It’s a battle of the 1-3 teams as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to the Carolina Panthers for a Monday night matchup that is do-or-die for both their playoffs hopes (8.30pm ET on ESPN).
The Panthers were expected to be a much better team this year and the 1-3 start is certainly not how they expected their 2016 season to go. However, perhaps even worse than the slow start is the fact that the Panthers will now be without both Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart for an undisclosed amount of time. This is definitely the biggest blow to the team’s hopes to advance to the playoffs and to win the NFC South.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are very much the opposite. Nothing was expected of Tampa Bay and nothing has so far been given. Alive and one of the early favorites in the sweepstakes to earn the first overall pick in this year’s draft, the Buccaneers do have one thing going for them entering into this game. Of the two games Newton missed last year, both times the Panthers lost and both times it came against Tampa Bay.
The QB match-up doesn’t exactly look promising. Derek Anderson will step in for Carolina for the first time this season and he will be opposed by Jameis Winston (pictured), who is one of the more disappointing first overall draft picks in recent memory. He is on pace to throw 32 interceptions on the season and so far has as many picks as he has touchdowns. In four full games, he has just over 1,100 yards passing.
Needless to say, Winston doesn’t jump off the page as any sort of world beater but he does have an opportunity on Monday. Carolina’s defense is not quite the dominant force it was last year so perhaps if there was a chance Winston could get going it would be in this game. However, there is just as equal a chance that Tampa continues to show why it received that top pick in the first place and why it’s been consistently a sub-.500 team over the past few seasons.
Here our preview takes a look at some of key match-ups and predictions for Monday’s game before concluding with our betting picks:
(CAR) LB Luke Kuechly vs (TB) QB Jameis Winston
This is probably the match-up that is going to have the most eyes on it as Kuechly will look to be the impact player on Monday night. As he has been all season, Kuechly is one of the best defensive players in football and going up against a QB like Winston has often been his bread and butter. A three time pro bowler, Kuechly will disrupt the backfield and will be over the field making life difficult for Winston, who already could be without both Doug Martin and Charles Sims at running back. Kuechly is second in the NFL in tackles and has a sack and interception this year as well.
Look for Kuechly to pad his stats in a big way on Monday. Advantage big-time goes to the defender.
(TB) WR Mike Evans vs (CAR) Panthers’ Secondary
A similar offense vs defense head-to-head, this matchup pits Tampa Bay’s top receiver and the most targeted pass catcher in the league, Mike Evans, against a secondary that has been less than shutdown. Evans is one of the top at his position and is one of only two WRs to sit in the top 10 in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns through the first four weeks of the season. He could be primed for some big numbers against the defense which just allowed Julio Jones to record over 300 yards through the air, just the fourth time that feat was accomplished in NFL history.
It’s unlikely the Panthers will give up those numbers again, but Evans should be in for a big day as he looks to exploit the ailing pass defense. Advantage to Evans in this one.
(TB) LB Lavonte David vs (CAR) TE Greg Olson/ (TB) CB Brent Grimes vs (WR) Kelvin Benjamin
If you’re starting to notice there is a pattern to these matchups , they all involve in one way or another, an offensive player against a defensive player or team defense. In this case, its Carolina’s two massive weapons Greg Olson and Kelvin Benjamin against Tampa Bay’s pretty solid defenders in Lavonte David and Brent Grimes.
For each of the past three years, Olson has been the Panthers’ leading pass catcher. Not much has changed this season as he paces the team with 335 yards on 24 catches and could add to these numbers in a big way with Anderson as historically a tight end is the second string QB’s best friend. In his career against the Bucs however, Olson has only found the end zone twice which is thanks in part to guys like David. Now, Olson will line up in various positions on the field so David won’t be the only guy tasked with keeping his numbers low, but he is a good bet to call on for much of the action. David has 21 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble through the first four games. He is certainly a more than serviceable defender.
Then there is the meeting of Benjamin and Grimes in the secondary. As a deep threat, Benjamin is one of the best and he already has four touchdowns on the year on 16 receptions. A big part of this has come in the chemistry he has quickly re-established with Newton, so the former MVP’s absence could be a problem. It will be up to Anderson to find Benjamin down the field, as Newton has all season. Benjamin will be up against Grimes, who is a bit out of his league in this one. But to be fair, anybody going against the 6’5, 245 pound wide receiver would be.
Overall, this one is about split, but if I had to find a 51/50 situation, the slight edge goes to the Panthers.
Our Preview’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Picks & Predictions
As for the betting picks’ predictions for this preview, back at home, the Panthers desperately need to get back to their winning ways. They’ll be without two of their top weapons but against a pretty bad Buccaneers team, Carolina is still favored to get it done.