It’s been a month since they last played, but a lot has happened since then. The Carolina Panthers haven’t won a game and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got back in the win column. During that time, the Panthers have been giving up 34 points per game while the Bucs are allowing 21, only 12.5 at home. The Niners are not amazing, but the Bucs finally looked like a complete team. Can they continue the success or will they fall back to the bottom of the barrel?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like the team we wanted to see all season, last week. Against the 49ers the Bucs looked good in all facets, but it was the 49ers. The Panthers have lost three straight, one blowout to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and two decided in the final two minutes. Winston is back as the starter and he will be looking for a second straight turnover free game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is a completely different team in Tampa where they only allow 19.8 points per game. The Panthers have struggled on the road, scoring only 20.4 points, a touchdown less than average.
The Panthers are still by no mean a bad team, they are just enduring a tough stretch. They could easily come out and put up 35 first half points like they did in Carolina, or the Bucs could keep the momentum going and get their second straight win.
Since their last game the Panthers have improved from 19th in yards per game to 13th and moved up from 12th to 10th in points per game. They still struggle passing the ball, ranking 21st in the league. They don’t struggle running the football. They are the third best rushing team in the league on the shoulders of the Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Newton is still averaging 38 yards per game on the ground and five yards per carry. He likes playing against the Bucs so look for him to be on a mission.
Carolina still has one of the best offensive lines in the league. Allowing only 20 sacks this season, 5th fewest. Couple that with their success on the ground and this is a formidable unit. Newtons mobility still is a factor, but they are a better group than most expected.
The Ground Game
The Panthers running game, as I stated earlier, is very good. Christian McCaffrey has exploded with one of the best games of the season with 100 yards both rushing and receiving against the Seahawks. He’s averaging five yards per carry and 8.5 yards per catch, tallying 1365 yards so far this season.
After only having three touchdowns before playing the Buccaneers he’s found the endzone seven times in four games. He’s scoring at a rapid pace and is a top five fantasy running back for the remainder of the season.
The Carolina Panthers biggest weakness is still their receivers. Outside of their tight end, Greg Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey, Devin Funchess and DJ Moore are competing for number one receiver. Both are have less than 45 catches and fewer than 575 yards. Compare that to the Bucs where they have five players with more than 500 yards and all but OJ Howard with more than 40 receptions. The Bucs currently have the top passing offense, so its difficult to compare, but it proves how good teams could be at this point.
Greg Olsen is still just as consistent. He is still playing over 95% of the offensive snaps and is Newtons favorite red zone target. The Buccaneers still struggle against tight ends, especially with the injuries to their linebacker core. Look for Greg Olsen to have a big game this Sunday.
The Panthers defense is still slightly above average ranking 14th in yards per game. Since the Bucs game, their pass defense has fallen from 17th to 22nd, but went up from 8th to 6th in rush defense. That may not be particularly a good thing for them because its easier to get yards and points through the air than on the ground. The one strength of the Bucs offense is the passing game so they should be in for another big day through the air.
After the Bucs game the Panthers had their worst overall game of the year where the got destroyed on Thursday Night against the Steelers losing 52-21. While they were good at forcing turnovers before the Bucs game, they have only gotten two since then. Winston had his first game with zero turnovers. Could the “turnover-less” trend could continue this week?
Besides the pass defense, the Panthers aren’t getting to the quarterback. They ranked 23rd before they played the Bucs and they still are ranked 23rd. Their linebackers are fast so look for them to be a factor rushing the passer.
They are still a very disciplined unit on defense. Now with the 4th fewest defensive penalties the Bucs shouldn’t look to gain yards via the Panthers mistakes. With Ron Rivera and Luke Kuechly leading the defense, they don’t make mental mistakes.
Panthers Special Teams
Since the Buccaneers game Graham Gano has missed two of his four field goal attempts. He still has the 63 yard game winner under his belt, but going only 50% in the past four games isn’t his best. He is 13 for 14 on extra points which isn’t bad, but he isn’t as consistent as he was to start the season.
Michael Palardy is still averaging less than four punts per game. He makes the most of his punts because he ranks 9th in net yards per punt with 41.3. 20 of his 43 punts are inside the twenty so there a good chance if he’s on the field, he will completely flip the field.
The Buccaneers special teams is finally a cohesive unit. Just like the Panthers I don’t expect them to lose their team the game this week. Look for yet another shootout this week, but don’t be shocked if the Panthers have less than 24 points and they hit the under.