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Panthers visit winless Bucs on Thursday night
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 10/24/2013  at  6:03:00 AM
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Kickoff: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET
Line: Carolina -5.5, Total: 39.5

The Buccaneers try to win their first game of the season without top RB Doug Martin (labrum) when they host the red-hot Panthers on Thursday night.

Carolina has played turnover-free football in its past two games, winning both contests by a combined 65 to 25 score. Tampa Bay’s offense has improved slightly with QB Mike Glennon (17.0 PPG, 219 pass YPG) than with former starter Josh Freeman (11.3 PPG, 175 pass YPG), but the defense has allowed 31 points in back-to-back losses. The Bucs are now 1-11 SU (2-9-1 ATS) in their past 12 games, but actually swept the Panthers last year by outrushing them 297 to 107 yards. However, it was Doug Martin who ran for 233 of those yards, and now it will be rookie RB Mike James' turn to try to be the main ball carrier versus a Carolina run defense that ranks fourth in the NFL with 84.5 rushing YPG allowed. Almost all of the betting trends point towards a Panthers win and cover, as they are 7-0 ATS after allowing 99 or fewer rushing yards in two straight games over the past three seasons, and 33-12 ATS (73%) versus poor offensive teams (17.0 PPG or less) in team history.

Will the Panthers stay hot with a comfortable road win over the winless Bucs? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts are heating up in NFL Best Bets, combining for a 54.1% ATS record (33-28-2) over the past four weeks. StatFox Scott is 64.3% ATS (9-5) in the past three weeks, while StatFox Brian went 3-2 ATS in Week 7, marking his fourth straight week of finishing .500 or better. He was also 3-1 in NFL Totals in Week 7. StatFox Gary is 57.1% ATS (8-6-1) in NFL Best Bets over the past four weeks.

Although the Panthers rank 28th in the NFL in passing yards (197 YPG), QB Cam Newton is enjoying a fine season with a 64% completion rate, 7.8 YPA, 10 TD and 5 INT, leading to a 95.0 passer rating (10th in NFL). The one negative is the amount of sacks he's absorbed (18), but Newton also done a decent job running the football with 179 yards on 4.6 YPC with two touchdowns. Newton has fared pretty well against the Bucs in his career with a 63% completion percentage and a hefty 9.3 YPA, throwing for 6 TD and 2 INT. WR Steve Smith (293 rec. yards, 3 TD) remains his No. 1 target, but Smith has been pretty quiet in this series since 2009, averaging 50 receiving YPG with just 1 TD over eight meetings with the Bucs. TE Greg Olsen leads the team with 339 receiving yards, but Tampa Bay has done a fantastic job of shutting down opposing tight ends over the past four games, holding them to a combined 10 catches for 117 yards and 0 TD. With RB Jonathan Stewart (ankles) still at least one week away from returning from the PUP list, RB DeAngelo Williams (434 rush yards, 4.1 YPC, 0 TD) remains the main ball carrier with Mike Tolbert (3 TD) getting the goal-line work. Defensively, the Panthers have been strong all season, leading the NFL in defensive time of possession (26:24), placing second in scoring defense (13.8 PPG) and ranking third in the league in both total defense (302 YPG allowed) and red-zone efficiency (35.7%). The team has generated 16 sacks over the past four games, and has produced multiple takeaways in each of the past five contests. The Carolina defense has a few injury concerns though, as DT Dwan Edwards (hamstring), CB D.J. Moore (knee) and DB Robert Lester (hamstring) are all questionable for Thursday's game.

Although QB Mike Glennon has been better than Josh Freeman was, the rookie has still struggled at times. Glennon has thrown for just 5.6 yards per attempt this season with a pedestrian 58.5% completion rate, 5 TD and 3 INT. He has also fumbled in all three of his starts, losing two of them. Glennon has really zeroed in on top WR Vincent Jackson, targeting him 15.7 times per game including a hefty 22 targets in last week's loss in Atlanta. That puts Jackson tied among the NFL leaders in total targets for the season (77), which he has parlayed into 544 receiving yards and 4 TD. Jackson will likely be leaned on heavily again versus a Panthers team that he gained 141 yards with a touchdown against last year, and also because No. 2 WR Mike Williams (196 rec. yards, 2 TD) is questionable for the game with a lingering hamstring injury. The only other Bucs player with at least 100 receiving yards this season is TE Timothy Wright (153 rec. yards, 0 TD) who exploded for 91 yards on seven catches in his last home game two weeks ago. Rookie RB Mike James is the only healthy running back on the roster with more than three carries this year, but he has gained just 57 yards on his 17 attempts (3.4 YPA), and his three catches last week totaled a mere eight yards. Defensively, the Bucs have done a great job stuffing the run, allowing just 89 YPG (5th in NFL) on 3.5 YPC (4th in league). But the lack of a consistent pass rush (two total sacks in past three games) has hurt the secondary, which has allowed the past two opposing quarterbacks to complete 42-of-57 passes (74%) for 560 yards (9.8 YPA). Tampa Bay has forced just one turnover in three of its past four contests, but has been able to stay in games with a stellar red-zone defense (40%), which ranks fourth in the NFL.

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