ON THE CLOCK! Week 17 : Bucs vs Panthers10 min read
THE PLAYOFFS START RIGHT HERE!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into Week 17 in first place of the NFC South and hosting the division rival Carolina Panthers. The last time these two teams met, the Panthers had just fired their head coach, traded their best offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey to the Niners and traded one of their best receivers Robbie Anderson to the Cardinals. They still beat the Bucs down in a 21-3 rout by rushing for 173 yards and averaging 6.9 yards per play. Their defense held the Buccaneers lackluster offense to just 322 total yards and kept them out of the endzone. The Bucs only had one trip inside the redzone to the Panthers 8-yard line and were forced into kicking a field goal.
That first game still blows my mind. How did a team that was in such disarray manage to dominate the Buccaneers in such fashion? Some guy named Phillip Walker started at quarterback for Carolina in that game and somehow finished 16 of 22 for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Bucs top five passing defense. D’Onta Foreman finished with 15 carries for 118 yards averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Chuba Hubbard finished with 9 carries for 63 yards averaging 7 yards per carry. I’d like to think that this Buccaneers team has changed since then, but I’m not sure they really have. They’re still inconsistent on defense. They’re still boring on offense. And the coaching staff is still clueless. In any case, let’s dive into what’s going on with both of these teams right now to see how they matchup in this Week 17 battle for the division title.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-9)
The Panthers have won three of their last four games, including last week’s 37-24 win over the Detroit Lions. They come into this week with the 29th ranked offense in the league averaging 307 total yards and 21 points per game. Their 29th ranked passing offense averages just 176 yards through the air, while their 10th ranked rushing attack averages 131 yards on the ground. Sam Darnold will be starting at quarterback for this game. He has completed 61% of his passes for 759 yards and 4 touchdowns in 4 games this season. He has NOT thrown any interceptions. D’Onta Foreman is their leading rusher by far with 811 yards and 5 touchdowns, but Chuba Hubbard is a BIG threat as well averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Their leading receiver is DJ Moore with 56 catches on 104 targets for 761 yards and 6 touchdowns and it’s not even close. The next closest guy is Terrace Marshall with 24 catches on 41 targets for 452 yards and 1 touchdown. The only team even more one dimensional than the Panthers are the Chicago Bears who are 1st in rushing and last in passing.
Their 20th ranked defense is allowing 345 total yards and 23 points per game. The 18th ranked passing defense gives up 220 yards through the air, while the 21st ranked rushing defense is giving up 125 yards on the ground. Linebacker Shaq Thompson leads the team with 116 tackles. Defensive end Brian Burns leads the team in sacks (12.5) AND tackles for loss (16). Cornerback Jaycee Horn leads the team in pass break-ups (7) and interceptions (3), but fortunately for the Bucs he will not be playing on Sunday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE: RB D’Onta Foreman
Since trading McCaffrey, he ranks 3rd in the league in rushing with 774 yards, including five 100-yard games. He’s coming off of a 21 carry/165 yard performance against a really bad Detroit Lions defense. However the week before that, the Pittsburgh Steelers held him to just 9 yards on 10 carries. A few weeks before that, the Baltimore Ravens held him to just 24 yards on 11 carries. It can be done. If the Bucs can stop this Carolina rushing attack and force Sam Darnold to beat them with his arm, then Tampa Bay has a good chance of winning this game. If they let the Panthers run all over the field again, then it’s going to be a long day for Bucs fans.
DEFENSE: DE Brian Burns
He is an absolute game-wrecker and he’ll be going up against a less then 100% Tristan Wirfs at right tackle. The Bucs may end up having to send Wirfs some help on that side via an extra tackle or a tight end if he struggles too much with his ankle.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (7-8)
Where do I start with this team? They have been plagued this season with injuries, inconsistent play, stupid penalties, poor coaching and bad playcalling. Yet they somehow still control their own destiny in winning the NFC South division and making the playoffs. This team isn’t very good. They’re not even as good as their 7-8 record may indicate. Since getting embarrassed 21-3 in Carolina, this team is just 4-4 with three of those victories coming down to last minute drives to win against bad teams. They’re just not good. We keep waiting for something to click and for them to turn the corner. We keep hoping that the team they were supposed to be this season just magically shows up one day and they start playing good football. It hasn’t happened. I’m not sure it will under this staff. But as long as the defense keeps the game within reach of one of those historical Tom Brady comebacks, they’ll always have a chance.
Their 15th ranked offense is averaging 346 total yards and 18 points per game. The 4th ranked passing offense averages 269 yards through the air, while the abysmal 32nd ranked rushing offense averages just 77 yards on the ground. That’s 8 yards per game less than the next worst team. Tom Brady has completed 66% of his passes for 4,178 yards, 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He’s on pace for 760 pass attempts, which would crush Matthew Stafford’s NFL record of 727 in a season. He’s also on pace to become the first quarterback in history to complete 500 passes in a season. Leonard Fournette is still their leading rusher with 640 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mike Evans is still just ahead of Chris Godwin (848) with 917 yards, but both guys still only have 3 touchdowns this season. Russell Gage Jr. actually leads the team there with 4 touchdowns.
Tampa Bay’s 6th ranked defense is allowing just 315 total yards and 20 points per game. Their 4th ranked passing defense is allowing just 195 yards through the air, while their 17th ranked run defense is giving up 120 yards on the ground. The Bucs run defense has been wildly inconsistent this season. They have held eight of their fifteen opponents to 100-yards rushing or less this season and seven of those to 77-yards or less. But they’ve also allowed 189 rushing yards to the Chiefs in Week 4, 151 rushing yards to the Falcons in Week 5, 173 rushing yards to the Panthers in Week 7, 231 rushing yards to the Ravens in Week 8, 189 rushing yards to the Browns in Week 12, 209 rushing yards to the 49ers in Week 14 and 121 rushing yards to the Cardinals last week. Of those 7 games, they only won two of them. Injuries have played a role in that as well. When BOTH Vita Vea AND Akiem Hicks are in the lineup for at least 10 snaps on defense, they are allowing just 89 yards per game (which would be good enough for 4th in the league) and the Bucs are 5-1 in those games. When one of them is out, the Bucs are allowing 141 yards per game (which would rank 27th in the league) and they are 2-7 this season. That’s a whopping 50-yard difference when BOTH big guys are in there.
Linebackers Devin White (115) and Lavonte David (113) lead the team in tackles AND tackles for loss (White-8, David-8). Defensive tackle Vita Vea still leads the team in sacks (6.5) with White (5.5) just behind him. Cornerback Carlton Davis III (12) leads the team in pass break-ups with safety Mike Edwards and cornerback Jamel Dean are tied for a team-high 2 interceptions.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : WR Mike Evans
He needs just 83 yards to reach the ninth straight 1,000 yard season of his career, which is almost 20 yards higher than his 65.5 yards per game average this season. He hasn’t even sniffed the endzone since Week 4 against Kansas City when he scored two of his three touchdowns for the season. And that’s after scoring 27 touchdowns over the last two seasons with Tom Brady. He’s long overdue for a BIG game. With Carolina’s best cornerback Jaycee Horn “OUT” for Sunday, this could be Evans chance to finally have one.
DEFENSE : S Antoine Winfield Jr
I expect a BIG day from Winfield on Sunday. Whether he’s blitzing from his nickel safety position or providing run support at the line of scrimmage, he should be able to have a real impact on this game and be a BIG part of this Bucs defense stopping the Panthers rushing attack.
1. Tristan Wirfs vs Brian Burns
Unfortunately, Wirfs is NOT 100% after tweaking his ankle last week in Arizona. Even though Wirfs at 75% is probably still better than most right tackles in the NFL at 100%, he’ll have his hands full with Burns coming off of that left edge.
2. Devin White vs Carolina RB’s
He needs to have one of those games that we used to see from him every week during his first two years. He has the ability to be a game-changer when he wants to be. The Bucs will need him to be “that dude” on Sunday against these Panthers running backs. He’ll need to have a double-digit tackle game along with a turnover or two to give the Bucs defense a chance at stopping the run.
3. Jamel Dean vs DJ Moore
With Carlton Davis III being listed as “DOUBTFUL” for Sunday and could be a game-time decision, Dean may have to step up as the Bucs #1 corner in this game. If that’s the case, he could end up covering Moore quite a bit. Dean hasn’t played particularly well in his last couple of games, but he was having a really good season up to that point. The Bucs need that guy from earlier in the season to show up for this one.
Believe it or not, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers DO NOT have a player officially ruled “OUT” for Sunday’s game for the first time this season. However, they do have two guys listed as “DOUBTFUL” including cornerback Carlton Davis III (shoulder) and outside linebacker Carl Nassib (pectoral). Both guys will be game-time decisions. They do have six players listed as “QUESTIONABLE” including cornerback Jamel Dean (toe), safety Mike Edwards (hamstring), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), left tackle Donovan Smith (foot), defensive tackle Vita Vea (calf) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) with Smith and Vea possibly being game-time decisions as well.
The only player officially ruled “OUT” for Carolina is cornerback Jaycee Horn (wrist). They have three more players listed as “QUESTIONABLE” as well including defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr. (ankle), guard Cade Mays (knee) and tight end Tommy Tremble (hip).
KEYS TO THE GAME
It all comes down to the BIG boys up front on BOTH sides of the ball. The o-line has got to establish the run AND protect Tom Brady to give him time to carve up the Panthers defense. And the d-line has to stop the Panthers rushing attack AND make Sam Darnold uncomfortable in the pocket to hopefully force him into some mistakes. Darnold hasn’t thrown more than 24 passes in any of his starts this season. Carolina has won four of their last six games. In the four wins, they rushed for at least 43 carries in each game. In the two losses, they rushed just 16 and 17 times. The Bucs have got to shutdown their run game. Period.
The Bucs defense has been a little better at forcing them lately and they need to continue that trend on Sunday. The offense has been committing too many of them lately and they need to stop doing that too. It’s that simple.
This Buccaneers offense has to start scoring touchdowns in the redzone instead of kicking field goals. They might be able to get by with that in these last two games of the regular season, but they won’t get away with it in the playoffs. Especially if they have the Cowboys 8th ranked offense coming to town for the first round.
ODDS & ENDS
Odds : Panthers +3/Bucs -3 ; Over/Under is 39.5 points ; Moneyline is Panthers +135 and Buccaneers -160
WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH
When : Sunday, January 1 @ 1pm ET
Where : Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
TV : FOX, NFL+ Radio : 97.9 FM/98 Rock
Temperature around 73 around kickoff with a 20% chance of rain, partly cloudy in the afternoon
I just can’t see this game going the same way that their first meeting went. The Bucs defense does it’s job and the offense FINALLY steps up a little bit to score more than 17 points (barely) to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinch the NFC South title and a playoff birth. BUCS WIN.
Bucs 23 Panthers 16
THE WRAP UP
I hope this Buccaneers team wants this win. They are playing a division opponent. They are playing at home in Raymond James Stadium in front of what should be a loud and proud sellout crowd. They have a chance at some revenge for that Week 7 ass whoopin’ they got in Carolina. They have a chance to win back-to-back NFC South titles for the first time in franchise history. They have a chance to clinch a home playoff game. If they clinch this week, they’ll have the opportunity to rest their starters next week against Atlanta in what would be a meaningless game. This is a BIG game. This is essentially a playoff game for BOTH teams. So which team step up? Which team answers the call? Which team shows up to play? The Bucs will need to play their best game of the season to get the job done and pull off a victory on Sunday. We’ll just have to wait and see which Bucs team shows up.
So now that you know everything you need to know about the Bucs Week 17 matchup on Sunday, there’s only one thing left to say.