked 2nd in my adjusted passing success rate. Top receiver Chris Godwin is injured, but Tom Brady still has weapons in WR Mike Evans and TE Rob Gronkowski.
In addition, Tampa Bay is getting healthy on defense. After week 12, this unit ranked 21st in my adjusted passing success rate. However, the trio of CBs that led them to the Super Bowl last season (Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting) have been healthy since week 13. The pass defense has improved to 14th for the season.
My numbers like Tampa Bay by 10.8 points over Carolina. This margin should be greater given the injuries to Carolina’s secondary.
Usually, the market makes you pay a premium to bet on a Super Bowl contender like Tampa Bay. However, Tampa Bay is only an 8 point favorite. Maybe the markets have downgraded the Bucs after getting shut out at home against New Orleans and almost losing to the Jets last week.
However, between these two games, Tampa Bay closed as an 11 point favorite on the road at Carolina, where they won 32-6. All this suggests value in Tampa Bay -8 at home against Carolina in a game in which the Bucs will not rest starters.
Football betting with a PhD edge
This article was sent to The Power Rank’s email newsletter at noon Eastern on Thursday, January 6, 2022. As of Sunday morning, the markets have Tampa Bay -9.
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