Bucs-Panthers Preview

Charlotte, NC - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed quarterbacks a month ago as their dismal season was already slipping away.

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With their playoff possibilities quickly vanishing, the Carolina Panthers might be ready to do the same.

Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made the Redskins -7 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on the Bucs +7 (View NFL bet percentages).

Jake Delhomme's broken finger may finally earn the veteran a spot on the bench, giving Matt Moore his first start in two years Sunday when the Panthers try to hand the Buccaneers an eighth straight road loss.

Carolina (4-7) won four of six after an 0-3 start, and some improved play from Delhomme helped fuel the turnaround. He threw seven interceptions during the Panthers' season-opening skid, but gave it away only six times during the next six games as the tailback tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart put Carolina back in playoff contention.

The Panthers' postseason hopes are mostly gone after two more losses, though, and Delhomme might be as well. A week after Carolina fell 24-17 at home to Miami, Delhomme had his second four-interception game of the season in a 17-6 loss to the New York Jets.

"It wasn't good," said Delhomme, tied for second in the NFL with 18 interceptions. "There's no other way to put it. We didn't run it well. We certainly didn't throw it well."

The last interception came after banging hands with linebacker Calvin Pace, a collision that also resulted in Delhomme breaking a finger on his right hand. Though coach John Fox was noncommittal Wednesday on which quarterback would play against the Buccaneers (1-10), all signs point to Moore making his first start since Dec. 30, 2007, at Tampa Bay, where he threw two touchdowns in a 31-23 Panthers win.

"I think this is a great opportunity for Matt,'' said receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who hasn't caught a touchdown since Dec. 28. "Obviously, we won't do a lot of the things that Jake does well, but we'll do the things that Matt does well.''

Delhomme threw two interceptions when the Panthers played in Tampa on Oct. 18, one of which was returned by Tanard Jackson to tie the score at 21-all with 8:33 to play.

Carolina wasn't denied on its next possession, however, capping an 80-yard drive with Williams' second touchdown run to secure a 28-21 win. Williams finished with 152 yards and Stewart had 110, his lone 100-yard effort this season.

Rookie Josh Freeman saw some time in the Bucs' next game, and took over the starting job from Josh Johnson on Nov. 8 against Green Bay, throwing three TDs and leading Tampa Bay to a stunning 38-28 upset.

Freeman struggled in losses to Miami and New Orleans, but had the best game of his brief career Sunday at Atlanta. The 17th overall pick was 20 of 29 for 250 yards and two touchdowns, nearly piloting another upset before a last-second score allowed the Falcons to escape with a 20-17 win.

"I think he's starting to develop into what we all think he can be,'' rookie coach Raheem Morris said. "He's shown nothing but good things. He had the one week where he kind of backed off ... but he's getting better and better every week.''

Morris took over defensive playcalling duties from coordinator Jim Bates after the loss to the Saints, saying it was his responsibility to fix a defense that's allowed the second-most points in the NFL and is 26th in yards allowed (370.9 per game).

The improvement was noticeable, as the Bucs yielded a season-low 75 yards on the ground, allowed its second-fewest total yards (297) in a game, and matched a season best with six sacks.

While Freeman is learning on the job, it appears Morris is as well. The league's second-youngest coach drew criticism after running a fake punt that cost Tampa Bay field position early in the fourth quarter, then later opting to attempt a 51-yard field goal - Connor Barth missed - rather than punting with under three minutes to go.

"We were a 1-9 football team," Morris said. "I think you've got to teach this team how to insert a dagger in somebody and win the game. That's part of the learning curve, part of what we're going through.''

Williams had a career-high 186 rushing yards and two TDs in Carolina's 38-23 home win over the Bucs on Dec. 8.

Tampa Bay has not had an individual 100-yard rusher in 21 straight games - the longest active streak in football.

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Posted: 12/3/09 5:51PM ET

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