The stage is set. Eveybody loves a showdown. Next week, there will be one. The noise from Charlotte, NC, (yes – Charlotte, NC) will be deafening. Familiarity breeds contempt and the contempt will be on full display when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to meet the Carolina Panthers.
Watch the game at your peril. It will be broadcast on ESPN which means that you’ll have to endure Tony Kornheiser who isn’t satisfied with his gig on Pardon the Interruption. His high-pitched whine for three hours? We’ll just have to watch with the sound turned down. It’ll be worth it. This is going to be a big game.
Atlanta Falcons (8-4):
Looking Back: Michael Turner got a return trip to his old NFL home in San Diego. A game billed as Turner versus the guy he languished behind for four years never materialized. Ladainian Tomlinson finished with 96 yards fewer than his former backup. Atlanta remains one game back in the division standings and could trail only one team after week 14.
Looking Forward: Atlanta can knock off a division rival next week when they travel to the Big Easy to play the Saints. This team is playing well on both sides of the ball utilizing their speed and will pose problems for New Orleans. Bank on this – the Falcons will play the Saints a much better game than the Packers did ten days ago.
Carolina Panthers (9-3):
Looking Back: For weeks now, the Panthers have been starting games in neutral. Sunday, they started in overdrive only to run out of gas temporarily. A 21-10 lead quickly became a 28-21 deficit in the second half. Leave the driving to Jake and Steve Smith. Two long hookups helped to seal the deal. Oh, and don’t forget the four touchdowns by DeAngelo Williams.
Looking Forward: So what if the national media can’t seem to pay any attention to this division? Monday night there will be a major tilt at Busted Bank Stadium. This team has the opportunity to – a) avenge an early-season butt whooping in Tampa, Fla., b) take sole possession of first place away from the Buccaneers and c) show the nation that there is real, honest-to-God professional football played out side of the NFC East.
New Orleans Saints (6-6):
Looking Back: Drew Brees giveth and Drew Brees taketh away. From goat to hero. No matter what headline you choose, the Saints QB laid an egg in Tampa. The bad weather coupled with the Bucs’ dominant defense produced three interceptions for the MVP candidate. That brief two-game winning streak came to a bitter end.
Looking Forward: Their sites have to be set on the wild card race. If they are going to make it into the playoffs, they’ll have to turn things around against a Falcons team that seems to just keep churning out victories. In the dome, Brees will have a chance to prove that his performance Sunday was a fluke. This one has shootout written all over it.
Looking Back: The Gruden grimace nearly turned into a smile when Cadillac Williams took that handoff around the right corner, turned it on and scored from five yards out – almost. Getting back the number five overall pick has to be a boost for this team at a critical time. The defense is playing well and Jeff Garcia isn’t making mistakes in his usual workman-like way.
Looking Forward: The second of three straight road games has the Bucs back in Charlotte for a Monday night date with a team that stands in their way of a divisional title. Can they again keep Jake Delhomme from being the Buc Killer? Can the Tampa Bay offense exploit a Panthers defense that has been rather generous recently? Those answers and more will be broadcast on ESP-Yankees Monday night.