Game Preview

It’s bounce-back time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or so they hope and believe.

The Buccaneers had been bouncing higher and higher in the NFC playoff race with a pair of three-game winning streaks surrounding a one-point loss to Chicago in Week Five. They had a chance to take a commanding lead in the NFC South and even the top spot in the conference standings with a win over the visiting New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.

Then the trampoline ripped and the Bucs crashed to the earth with a 38-3 loss that ranked among the most surprising in team history and which allowed the Saints to cruise back into first. All of which leaves Tampa Bay trying to get big air again as they fly to Charlotte for a rematch with another division foe, the Carolina Panthers.

The Buccaneers can look to the Green Bay Packers for inspiration. After losing in Tampa in Week Six to drop from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Packers rebounded the following week by heading to Houston and putting a 35-20 bruise on the Texans. On paper, the Bucs’ follow-up situation may look similar, as the Texas are struggling through a two-win season and the Panthers have lost five straight to drop to 3-6. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Sunday’s game in Charlotte won’t be as easy as that record would suggest. Carolina is surprisingly frisky for a supposedly rebuilding team and just missed upsetting the defending-champion Chiefs in Kansas City in Week Nine.

The Bucs will try to balance one division sweep with another, because they beat Carolina in Week Two right after opening the season with a loss in New Orleans. Tampa Bay hasn’t swept their division foes from the north since 2016, but doing so in 2020 would even up their record in the NFC South at 2-2, with two games left against Atlanta. It would also improve the team’s record against conference foes to 3-2, which could end up being very significant. More on the playoff race in the Storylines section below.

The Week 10 game in Charlotte is also a break for the Buccaneers amid a string of prime-time and high-profile late afternoon games. Since Week Five, the Buccaneers have played a Thursday night game in Chicago, a marquee late-afternoon game against Green Bay, a Sunday night game in Las Vegas that had to be moved to the late afternoon amid COVID concerns, a Monday night game in New Jersey against the Giants and last week’s Sunday night collapse against the Saints. After facing the Panthers, the Bucs will then follow with another Monday-nighter at home against the Rams and a late-afternoon showcase against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs before finally hitting their bye week.

All of that national attention is obviously a very good thing for the Buccaneers franchise and the upcoming Monday Night Football appearance against Los Angeles is a great showcase for a team that looks to have a good chance to end a long playoff drought. That said, the Bucs haven’t played their best football under the lights and might appreciate at least one 1:00 p.m. game to get a hard reset.

There should be no shortage of motivation for the Panthers, though. Just nine games into Head Coach Matt Rhule’s tenure, the future for Carolina looks quite promising. The Panthers have been in virtually every game they’ve played, with five of their six losses coming by a single score. The only loss that falls outside of that list is the Week Two game in Tampa, which was a one-score game with two minutes to go until Leonard Fournette broke off a 46-yard touchdown run.

And, even at 3-6, the Panthers don’t have to consider themselves out of the playoff hunt. They are 2.5 games out of the last spot with eight weeks and seven games left, and that’s assuming the field stays at seven teams per conference. The NFL will expand the field to eight teams per conference if COVID complications cause the cancellation of any regular-season games.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receivers Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore had strong games against Tampa Bay’s defense in Week Two. Carolina actually out-gained the Buccaneers in the game by a margin of 427 to 339 yards. But the Buccaneers had the game’s only five sacks, committed four fewer penalties and won the turnover battle, 4-2. It might take another “clean” performance, like the ones the Bucs strung together in their big wins over Green Bay and Las Vegas, to take down the Panthers in their home. It’s a rare early game for Tampa Bay, but it’s starting to get late in the season and every division game looms very large.

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

The Buccaneers head to Charlotte hoping to avoid a split in the head-to-head series for the third straight year. A win in Week 10 would give Tampa Bay its first season sweep of the Panthers since 2016.

Since Tampa Bay and Carolina were clustered into the new NFC South Division in 2002, their head-to-head battle has traditionally been one-sided, though that side would flip back and forth. From 2002-17, 13 of the 16 season series between these two teams ended in a sweep, including every one from 2009 through 2017. It went Carolina’s way in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Bucs got the sweep in 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2016. Interestingly, the three splits came in years the Buccaneers either made the playoffs (2005, 2007) or really should have (2008…which ended in a four-game losing streak after a 9-3 start).

But now parity has returned to this rivalry, as each of the last two seasons have ended with a split of the series. Last year, the Buccaneers secured a tight win in Charlotte on a Thursday night in Week Two when Vernon Hargreaves knocked Christian McCaffrey out of bounds two yards shy of the sticks on an all-or-nothing fourth-down run off a direct snap. That 20-14 Bucs win was balanced four weeks later by a 37-26 win for Carolina in a game played in London.

Overall, the Panthers have a 24-16 edge in the all-time series, and after the Bucs’ Week Two win that broke down into identical home and road splits. Carolina is 12-8 against Tampa Bay in its home stadium and 12-8 in Tampa. If you’re wondering how the numbers can be even when the Bucs and Panthers haven’t played the second half of this year’s series yet, it’s because they also met three times before the NFC South was formed. The Bucs won two of those, including one in Carolina’s inaugural 1995 campaign.

Last year’s game in London officially counted as a home game for the Buccaneers. It marked the first time the Bucs had faced the Panthers in a game outside the country, but the two teams did once meet outside of North Carolina, at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium in the aforementioned 1995 series debut. The Bucs’ prime-time win last September included a three-sack performance from Shaq Barrett, Chris Godwin’s 121-yard, one-touchdown outing and a strong rushing effort by Peyton Barber.

Perhaps the most notable wins for Tampa Bay in the series with Carolina came in 2002 and 2005. At the midpoint of the 2002 Super Bowl campaign, the Buccaneers were coming off a deflating loss in Philadelphia (again) and had to play at Carolina without their quarterback, Brad Johnson, who woke up with the flu. Defense dominated and the Bucs were trailing 9-6 late in the fourth quarter before Martin Gramatica saved the day with two long field goals. In 2005, the Buccaneers were in the middle of a late-season three-game road swing when they went to Bank of America Stadium and won a battle for first place by a 20-10 score. Ronde Barber punctuated that game with a sack and a critical interception, becoming the first cornerback ever to reach 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in his career.

Injury Report

Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett (shoulder), inside linebacker Lavonte David (knee), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (groin), and nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) were also added to the report. Each player was limited in practice along with the remainder of Tampa’s listed injured players, other than the absent Gronk.

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (shoulder), cornerback Jamel Dean (illness), safety Mike Edwards (groin), and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) are now off of the list, all of which were included in last Friday’s report.

Key:

  • DNP: Did not participate in practice
  • LP: Limited participation in practice
  • FP: Full participation in practice
  • NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

  • OLB Shaq Barrett (shoulder) – WEDS: LP
  • ILB Lavonte David: – WEDS: LP
  • WR Chris Godwin (finger) – WEDS: LP
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP
  • G Ali Marpet (concussion) – WEDS: LP
  • NT Steve McLendon (shoulder) – WEDS: LP
  • WR Scotty Miller (hip/groin) – WEDS: LP
  • CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (groin) – WEDS: LP
  • OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – WEDS: LP

Panthers:

  • RB Reggie Bonnafon (ankle) – WEDS: LP
  • S Juston Burris (rib) – WEDS: LP
  • S Jeremy Chinn (knee) – WEDS: LP
  • DE Yetur Gross-Matos (ankle) – WEDS: FP
  • DE Marquis Haynes (shoulder) – WEDS: LP
  • CB Donte Jackson (toe) – WEDS: FP
  • RB Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) – WEDS: DNP
  • T Russell Okung (calf) – WEDS: DNP
  • TE Ian Thomas (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP
  • DE Stephen Weatherly (finger) – WEDS: DNP

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers:

  • Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 74
  • Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 7
  • Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 2,398
  • Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 96.2
  • Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 538
  • Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 34
  • Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 437
  • Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
  • Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 6.5
  • Tackles: ILB Devin White, 82

Panthers:

  • Points Scored: K Joey Slye, 78
  • Touchdowns: RB Christian McCaffrey, 6
  • Passing Yards: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 2416
  • Passer Rating: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 98.7
  • Rushing Yards: RB Mike Davis, 353
  • Receptions: WR Robby Anderson, 60
  • Receiving Yards: WR Robby Anderson, 751
  • Interceptions: CB Donte Jackson, 3
  • Sacks: DE Brian Burns/DE Marquis Haynes, 3.0
  • Tackles: LB Shaq Thompson, 73

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers:

  • Scoring Offense: 10th (27.8 ppg)
  • Total Offense: 22nd (349.0 ypg)
  • Passing Offense: 16th (259.6 ypg)
  • Rushing Offense: 30th (92.1 ypg)
  • First Downs Per Game: 21st (21.3)
  • Third-Down Pct.: 24th (40.0%)
  • Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 8th (3.75%)
  • Red Zone TD Pct.: 5th (75.0%)
  • Scoring Defense: 9th (22.6 ppg)
  • Total Defense: 4th (312.9 ypg)
  • Passing Defense: 14th (235.0 ypg)
  • Rushing Defense: 1st (77.9 ypg)
  • First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (19.0)
  • Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 17th (41.7%)
  • Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 5th (8.87%)
  • Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 17th (63.3%)
  • Turnover Margin: t-4th (+5)

Panthers:

  • Scoring Offense: 23rd (23.3 ppg)
  • Total Offense: 15th (369.2 ypg)
  • Passing Offense: 11th (259.3 ypg)
  • Rushing Offense: 18th (109.9 ypg)
  • First Downs Per Game: 14th (22.6)
  • Third-Down Pct.: 11th (43.9%)
  • Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 15th (5.79%)
  • Red Zone TD Pct.: 19th (60.0%)
  • Scoring Defense: 15th (25.1 ppg)
  • Total Defense: 17th (361.8 ypg)
  • Passing Defense: 20th (247.4 ypg)
  • Rushing Defense: 13th (114.3 ypg)
  • First Downs Allowed Per Game: 22nd (23.4)
  • Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 31st (54.2%)
  • Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 32nd (2.70%)
  • Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 14th (60.6%)
  • Turnover Margin: t-9th (+3)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • After breaking into the Bucs’ all-time top 10 in sacks in Week Six, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul moved up another spot into ninth when he got another one against the Giants in Week Eight, putting him at 27.5 since he arrived in Tampa in 2018. That broke a ninth-place tie with Broderick Thomas and now one more would move him past Ronde Barber (28.0) into eight place.
  • WR Mike Evans caught four passes against New Orleans in Week Nine, increasing his career total to 496 receptions. If he grabs at least four more against the Panthers on Sunday he’ll be the first player in franchise history to hit the 500-catch plateau.
  • ILB Lavonte David made his 130th career start on Sunday against the Saints, all of them for the Buccaneers. David’s next start, ostensibly this Sunday against Carolina, will push him past Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp for the seventh-most starts in franchise history.
  • WR Chris Godwin has 19 career touchdown receptions. His next one will tie him with Vincent Jackson for the 10th-most in team annals.
  • CB Carlton Davis has a team-high four interceptions this season. If he gets one more he’ll be the first Buccaneer with a five-interception season since Lavonte David in 2013.

Our Dream 11 Prediction

Tom Brady

Ronald Jones, Christian McCaffrey

Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Robby Anderson

Seth DeValve

Devin White, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carlton Davis, Shaq Thompson

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