Craving Knowledege is a new weekly article on the CatCrave site which will be featured every Wednesday of the season. The weekly column will be a piece analyzing Carolina’s players and their potential fantasy impact on both sides of the ball.
As giddy as your little brother on Christmas morning, the NFL season has finally come upon us! In four days, the Carolina Panthers begin their 2014 campaign and defense of the NFC South Title. One of the foes Carolina will be facing twice a year in their division will be the reshaped Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay improved drastically from their disappointing season a year ago. By hiring Lovie Smith as coach and bringing in former Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown to start at the helm, Tampa management is out to prove that last year’s 4-12 record will not suffice for this year.
After the scary news of Cam Newton possibly missing the season opener due to a hairline fracture in his ribs, the franchise quarterback stated he would be starting in the first game of the year. With Cam in the lineup, Carolina fields one of the best dual threat weapons in the league. The Buccaneers defensive line is not the stingiest even with run-stuffing All Pro DT Gerald McCoy, so Newton should have opportunities to make plays in week one. Probably not as elusive due to the injury, Cam will have to step into some deep throws on Sunday to keep TB on the defensive.
Someone will have to catch these throws from Newton and without the luxury of fielding Revis Island on the Panthers number one wideout, expect Jerricho Cotchery to haul in some balls this weekend. As a veteran in a depth chart of mostly young players, Cotchery should be the number one receiving target for Cam. Guarding these Carolina receivers will be the talented but inconsistent Mike Jenkins and Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner. In his first regular season game, Kelvin Benjamin may have trouble separating from defensive backs, especially if he goes against the speedy Verner. Rely mostly on veterans in the passing game because I expect Greg Olsen to quietly make his usual contributions of big grabs across the middle and on key third down conversions.
In reshaping the Buccaneers roster, Tampa acquired highly touted rookie Mike Evans from Texas A&M in this past NFL Draft. With the highly underrated Vincent Jackson and third year back Doug Martin (who will look to bounce back from an injury riddled sophomore year), Tampa fields offensive skill players that could create problems for Carolina. Two towering receivers competing against smaller corners in Melvin White and Antoine Cason (each top out at 6’1) could give McCown the confidence to try some deep balls against the revamped Panthers secondary. If you’re fortunate enough to own one of Tampa’s huge Wideouts in your fantasy league, make sure to start ‘em.
Carolina’s attacking front seven should harass McCown due to a weak Tampa offensive line. Though the acquisition of guard Logan Mankins last week instantly improves the Tampa weak spot, I don’t believe the six time Pro Bowler will be blocking the two top Panthers rushers in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Fielding perhaps the best front seven in the entire league and with a struggling offensive line in front of him, I also don’t expect a 2012 performance from former Pro Bowler Doug Martin in this early September match up.