NFL 2017 Week 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Carolina Panthers preview and prediction

The Panthers come into this week with their eyes fixed on winning the NFC South. Can the Bucs provide any resistance?

(Photo credit: Keith Allison)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted Atlanta on Monday night last week and lost 24-21. Statistically it was one of Jameis Winston’s best games, as he hit 27 of 35 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, however the Bucs were down for long stretches of the game and dominated on time of possession as they completely failed to contain Devonta Freeman. The Falcons back picked up 126 yards and a score on the ground and another 68 yards through the air.

Carolina played host to the returning Aaron Rodgers last week and had a scare, but came away with a 31-24 win. Cam Newton had a terrific day, throwing for 242 yards and four touchdowns as the Panthers dominated the second half against an overmatched Packers defense. The defense was a tough nut once against as they picked off Aaron Rodgers three times and sacked him three times as well.

That’s cool, watch this

Other than being one of the most badass things ever said on the football field, Cam Newton was absolutely right that teams have to watch Christian McCaffrey. The Stanford man had a very slow start to the season, and is still struggling to find success as a traditional running back, but he has already reeled in 73 passes for 592 yards and five scores. That’s more catches than the likes of Doug Baldwin and AJ Green. McCaffrey is finally finding his feet in the NFL and it just happens to coincide with a big uptick in the Panthers offensive production. All eyes have to be on #22 now.

Hot seat

Tampa Bay’s poor season has the vultures circling around Dirk Koetter. The man was brought in to help develop Jameis Winston’s raw talent, a process that has been painfully slow and seemingly unsuccessful. With the relationship between the Bucs and John Gruden better than it has been in years there has been a lot of talk that he will come down from the commentary booth and take charge of the team he won a Super Bowl with once again. Koetter needs two big performances from these last two games if he wants to keep his job.

Look who’s back

Along with McCaffrey’s improvements, the Panthers offense got a huge boost last week with the return of Greg Olsen, who had been suffering from multiple foot injuries. Olsen has been the Panthers best receiving weapon for years now, and his injuries this season means his run of three straight 1,000-yard seasons is over. His return makes them incredibly dangerous though, and adding a dangerous offense to their strong defense is not something any other team is happy about.

Matchup to Watch: Julius Peppers vs Caleb Benenoch

With Demar Dotson on IR, the Bucs have been starting Caleb Benenoch at right tackle. This Sunday the second-year player will face the ageless wonder Julius Peppers, who killed the Packers season with his tenth sack of the year last week. Peppers is only playing rotationally for the Panthers, but he leads the team in QB hits and sacks, and is one of the savviest pass rushers in the NFL. At 37 you’d think the youngster would have an athletic advantage, but Peppers is still a freak of nature and is still crushing the dreams of young tackles as he races toward the hall of fame.

Fantasy Tip: Panthers TE Greg Olsen

The Bucs struggle everywhere in the passing game, and especially at tight end. Olsen is back, he’s healthy, and he’s going to see targets from Cam in a must-win game for the Panthers.

Betting Tip: Panthers (-10)

A very good team that needs to win against a bad one that doesn’t really have any focus or drive. It’s a no-brainer really, but -10 is a big line. You can get this line to -7 for a hit in odds, to 4/7, which is more attractive.

Prediction: Panthers 34 – 17 Buccaneers

Cam Newton is playing well, the defense is playing well, the offensive weapons are clicking… Everything is trending up for the Panthers, they just have to hope Atlanta beat New Orleans this week so their Week 17 game against the Falcons can be for the division.


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Toby Durant

Deputy Editor at RealSport. A life-long gamer, I have been with RealSport since 2016 and spent time covering the world of Formula 1, NFL, and football for the site before expanding into esports.


I lead the site's coverage of motorsport titles with a particular focus on Formula 1. I also lead RealSport's Madden content while occasionally dipping my toe into Football Manager and esports coverage of Gfinity Series events.