Tampa Bay was once Carolina’s biggest rival. The Panthers shared more memorable games with the Buccaneers than they did New Orleans or Atlanta. Also, Tampa Bay had Warren Sapp.
Carolina’s biggest rival this season is the Saints, as the standings attest. The Panthers will trail the Saints by two games, one game or be even when they play in New Orleans next week. The game is so big I’ve volunteered to go down to New Orleans two days early. It’s called sacrifice.
Tampa Bay reminds me of the 2011 Panthers. The Bucs began the season miserably (they lost their first eight games). Four of the losses were by three or fewer points. They start a rookie quarterback. Their coach was overmatched. And then, once the Buccaneers were out of playoff contention, they found themselves. They’ve won three straight. They’re a solid team and they’re playing loose.
The Panthers learned last week they have to play hard and effectively against glamor opponents and everybody else, too.
After the picking the winner and the winning margin of Carolina’s victories against San Francisco and New England, I struggled last week. I picked the Panthers to beat Miami by 2. They won by 4.
This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:
The Chiefs were good when they had the NFL’s pass best rush. They don’t anymore. If they can’t get to Peyton Manning, they can’t win.
The two toughest stadiums for a visitor are in New Orleans and Seattle. The Saints are 3-2 on the road this season. They beat Tampa Bay, Chicago and Atlanta and lost to New England and the New York Jets. You saw the Saints against Atlanta last week; they struggled. The Seahawks’ secondary is missing two players because of suspensions. But this is their place. They’re 5-0 at home and have won by an average of 17 points. If the game were in New Orleans, I’d pick the Saints.
The first 10 weeks of the season the Jets would win one week and lose the next. Back and forth they flipped. They couldn’t decide if they were good or bad. They decided.
The Patriots are making their annual late-season run, and they’re playing a team that lost at home last week to Jacksonville. If the Texans are not the league’s worst team, who is?