Carolina Panthers have nothing to fear in Week 17 showdown at Bucs

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Steve Wilks
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Steve Wilks /

The Carolina Panthers have absolutely nothing to fear when they travel to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a pivotal Week 17 showdown. 

For a long time on Christmas Night, it looked like the Arizona Cardinals were about to do the Carolina Panthers a massive favor. Kliff Kingsbury’s men held a commanding advantage over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but a late collapse allowed Tom Brady to lead another comeback en route to a 19-16 victory in overtime.

This was a blow to the Panthers’ chances of gaining the NFC South advantage. But it changes very little for Steve Wilks‘ squad in the grand scheme of things.

Carolina needs to win both remaining games to clinch the division and host a playoff contest at Bank of America Stadium for the first time since winning the NFC Championship in 2015. And considering how dominant the Panthers were versus the Detroit Lions last time out, hopes are high that this once-unlikely target can be reached.

The Buccaneers look like a shell of the team that won the Super Bowl in 2020. Things just aren’t clicking consistently under Todd Bowles, even if they are doing just enough to keep the Panthers and New Orleans Saints in the rearview mirror.

Carolina Panthers have nothing to fear at the Buccaneers in Week 17

Based on their narrow win over the Cardinals and how the Buccaneers are playing right now, the Panthers have absolutely nothing to fear ahead of their Week 17 showdown. One that could determine once and for all whether Wilks gets the head coaching job beyond 2022.

Tampa Bay’s offense is disjointed to the point where Carolina’s improving defense can take advantage. However, this task will be made more difficult if stud cornerback Jaycee Horn’s wrist injury is as bad as initially feared.

Carolina’s imposing rushing attack will look to establish themselves after a franchise record-breaking display in their home finale. The Buccaneers are giving up 120.7 yards per game on the ground this season, so opportunity knocks for the Panthers and especially if Vita Vea cannot recover from a calf issue that kept him out in Week 16.

For many on the Panthers, this is the biggest game of their careers. That’s certainly the case for Sam Darnold, who is in the midst of a career renaissance since coming in as the team’s starting quarterback.

The former USC standout was sensational once again on Sunday. His poise in the pocket is coming on leaps and bounds behind a superb offensive line, which Darnold hasn’t experienced before and is benefitting from greatly.

Darnold has his work cut out against a formidable Tampa Bay secondary. But another strong outing will enhance his claims of securing a new deal in Carolina when the time comes.

Momentum is everything. There is a completely different atmosphere within Carolina’s locker room currently thanks to Wilks’ influence, with his ‘win the day’ mentality going down extremely well with a group of players that are fighting hard in the face of significant adversity.

Overcoming Brady and the Bucs is something Carolina has already done emphatically this season. While it might be more difficult on the road in a playoff-type atmosphere, the Panthers are almost playing with house money after such a disastrous start and thrive with the underdog tag.

Belief is growing. And that could be enough to overcome the odds in a high-pressure situation that’s been sorely missing from Panthers football in recent years.

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