It’s not often that a team has to wait until week 16 to see a division rival. That is the case this year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers. They will meet for the first time this season on Sunday and again in two weeks to end the regular season.
However, at this point the regular season is essentially over for both teams. The Bucs are getting ready for their playoff run and the Panthers are making offseason plans. The Buccaneers will have a winning record and the Panthers will have a losing record.
Of course this means that Carolina will look to play spoiler this weekend. They won’t want a division rival coming into their house and securing the NFC South crown and we’ve seen this year that an upset can happen any given Sunday. So here’s what to look for against the Carolina Panthers.
There is uncertainty about what the quarterback situation will be on Sunday. After trading for Sam Darnold in the offseason he was hoped to be the star signal caller of the future. However. A string of underwhelming games and an injury have led many to feel like this was a failed experiment. He is expected back this weekend and will likely start.
However, an old friend has come back to Carolina. Cam Newton signed with the team a few weeks ago and has taken a lot of the starting reps in Darnold’s absence. The former MVP spent nine seasons with the Panthers and led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2015.
It was an unexpected reunion when the Panthers signed Newton last month. It was an unceremonious end to this relationship last season as the Panthers made it clear they wanted to go in a different direction. Now it feels a bit like having your ex over for family dinner.
Newton may see some sub packages to keep the defense guessing. He might not see the field at all considering the Panthers have their young quarterback returning and Newton is not the player he once was. It will beca situation to monitor come Sunday.
The Panthers are not particularly strong on the offensive and defensive line. They have a few very good players who will be ready to go on Sunday. Offensive tackle Taylor Moton is an above average starter and Brian Burns was just elected to the pro bowl.
Unfortunately for Carolina, COVID has reared its ugly head. Their 2020 first round pick Derrick Brown is currently out and starting center Pat Elflein was added to thr COVID reserve yesterday. This means the Panthers could be without their starting nose tackle and will be on their third string center. A significant advantage for the Buccaneers.
Joe Brady was brought in as the offensive coordinator last season as part of the new staff. He was the architect of the national championship LSU offense and has been regarded as one of the brightest young minds in the game. Fast forward a year and a half later and the Panthers have already parted ways with their promising young coach.
Carolina fired Brady over their bye in week 13. The move came as a surprise despite a lackluster offense. However, considering the revolving door at quarterback, the injuries to star running back Christian McCaffrey and a suspect offensive line it felt like Brady was a bit of a scapegoat.
The move hasn’t really sparked the offense as they’ve averaged just 17.5 points per game since. Even worse, the Panthers seem to have no offensive identity at all. Don’t anticipate a high scoring affair.
The Panthers aren’t a good team and it feels like they’re just waiting for the season to end. Do I believe they’ll put up a fight? Yes, they’ll likely start out with some spunk vs a division rival. Them sustaining intensity in this game could be a different story.
Expect a somewhat low scoring game as the Buccaneers start to navigate recent injuries. However, at the end of the day the talent of Tampa Bay should prevail.
Buccaneers – 27
Panthers – 13
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