Thursday Night Football Preview: Bucs-Panthers Fight For Division Win

  • Tampa and Carolina both look to avoid starting the year 0-2.
  • Jameis needs a bounce-back game after a three-interception performance in Week 1.
  • The winner will take a one-game lead in the divisional standings in the NFC South.

CHARLOTTE, NC. – Thursday Night Football this week will feature two teams from the NFC South, both of which are coming off Week 1 losses. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers as they clash it out for bragging rights, avoiding an 0-2 start and getting a one up in the division. A win is vitally important for both teams. But as it stands now, Carolina is a 7-point favorite at USA online sportsbooks heading into the contest.

Tampa Bay Outlook

Last week, the Buccaneers were handled by the San Francisco 49ers 31-17 in a sloppy game played in Tampa Bay. The Bucs were 1-point underdogs at kickoff, to put some perspective on it. Jameis Winston earned his reputation as a turnover-prone quarterback, throwing three interceptions and a fourth that was simply dropped by 49er Kwon Alexander. With an offense that features players like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, the number of turnovers by Winston was unacceptable.

Fortunately, the silver lining for the Tampa Bay offense was the play of second-year pro, Ronald Jones. The former USC Trojan ran for 75 yards on 13 carries while splitting carries with starter, Peyton Barber (who only picked up 33 yards on eight carries). A formidable running game would take the pressure off of Winston.

The defense for Tampa Bay, surprisingly, looked stout. The combination of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea held San Francisco to a paltry 3.1 yards per rush. Jimmy Garoppolo would go on to throw for 166 passing yards, including a Vernon Hargreaves pick-six. Overall, Tampa Bay looks to be playing better defensively, but seem to shoot themselves in the foot on offense.

Carolina Outlook

The Panthers also took a loss in opening week, losing late to the Los Angeles Rams 30-27. It was a hard-fought game for the Panthers who were truly in it all the way to the end. The offense was solely predicated on getting the ball into the hands of Swiss army knife, Christian McCaffrey. The second-year pro ran for 128 yards on 19 carries and added two rushing touchdowns. McCaffrey also led the team in receiving, recording 10 catches for 81 yards. Unfortunately for Carolina, McCaffrey can’t continue to be the workhorse for the entire offense. Other offensive players will need to step up.

On defense for the Panthers, they are led first and foremost by defensive play-caller, Luke Kuechly. Playing alongside him is versatile second-year pro, Shaq Thompson. The linebacker duo combined for 17 tackles on Sunday. On the front seven, star names like Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy, and Brian Burns should ring a bell. Still, the Ram’s running backs were able to average over five yards a carry. The Panthers easily have one of the Top 10 defenses in the NFL right now and continuity between some of the newer players on defense will bode well for the team.

Thursday Night Preview:

The Panthers are -7 favorites in this game. The Buccaneers are 0-7 SU in their last seven road games and 1-5 SU in their last six games at Bank of America Stadium. Rivalries can always change the composition of any game, but Carolina will likely take a win at home putting the Buccaneers at 0-2 on the season.

Keys To Win (Tampa Bay)

1. Run, Run, Run.

With Winston coming off a three-interception game, allow Ronald Jones to continue his hot streak against Carolina and pound the rock.

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2. Get Mike Evans Involved

This one here is simple. The All-Pro receiver finished Week 1 with two catches for 28 yards. That cannot continue.

3. Pressure Cam Newton

When Cam Newton has a clean pocket and a McCaffrey in the flats, there’s trouble for opposing defenses. Tampa will need to utilize Todd Bowles' blitz packages to make Newton uncomfortable.

Keys To Win (Carolina)

1. Stick With McCaffrey.

As much as it's easy to say, defenses can’t figure out a way to stop Christian McCaffrey. He posted over 200 yards of total offense himself against a loaded Rams defense in Week 1.

2. More Pass Rush From Defense

With a reputation as one of the leagues better defenses, the Panthers allowed the Rams running backs to run all over them and could only generate one sack on Jared Goff. Winston will tend to force throws when his pocket starts to collapse.

3. Protect Cam Newton

Newton went down three times last week to the Rams defense. For a quarterback now on the wrong side of 30 and a history of shoulder ailments, Carolina must stop a revamped Bucs defense from blowing up the backfield.