The Bucs travel to Carolina to face the Panthers on Sunday and the Pewter Report staff shares our thoughts on the game and predict the final outcome.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (4-10) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (10-4)
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 8:30 P.M. ET
BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM (73,778)
NETWORK TELEVISION: FOX
PLAY-BY-PLAY: KENNY ALBERT ANALYST: RONDE BARBER SIDELINE: KRISTINA PINK BUCS RADIO: 98ROCK, FLAGSHIP STATION (WXTB-97.9 FM)
PLAY-BY-PLAY: GENE DECKERHOFF ANALYST: DAVE MOORE SIDELINE: T.J. RIVES
LAST GAME: TAMPA BAY LOST VS. ATLANTA, 24-21; CAROLINA WON VS. GREEN BAY, 31-24
PewterReport.com Publisher & Bucs Beat Writer Scott Reynolds
This game comes down to health and motivation. Which team is healthier? That would be Carolina, as Tampa Bay placed five players – tight end O.J. Howard, right guard J.R. Sweezy, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, linebacker Adarius Glanton and safety Justin Evans – on injured reserve this week. That brings the Bucs’ injured reserve total up to 12 players for the year.
The Bucs will also be without wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive end Robert Ayers due to injuries, and may also be missing linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Cameron Brate, defensive end Ryan Russell due to injuries as they are all questionable. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is also listed as questionable, but is expected to play.
The Panthers have their share of injuries too, as starting guard Trai Turner is out and defensive end Mario Addison, wide receivers Devin Funchess and Russell Shepard, linebacker Shaq Thompson and center Tyler Larsen are all listed as questionable. Carolina is definitely the healthier team, and they are more talented as a result due to their able bodies.
Now let’s talk about motivation. Carolina is 10-4 and currently has the fifth playoff seed behind 10-4 New Orleans and ahead of 9-5 Atlanta. The Panthers are playing the banged up Buccaneers, who are coming off a short week where they lost their fourth straight game. Do the Bucs want to be in Carolina on Christmas Eve with nothing but pride to play for? Absolutely not.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith has to be concerned about three players primarily on Sunday and should have built his game plan around containing quarterback Cameron Newton and keeping him in the pocket, limiting tight end Greg Olsen and using fast, athletic linebacker Kwon Alexander to mirror Christian McCaffrey and follow him around in coverage out of the backfield. Stopping running back Jonathan Stewart after the Bucs defense gave up over 200 yards to Atlanta on Monday night is a given.
Carolina will do its best to double Mike Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston will be tempted to force the ball to him and an interception or two will happen as a result. We saw that movie last year. Winston will continue to play well and give the Bucs a chance early, but he won’t play as well as he did against Atlanta and I expect the Panthers to pull away in the second half as they lock up a playoff spot in the process and remain in the hunt for the NFC South title.
Reynolds’ Score Prediction: Panthers 30, Bucs 20
Reynolds’ Pick To Click: WR Mike Evans
PewterReport.com Editor and Bucs Beat Writer Mark Cook
Who has checked out? Who would rather be back in Tampa with their family drinking egg nog and watching Christmas movies? Who is waiting for the season to mercifully end and get some time off? Besides me? Hopefully not the patchworked roster of 53 flying to Charlotte this weekend to take on the Panthers this weekend. If very many in red and pewter uniforms are, this game could ugly in a hurry. Heck, when the Bucs had something left to play for a few weeks back at Raymond James it wasn’t a very pretty sight in the loss to Cam Newton and his cast of Panthers.
No matter your opinion of quarterback Jameis Winston, even his biggest critics would agree the dude has “fight till the end” written all over him. Even if some of the players can feel the sands of the Bahamas already under their feet, you know for sure Winston isn’t one of them dreaming of offseason vacations yet. He made that known after the final game of his rookie season in 2015. Winston loves to play football and hates losing. So you can count on No. 3 to come ready to play.|
Unfortunately for Bucs fans, even if all 53 have that same type of attitude on Sunday it won’t be enough. The Bucs are too wounded and just don’t have the talent to beat the Panthers on Sunday. Possibly having Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David will help, but I don’t see it being enough to travel to Charlotte and coming back with a win.
I expect the Bucs offense to keep up early if they can stay turnover free, but defensively is where this team will struggle finding ways to stop Carolina. The team’s inability to stop opponent on third down will continue, as Newton will convert several with his feet, frustrating the Bucs defense. Tampa Bay’s only hope is they can play essentially perfect football and hope the Panthers commit a few turnovers.
No DeSean Jackson, O.J Howard, J.R. Sweezy, Justin Evans, Vernon Hargreaves and others will equal the Bucs’ 11th loss of the year.
Cook’s Score Prediction: Panthers 35, Bucs 21
Cook’s Pick to Click: WR Mike Evans
PewterReport.com Beat Writer Trevor Sikkema
If there was any game that could possibly salvage the Buccaneer tenure of head coach Dirk Koetter, I believe it would have been last week on Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons.
This week against the Panthers on Christmas Eve in Carolina, those hopes of a December victory are much lighter from me.
There are a few major factors that go into me thinking the Bucs realistically have no shot at this game. First of all, it feels like half the damn team is on IR. No Jackson, no Howard, no Hargreaves, no Justin Evans, no Ayers, and that all just adds to the likes of Dotson, Marpet, Spence and other player who would have been starters had this roster been healthy. That in itself is a disadvantage.
Then you throw in that the Panthers, at 10-4, are still somehow fighting for their spot in the playoffs and you have a very good, motivated team going against a very beat up, beaten down, bad team.
I said earlier this week on the Pewter Nation Podcast that I don’t think this Bucs team is going to mail it in. There are too many young guys who will be getting playing time and starter for the first time who will be amped up. However, just because the energy might be there won’t make up for the total talent on the bench hurt.
Winston played the best game of his career last week and he’ll have to do it again for the Bucs to have any shot of playing spoiler in Carolina.
Sikkema’s Score Prediction: Panthers 31, Bucs 17
Sikkema’s Pick to Click: QB Jameis Winston