Keys to Victory: Buccaneers vs Panthers


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take their second, and final, shot at winning the NFC South this Sunday. After failing to secure the crown last week the Pewter Pirates will get a rare thing in this league: a second chance. This time traveling to Carolina to take on the Panthers.

In theory, this should be the perfect matchup for the Bucs. The Panthers are 2-14 and have been at the bottom of the NFL standings all season. On top of that, they’ve fired their head coach and it’s likely that most of this team and remaining staff are thinking about future plans.

Unfortunately, I doubt it will be as easy as some might expect. Let’s not forget the narrow escape the Buccaneers pulled off the last time these two teams played in week 13. And it’s also important to remember that despite their 2-14 record, the Panthers have no incentive to play for draft position as they traded away their first round pick last offseason.

Expect this to be a good old fashioned NFC South rivalry game. And for the Bucs they have everything on the line in what is essentially an elimination game for them. Here are the skeleton key matchups to watch in this week 18 Buccaneers playoff game.

Who Is Sailing The Ship?

Baker Mayfield is entering this game with a rib injury. While he was limited in practice on Thursday, he seemed to be moving very gingerly and was obviously in discomfort. While he will likely be listed as questionable for this game, it’s probably more likely than not that he will miss this one.

Even if Mayfield plays, I question how effective he can be. A rib injury can impact him both in terms of his mobility and ability to throw the football. This leaves the coaching staff in the position to decide between a beat up Baker or a completely unproven commodity in Kyle Trask.

Either way, this is a bad spot to be in with the season on the line. It will likely come with a conservative, simple game plan to try and take something off the plate of whichever guy is playing. From the coaches to the playmakers around him, everyone will have to step up and support a limited quarterback this weekend.

Defensive Line Domination

While the Panthers quarterback isn’t limited coming into this week, he’s certainly been disappointing. Bryce Young was the first overall pick in the draft and Carolina gave up a lot to move up and get him. I don’t think a rookie year featuring less than 2,800 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions is what they had in mind when they did that.

Now in a game where everyone in Carolina is just ready to be done, it’s time to turn up the heat. They shouldn’t be hard against the Panthers offensive line that has looked vulnerable for most of the year. In fact, the front four should be able to have their way in this game.

The last time these two teams met the Bucs had for Saks, as well as a forced intentional grounding call in the game. This led to Young throwing for just 178 yards with less than 50% completion rate with an interception. A repeat performance will be needed for the Buccaneers to secure their division win.

Be Number One With Number One

Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, this week, the Bucs won’t be at full strength, and they’re passing attack. It will be up to the running game to attempt to compensate for that. This means Rachaad White, early and often.

White is 85 yards from breaking the thousand yard barrier. Last time these two teams met he had 84 yards on 20 carries. I expect more of the same from him this weekend.

I will also look for him to be a primary target in the short passing game. The Bucs should plan to get the ball out quick in this game, and Richaad White is one of the most effective pass catchers among all running backs. If white can tally over 130 total yards in this game, I think the Bucs will be in good shape.

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