Monday Night Matchup

Charlotte, NC - Jeff Garcia took full advantage of a chance to get back into the starting lineup when he faced Carolina in October. In fact, the veteran rarely fails to impress against the Panthers.

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Garcia looks to put together yet another solid effort versus the Panthers (9-3) as he leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) on Monday night in a matchup for sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Oddsmakers from online sports book have made the Panthers –3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Monday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 52% of bets for this game have been placed on the Buccaneers +3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

After leading Tampa Bay to the playoffs in 2007, Garcia lost his starting job to Brian Griese in September after missing most of training camp with a calf injury and playing poorly in a season-opening loss at New Orleans.

Instead of sulking, Garcia focused on getting healthy and Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden insisted he never lost faith in him. Gruden just wanted the quarterback to revert to the player he was last season, and he gave him another chance to start when Tampa Bay faced Carolina on Oct. 12.

Garcia completed 15 of 20 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 27-3 win, and has currently led Tampa to four straight wins.

His teams have won five in a row against the Panthers, with Garcia completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns against three interceptions in those games.

With his efficient play, Garcia seems to be the perfect player to lead the Buccaneers. He's completed 67.2 percent of his passes with eight TDs and three INTs, giving Tampa Bay a chance to win its second straight NFC South title.

After facing the Panthers, the Bucs play their final divisional game the following week at third-place Atlanta (8-4).

"That's the best scenario we can ask for because we don't have to sit around and wait for anybody," Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We can take the NFC South the way we want to."

The Bucs will be facing a Panthers defense that has been inconsistent, but has 13 sacks in its last five games. Garcia's success against Carolina is partly due to his ability to escape the pass rush, avoiding a sack against the Panthers in each of his last two games against them.

Garcia, though, has been sacked nine times in his last two contests overall.

Carolina is led by defensive end Julius Peppers, who had two sacks in a 35-31 win over Green Bay last Sunday. Peppers, who has a team-high 11 sacks, has had two or more 16 times in his career.

Peppers has six sacks in six career home games against Tampa Bay.

The Bucs, meanwhile, intercepted Drew Brees three times and sacked him once to slow down the NFL's top-ranked offense during a 23-20 victory over New Orleans last Sunday.

Garcia was sacked four times and limited to 119 yards passing, but found Antonio Bryant for a 38-yard touchdown that put the Bucs up 20-10.

And Carnell "Cadillac" Williams continues to get more incorporated into the offense. He scored on an 8-yard run, his first TD since a career-threatening knee injury 14 months ago.

"That was big," said Williams, who gained 20 yards on four carries in his second game since being activated from the physically unable to perform list.

Williams, though, has struggled in five career games against the Panthers, averaging 3.4 yards on 80 carries.

Tampa Bay uses a rotation at running back with Warrick Dunn and Williams. Carolina does too, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart sharing the load.

DeAngelo Williams is coming off the best game of his career, setting a team record with four rushing TDs against the Packers. He leads the Panthers with 955 yards and 11 TDs on the ground.

Stewart, a rookie, has rushed for 586 yards and six TDs. Carolina is 9-1 when rushing for more than 100 yards.

Tampa Bay has proven to be vulnerable against the run at times, allowing 150 yards or more twice and at least 100 seven times. Carolina's ability to control the ball will go a long way in determining whether it will be able to take over the division lead.

"There are a lot of people who are fighting for their playoff lives, and we're one of them," Panthers coach John Fox said.

But the Panthers, with dangerous wide receiver Steve Smith, are also capable of quick strikes.

Smith's 54-yard catch set up Williams' fourth 1-yard TD run with 1:30 left versus Green Bay. Smith finished with four catches for 105 yards, all in the second half.

"He does that. He does those things," Peppers said. "We see that all the time."

Smith has 273 yards receiving in his last two games, and the three-time Pro Bowler is sixth in the NFL with 958 on the season.

Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
CAROLINA is 10-6 against the spread versus TAMPA BAY since 1992
CAROLINA is 9-7 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
11 of 16 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
TAMPA BAY is 3-2 against the spread versus CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 3-2 straight up against TAMPA BAY over the last 3 seasons 
3 of 5 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at CAROLINA since 1992
CAROLINA is 5-3 against the spread versus TAMPA BAY since 1992
CAROLINA is 4-4 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
7 of 8 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons.
CAROLINA is 1-1 against the spread versus TAMPA BAY over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 1-1 straight up against TAMPA BAY over the last 3 seasons 
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[S] Jermaine Phillips is out indefinitely - Arm - 10/28/08
[RB] Earnest Graham expected to miss rest of season - Knee - 11/17/08
[TE] Alex Smith missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 11/16/08
[WR] Maurice Stovall IR - Hamstring - 11/12/08
[FB] Byron Storer IR - Knee - 10/13/08
[RB] Carnell Williams is "?" - Knee - 11/16/08
[LB] Geno Hayes injured last game, doubtful - Knee - 11/17/08
[WR] Ryne Robinson IR - Knee - 10/08/08
[DL] Darwin Walker missed last game, "?" - Neck - 11/16/08
[C] Ryan Kalil missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 11/16/08
[LB] Dan Connor IR - Knee - 09/22/08

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Posted: 12/3/08 4:08 PM ET

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