HERE KITTY KITTY!
It’s Week 18 and that means we are heading into the regular season finale and revving up for the playoffs. The 12-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting the 5-11 Carolina Panthers for their second meeting in three weeks with a chance to get their franchise record 13th win of the season. The Bucs are heading into this matchup more shorthanded than they have been for any game this season, but they’ve also won six of their last seven games. Carolina has lost nine of their last eleven games, including six straight games, after a 3-0 start and is in the middle of what can only be described as an identity crisis. It’s an NFC South divisional matchup that the Bucs need to win if they want to finish as the #2 seed for the playoffs. So let’s take a deeper look at this Carolina team to see what Tampa Bay is up against this week.
Carolina is currently ranked 30th in total offense averaging just 298 yards and 18 points (29th) per game, including 190 yards passing (29th) and 108 yards rushing (21st). They recently benched quarterback Cam Newton and named Sam Darnold the starter going into this Week 18 matchup with the Buccaneers. He has completed 58% of his passes for 2,308 yards, 7 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. They are still WITHOUT star running back Christian McCaffrey who’s on injured reserve, and have Chuba Hubbard starting in his place. He’s has 565 yards with 5 touchdowns on the ground, but hasn’t been much of a threat as a receiver this season. Speaking of receivers, DJ Moore is leading the team with 1,070 yards and 4 touchdowns. Nobody else even has half of that yardage, however wide receiver Robbie Anderson is the closest with 469 yards and 4 touchdowns of his own. In their meeting two weeks ago, the Buccaneers defense held this group to just 273 total yards and had 7 sacks of Cam Newton. We’ll see if Darnold can do any better.
Carolina’s defense is ranked 2nd in the league allowing 300 total yards and 23 points, including 184 yards passing (2nd) and 116 yards rushing (20th), per game. Two weeks ago, the Bucs offense was able to put up 391 total yards and 32 points on this defense, including 159 rushing yards WITHOUT Leonard Fournette in the lineup. The Panthers leading tackler is safety Jeremy Chinn with 107 tackles. He’s part of a secondary that once consisted of cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, AJ Bouye and Donte Jackson. Bouye was placed on IR a few weeks ago with a soft tissue injury. Jackson was just placed on IR with a groin injury. And Gilmore was just placed on the COVID-19 list and has been listed as “out” for this game. Even though the secondary may not be what it once was, the Panthers pass rush is still there. Outside linebacker Haason Reddick leads the team with 11 sacks and defensive end Brian Burns is a close second with 9 sacks. The Bucs offensive tackles will have their hands full against these guys.
The Panthers are just a lost and confused team right now. They’ve lost six straight games. They benched Cam Newton. They lost their star running back once again. And the secondary that they spent so much money on last off-season is in shambles. As we saw last week against the Jets, anything can happen in this league, but I just can’t see this Panther team that is 2-6 on the road beating the Bucs at home where they are 6-1 this season.
WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT
Well, where do I begin. The Bucs have been banged up for most of this season, but it’s mainly been in the secondary. They’re still banged up, but now it’s all over the place instead of just in one position group. Shaq Barrett (knee) and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) are both officially “out” for their second straight game. Ronald Jones (ankle) is “out” with his injury, which means the Bucs will be rolling with Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Leveon Bell and Kenjon Barner for this game since Leonard Fournette (hamstring) and Giovanni Bernard (ankle) are still on IR. And backups Rashard Robinson (groin) and Justin Watson (quad) are also “out” for this game. Richard Sherman (achilles) is listed as “doubtful” and will be a gametime deciaion while Ryan Jensen (shoulder) is “questionable“, but should be able to go.
Carolina only has three players listed on their injury report. Safety Sean Chandler (groin) is listed as “doubtful” and is not likely to play. Wide receiver Robbie Anderson (quad) and defensive tackle Derrick Brown (elbow) are both listed as “questionable” and will likely be gametime decisions. And as I said earlier, they will be without their top two cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore (COVID) and Donte Jackson (groin) who was just placed on IR.
1. Wirfs/Smith vs Reddick/Burns
This is a matchup of the Panthers top two edge rushers versus the Bucs top two offensive linemen. As long as they can keep Brady clean, this should be a productive day for the Buccaneers offense.
2. Joe Tryon vs Brady Christensen
He got the start last week with Shaq and JPP out and he was disappointing. This week, he has another opportunity to prove himself. We all know the talent is there, but we also know theres more to it than just talent. He’s got a chance this week to right his wrongs from last week.
3. Tom Brady vs Antonio Brown
I know it sounds weird, but Brady’s biggest challenge this week might just be the AB distraction. Brady is typically laser focused on his opponent, but he’s not usually faced with a situation like this one with Brown this week. If he can brush it to the side and keep this offense focused on the task at hand, then this team will win today and have a much better chance in the playoffs.
4. Ke’Shawn Vaughn vs Opportunity
Hes getting his first career start, so it will be interesting to see if he rises to the occasion or if he shrinks from the challenge. Two weeks ago, he had 7 carries for 70 yards against these Panthers. Lets hope that he picks up where he left off in that game.
5. Devin White vs Himself
D-White needs to step up in this game. He needs to be the 2020 version of Devin White. The aggressive, speedy linebacker who loves playing football version of Devin White. That’s the guy I want to see in this game.
Two weeks ago in Charlotte, the Bucs beat this Panther team 32-6 and I expect this game to go in a similar fashion. Even being as shorthanded as they are, the Bucs still have the talent and the firepower to blow this team out again. I think this time will be even worse. Tom Brady and the offense might feel a need to come out and prove that they don’t need Antonio Brown to be dominant. If they do, then this Carolina team could be in for a long afternoon.
Bucs 41 Panthers 13
The Bucs SHOULD win this game easily. They will win it. It’s just a matter of by how many. They will get their franchise record 13th win of the season. And they will end up as the #2 or #3 seed in the NFC for the playoffs, depending on the 49ers/Rams outcome. By Sunday night, we should know who the Bucs are playing in the wildcard round and when they’re playing. Playoff football is returning to Tampa Bay. It’s exciting stuff. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. But first, we have some unfinished business to take care of in the NFC South.
Well that should be all you need to know about the Bucs upcoming opponent before the toe hits the leather, so all I have left to say is…
CAROLINA PANTHERS, YOUR ASSES ARE ON THE CLOCK!