- Match-up: Carolina Panthers (0-0) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneer (0-0)
- Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Florida
- Date: Sunday, 07 September 2014
- Time: 4:25 pm EST
- TV: FOX
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers have been fierce division rivals since 2002. Week 1 they open up the sesaon against each other in a big divisional matchup. Carolina swept the series last year with ease winning 31-13 in Tampa and 27-6 in Carolina. Head coach Lovie Smith takes over for the Buccaneers this season and squares off against his former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the head coach of Carolina. Carolina won the NFC South last year with an 11-1 finish after a 1-3 start. Carolina went 5-1 in the division which was a big reason they won the division. Tampa had a terrible year last starting 0-8 then going 4-1 and finally finishing 0-3 to get head coach Greg Schiano fired. Lovie Smith looks for the quick turnaround behind his former Chicago quarterback Josh McCown. Carolina has a revamped offensive line and wide receiver corp but still a very strong defense (2nd PPG, 2nd least yards allowed) which led them to a South division title.
The key match-up for this game will be the Panthers new offensive line against the Bucs revamped defensive line. Byron Bell struggled at right tackle but will be the Panthers left tackle. Amini Silatolu returns from an injured 2013 season at left guard and rookie Trai Turner starts at right guard. Ryan Kalil is a top 5 center but will have his hands full with Gerald McCoy, who has been the best defensive tackle in the league the last 2 seasons with some health. The Bucs added Michael Johnson who had 5 sacks, 16 hits, and 40 hurries last year for the Bengals. Johnson is a beast in run defense with +21.2 grade. If McCoy and Johnson have big days it will be a long day for Cam Newton and his bruised ribs. Lavonte David is a very good blitzer and one of the best weak side linebackers in the league and Adrian Clayborn and DaQuan Bowers have talent at defensive end but have yet to produce consistently. Facing Nate Chandler at right tackle they should have a chance to excel. The key matchup for the Bucs is again their revamped offensive line against a menacing front 7 for the Panthers. Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, rookie Kony Ealy at defensive end, and Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short at defensive tackle will test the Bucs offensive line. New left tackle Anthony Collins and former Patriot Logan Mankins were huge additions for the Bucs on the left side, along with Evan Dietrich Smith at center. Demar Dotson played well at right tackle in 2013 and Oniel Cousins at right guard is the only true weak spot. If they can give McCown enough time, his weapons of Vincent Jackson, rookie Mike Evans and rookie Austin Sefarian Jenkins will get open and sneak some yards and points against the Panthers defense.
Players to Watch
For the Buccaneers the player to watch is Doug Martin. Martin returns after struggling his injury filled second season looking to play like he did his rookie season in 2012. If Martin can get going on a solid Panthers run defense (4 YPC), Tampa Bay could put up enough points to win. The player to watch for the Panthers is Cam Newton. Newton has bruised ribs and a whole new set of weapons. If the Buccaneers are able to put up some points at home, the pressure will be on Newton to answer, finding rookie Kevlin Benjamin, tight end Greg Olsen and veteran Jerricho Cotchery. With bad ribs, Newton may not use his legs as weapons against Tampa. If Cam has a big game, the Panthers defense will do the rest for a win.
With home field advantage and an ailing Cam Newton, the Buccaneers will shock the NFC South and pull off a win. Josh McCown will get just enough time with his new line and weapons and score over 20 points. Tampa Bay will play strong defense under head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and will hold the Panthers to under 20. Final score Bucs 20 Panthers 17.