NFL columnist Dave Gray delves into Thursday night's NFC South clash and believes that Christian McCaffrey will be the main man for the Carolina Panthers when they host Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The offseason talk from Carolina was all about potential breakouts from wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, but Christian McCaffrey showed in week one that he is still the man on the Panthers offence."
McCaffrey is the leader of this offence
The offseason talk from Carolina was all about potential breakouts from wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, but Christian McCaffrey showed in week one that he is still the man on the Panthers offence. Up against a good Rams defence he went off for 209 total yards and two touchdowns.
With Cam Newton still nursing a foot injury picked up in preseason, McCaffrey was asked to carry the load. He had 29 touches and incredibly was on the field for every single one of Carolina's 67 offensive plays. The Panthers other running backs did not have a single carry between them. The only rush that didn't go to the 23-year-old was a one-yard touchdown from full back Alex Armah.
Going up against a weak Tampa Bay defence, the former Stanford man can run wild. Expect him to see the same sort of volume - something a player of his calibre should take full advantage of. Newton did not have a single designed run in week one, and McCaffrey can benefit from that by getting much of the goal line work and with it, the potential for a few touchdowns.
Peyton Barber is no longer the leader in the Buccaneers backfield
Peyton Barber came into the season as the Buccaneers lead running back, but it appears he could not even hang onto that job for the entire first game.
Ronald Jones struggled in 2018 after being taken at the top of the second round in the draft, but in week one his 13 carries to Barber's eight signalled a change at the top of the depth chart. Jones ended the game with 93 yards and should get even more work in this game. With that it could be the end of any significant role in the offence for Barber.
Could be a long night for the Bucs
The Buccaneers have won just three of the past 12 games against the Panthers and that trend looks set to continue on Thursday. I would expect another tough night at the Bank of America stadium for Bruce Arian's side. Carolina are comfortable favourites and should continue their dominance over their NFC South rival.
If Jameis Winston picks up where he left off last week, then things could get out of hand quickly. The Buccaneers quarterback threw three interceptions - two of which were returned for touchdowns - and could not muster up much offence until deep into the third quarter when he threw his only touchdown to Chris Godwin. It is a big season for Winston with his contract expiring at the end of the season, and things could not have got off to a much worse start.
Going on the road, in a short week and on the back of a bad loss is a difficult assignment for any team and the Buccaneers could suffer against a much more complete Panthers team.
It is all about McCaffrey
There is a case to be made to back McCaffrey in all available markets, but for me the touchdowns are the pick. He can follow up on his two-touchdown performance in week one with another brace here. Back him to score two or more touchdowns (15/8) - my best bet of the night.
Barber's role in the Tampa Bay offence is only going to decline as the season goes on. He had 33 yards in week one, but he may struggle to reach that mark again here. Back him to go under 43.5 yards (5/6).
The Panthers are just a better team than the Buccaneers. At home, on a short week I like the Panthers to handle this one comfortably. There is the option of the alternate handicaps but I like the Panthers -7 (5/6).
You can also back a same game multi. I am going to go with a treble that pays a tasty 43.27. Panthers moneyline, Christian McCaffrey to score the first touchdown and Ronald Jones to score anytime in the second half. Something that may be worth a small bet.