The Buccaneers begin the second round of division games this weekend as they will host the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers are reeling having lost 3 in a row. The latest loss was a 30-27 setback to the Seahawks at home last week despite Christian McCaffrey geting 237 all purpose yards.
The Panthers defense has been shaky during this three game losing streak giving up an average of over 30 pointsa game to the Steelers, Lions and Seahawks. The last Panthers win was against the Bucs in Charlotte 4 weeks ago as they built a 35-14 halftime lead and went on to win 42-28.
Panthers DB James Bradbury kept Mike Evans in check as Evans was targeted 9 times and managed just one catch for 16 yards. Evans has vowed to redeem himself this week and is looking forward to the rematch against Bradbury.
The Bucs defense has also gotten much better since that game one month ago in Charlotte. In the games since Mark Duffner has been the DC, the Bucs defense ranks 12th in the league and is No. 2 in the league in sacks with 20 since Duffner took over the defense.
The DL is averaging 3.3 sacks per game as Carl Nassib and Vita Vea continue to improve and make their presence felt. Jason Pierre-Paul has been a force all season long and has been the best player on defense.
Lavonte David will be back in the lineup this week which should help against the run. The Bucs are hurting in the defensive backfield as they have been all season. Brent Grimes did not practice on Friday and will be a game time decision on Sunday.
MJ Stewart and Carlton Davis will also miss this game against the Panthers. Justin Evans should be back as he is listed as questionable this week. .
DeSean Jackson is out for the game with a thumb injury. Justin Watson should get his first extensive action of the season in Jackson’s absence.
There is a buzz around One Buc Place that Jackson may be placed on the IR and may have played his last game for the Bucs. After this season, the Bucs and Jackson can part company with no ramifications to the salary cap.
If the Bucs are to win this game they will have to keep Christian McCaffrey in check. No team has been able to do that this year as McCaffrey is on pace to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving for only the second time in NFL history. Marshall Faulk is the only other back to accomplish that feat and he did it twice in 1998 and 99.
The Panthers have involved McCaffrey in 97% of the offensive plays this season. That is a heavy workload and you would think that McCaffrey would begin to wear down at some point, but McCaffrey just keeps on going.
Jameis Winston needs to pick up where he left off last week making good decisions, not forcing throws, and taking what the defense will give him.
Mike Evans needs to have a better game this time around than the last game with the Panthers when he was held to one catch. With OJ Howard out it is imperative that Evans and Winston maintain that Connection that they have established the last couple of weeks.
I think this will be a close game, but at the end of the day I don’t think the Bucs defense will be able to slow McCaffrey enough to make a difference. I see the Panthers winning 31-28.