Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: game preview


Great Scott! We’ve gone back to the future! (If you don’t know that reference, you haven’t lived.) Sunday’s matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be a bit of a reminder of who Carolina used to be and who Tampa Bay has the potential to become. Although the players will be fighting for their present, the past and future will collide in an epic division battle on the gridiron.

Although the players will be fighting for their present, the past and future will collide in an epic division battle on the gridiron.

Five years ago, the Carolina Panthers were a team in disarray. A defensive-minded coach had recently taken the reigns of a team with several problems, the greatest of which were at quarterback. Jimmy Clausen (now with the Chicago Bears) had been a bust, that much was evident after a horrific rookie season, and now the Panthers were faced with the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. They chose a quarterback with a controversial history. Many questioned his leadership, his character, his maturity, his abilities, etc. Five years later, Cam Newton is leading the 3-0 Carolina Panthers with superhuman capabilities.

Sep 27, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Carolina defeated the Saints 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face an unknown future with a defensive-minded coach and a controversial rookie quarterback who seems to possess an endless supply of potential. The 6-10 season that Carolina had during Newton’s

Sep 27, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

rookie year seems to be a good mark for the Bucs to shoot at. For Tampa Bay, this season is not about winning now, this is about establishing a winning culture.

For Carolina, the opposite is true: they need to win now. Cam Newton is clearly entering the prime of his career, and he is playing like a man possessed on the football field. If the MVP award were truly based on value instead of statistics and celebrity, there would be one clear front-runner in that award’s race. If not for the heroics of Cam Newton, the Panthers could easily be a broken team at 0-3.

Only one person comes close to rivaling Cam’s value to this team (at least on offense) and it is Greg Olsen. After laying an ugly, putrid egg in the first game against Jacksonville, Olsen has been a huge part of the Carolina Panthers’ passing attack. Were it not for him, there would be no offense of which to speak. He should (deservedly) receive another 10+ targets in Sunday’s game.

Tampa Bay’s defense is… shaky? bad? I can’t decide. They have some good parts in David, McCoy and Verner among others, but the parts do not seem to be working well together. They have averaged almost 27 points allowed per game against offenses that ranked from average to subpar (Tennessee, an injured Drew Brees and Houston without Arian Foster). The running games of their opponents have been particularly bountiful which should bode well for the Carolina running back crew on Sunday.

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While this has been a popular upset pick for Panther haters, this game should be one-sided from top to bottom. The Bucs have a bad defense and a rookie quarterback who is struggling mightily. Winston has more turnovers than touchdowns and doesn’t look to improve against a new-look Panthers’ defense. Jared Allen will look to make an impression in his first game wearing black-and-blue. Josh Norman will continue to cement himself as a top-3 cornerback in this league. Winston and company will struggle to hold on to the ball, and the Bucs defense will struggle to hold back the Panthers.

Prediction: 27-10