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Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Carolina Panthers predictions from the Tampa Bay Times staff

Here's our picks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX) at Raymond James Stadium:

Oh what could have been

Tom Jones, @tomwjones: Oh, what this game could have been. The Bucs could have been playing for a playoff spot. Instead, this is going to be the final game for both teams. Too bad. This could have been a heck of a day at Ray Jay. Instead, both teams are making tee times. The Bucs win a game that doesn't mean much to either. Prediction: Tampa Bay 24-17.

A winning home record

Greg Auman, @gregauman: It's unfortunate there's not more on the line, but the Bucs should be able to bounce back from two tough losses and end the season with the small consolation of a winning record for the first time in six years. Going from 0-4 to 4-4 at home is a reminder of early home games against the Rams and Raiders that got away. Prediction: Tampa Bay 27-17.

The Doug Martin effect

Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you: I have a confession to make. After I started the year going under .500 for several weeks, I solicited the help of my friend Martha, a former nun and school teacher who has an uncanny ability for predicting the outcome of NFL games. On her advice, I picked the Bucs — but the selection came before Doug Martin got suspended. Now I feel like a pall will come over the team and they'll spend most of the day wondering if they could have made the playoffs if Martin had avoided his off-field issues, played last week or spent most of the year at 100 percent. Prediction: Carolina 17-13.

Go with the desperate team

Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud: The Bucs simply need this game more than the Panthers. Forget the roughly 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. A home win, a chance to sweep Carolina and finish 4-2 in the NFC South, firmly out of the basement for the first time in five years by vaulting into second — all of it should matter. For Dirk Koetter, 9-7 sounds better than 8-8. They don't want to lose three straight in December to end the season. Prediction: Tampa Bay 24-21.

A point of pride

Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly: The game doesn't mean much, especially if you don't believe there will be any carry-over to next season. There won't be. It's merely a point of pride, and the Bucs will have enough of it to win and finish 9-7, all the while wondering what could have been. Prediction: Tampa Bay 20-17.

Just don't hope for momentum

Thomas Bassinger, @tometrics: So the Bucs' playoff hopes come down to a tie. No, not whether Cam Newton is wearing one but whether the Giants-Washington game ends in one. ESPN puts the chances of everything falling into place for the Bucs at 60,000-to-1. At least a win will give them some "momentum" heading into next season, right? Here's Koetter's very polite way of calling that nonsense: "I know we're all going to feel better if our season ends with a win, however it is. But is there any mathematical proof that it helps you next year? I would say probably not." Prediction: Tampa Bay 27-13

Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Carolina Panthers predictions from the Tampa Bay Times staff 12/30/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2016 5:47pm]
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