It has been a rocky year full of ups and downs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The season can be described as frustrating, disappointing and even infuriating. However, none of that matters going into Sunday’s game.
The Bucs will have a chance to achieve one of their main goals this weekend. If they can beat the Carolina Panthers then the pewter pirates will punch their ticket to the playoffs as NFC South champions. However, that’s a big “if”.
The Panthers are playing very well right now and are fresh off a blowout win over the Detroit Lions. Additionally, Carolina has already beaten the Bucs this year in convincing fashion. To turn the tide, here’s what I’ll be watching for in this game.
Panthers Rushing Attack
The last time these two teams met the Panthers ran for over 170 yards against this Bucs defense. Both D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard averaged over seven yards per carry. It was a preference that broke the will of this Buccaneers defense.
This has become the identity of the Panthers offense. They have been running at will, including last week when they rushed for 320 yards. Stopping this aspect of their offense will be critical on Sunday.
However, that’s easier said than done. We have seen the Bucs dominate against the run in recent years, but take a step backward in 2022. It’s also worth noting that nose tackle Vita Vea has missed the last two weeks and his status in unclear for this game.
This will be a heavyweight fight in the trenches. If Vea doesn’t play then the Panthers will win that fight. If he is able to take the field this weekend then the Bucs playoff hopes are still alive.
Bucs’ Outside Receivers vs Panthers’ Outside Cornerbacks
While Vita Vea might be the biggest injury worth noting, it certainly isn’t the only one. Last week Panthers star cornerback Jaycee Horn fractured his wrist. This is a huge loss for that Carolina defense.
The Panthers still feature Jeremy Chinn who is a great nickel/safety/linebacker hybrid. They also have Jacksonville Jaguars first round pick, CJ Henderson, who has talent to work with. Beyond that, it is an unspectacular group in coverage.
This opens the door for the Buccaneers. Mike Evans is 83 yards away from his 9th consecutive 1,000 yard season. Despite the offense’s struggle getting him the ball this year, this is the type of matchup that lends itself to hitting that mark. This would go a long way in a Buccaneers win.
Panthers’ Defensive Line vs Buccaneers’ Offensive Line
The Panthers have a good defensive line. This starts with Pro Bowl pass rusher Brian Burns. He’s as quick and fluid as you will see on the edge and one of the better sack artists in the league.
Alongside him is Derrick Brown. This is one of the most powerful and gritty run stuffers in the NFL. This tandem is as formidable as you will see on a week in and week out basis.
They will go against a Bucs offensive line that is banged up. Donovan Smith missed last week with an injury, but is expected to return this week with Tristian Wirfs who tweaked his ankle in the win vs the Cardinals.
Sam Darnold vs Turnovers
The Panthers quarterback situation isn’t great. They have featured three different starters this year and have finally landed on former New York Jets first round pick Sam Darnold.
Darnold has struggled in his young career. He’s been plagued by turnovers and feeling pressure when it isn’t there. Despite more success in the Panthers recent run, this is someone you expect the Bucs defense to get the better of.
While the Panthers have receivers that can get open Vs the Bucs, getting them the ball could be an issue. Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield Jr and Mike Edwards are all names who could very well be making game changing plays.
Despite this game being at home for the Buccaneers, I really see this as a game the Panthers should be favored in. They are playing at a high level right now and running all over opponents. They look like a playoff team right now and the Bucs don’t.
However, if Vea does play then this game could be close. Winning the trenches and turnovers will be the key and both teams have the talent to outdo the other. View this as a playoff game and both teams are approaching it as such.
Panthers – 17
Buccaneers – 23
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