(Photo Credit: slate.com)
Continuing our look at the Buccaneers’ division rivals, this time it’s Carolina.
The Panthers have had two very different seasons in the last two years. One culminating with a Super Bowl appearance. The other, with a Top-10 Draft pick.
So, who is Carolina going to be this year? Will we see the resurgence of Cam Newton? Or was last year a more accurate display of who he really is?
Let’s take a look.
The first time the Buccaneers took on the Carolina Panthers, it was on Monday Night in Week 5.
It was the embattled rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo who nailed the game winning field goal to gain some praise for once.
Of course, it all had to be taken with a grain of salt. Playing in place of their injured starting quarterback, Derek Anderson failed to find the endzone while throwing two interceptions.
Jacquizz Rodgers took the field as the starting running back and eclipsed 100-yards on the ground.
The one touchdown scored by the Bucs went to Mike Evans who brought in a 26-yard pass from Jameis Winston to bring the team within two.
After a two-point conversion from Winston to receiver Adam Humphries, the stage was set for Aguayo’s kick.
The Bucs got just their second win of the season, but more importantly, they broke a three-game losing streak heading into their bye week.
While the team was just trying to get a win under their belts in Week 5, they were trying to earn a playoff berth in Week 17.
This time, Newton was in action and Rodgers failed to gain 100-yards. Still, Tampa came with the win thanks to three interceptions by their defense.
Veteran Brent Grimes brought his interception all the way back for a score while safety Keith Tandy helped seal the win with his pair of turnovers forced.
Late in the game however, the Panthers had a chance to pull out the win after Newton found Travis Benjamin for a late score.
A failed two-point conversion did in the comeback attempt though, and the Buccaneers finished the year 9-7.
Not to be forgotten, Tampa was able to get the season sweep of the Panthers following 2016 when Carolina had done the same to the Bucs.
2017 Off-Season Moves
It may seem the Buccaneers are the only team in the NFC South not to trade with the Patriots.
Trading Kony Ealy to New England was a transaction which definitely had Carolina coming out on the winning end. Of course, it’s too soon to say the Pats didn’t win too, and we may have a rare win-win here.
The problem with the Panthers defense in 2016 wasn’t the front end. When healthy, they still boast one of the better units in the NFL.
Injuries and a weakened secondary did them in last year.
To try and bolster the back-end, the team brought in veterans Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Adams. Not only can both men provide some immediate play on the field, they can also help mentor the young pieces they have already.
No doubt, James Bradberry will benefit from having experience to learn from.
The homecoming of Julius Peppers is going to draw some applause and cheers. Beyond that though, it’s uncertain just how much the return of this player will actually impact the squad.
Don’t sell out the veteran just yet, but this move may be more hype than substance.
2017 NFL Draft
If the Falcons and Saints showed anything to the Panthers and Buccaneers, it was offense rules the day.
Carolina was certainly listening as four of their seven draft selections were on offense.
Running back Christian McCaffrey is a versatile playmaker who should impact the team immediately. Curtis Samuel is a wide receiver on paper, but also has experience out of the backfield.
Taylor Moton will come in from Western Michigan and try to help Newton get his offense back on track with an extra second here and there.
Finally, Alex Armah will try and fill the fullback role, though he may be a longshot to make the team.
Corn Elder at cornerback and Daeshon Hall on the defensive line will be welcome additions to the defense. Both were smart value picks for where they were drafted.
Overall, the Panthers did well. The offense should gain some excitement between last year and this year’s model.
The Buccaneers will have their hands full with matchup considerations as Carolina has gotten much faster through the draft.
The first time we get to see the Buccaneers take on these Panthers will be Week 8 of the NFL Season.
Playing in Tampa at the end of October, it’ll be a homecoming of sorts as the Bucs will play two straight on the road prior to this game.
Their second match-up comes on the road when the Bucs visit the Panthers during Week 16. Not only will they be on the road, but they’ll be coming in off a short week following their Monday Night contest against Atlanta in Week 15.
Definitely not the easiest of ways to come into these contests, and we’ll know a good amount about each squad before they ever see each other on the field.
It’s hard to pin point what an expected record against this rival will be in 2017.
On the one hand, Tampa’s offense should be improved, but so should the Carolina defense.
The same could be said about the opposite side of the ball for each team as well.
One win is fair to be expected from the Buccaneers in this series though, so it should be no worse than 1-1 this season, with some optimism hoping for a 2-0 sweep for the second-year in a row.
Weakest Link – Panthers Secondary
Carolina has made some strides, but the Buccaneers offense should prove too talented for their aging additions to stop.
Mike Adams has a pretty good track record where availability is concerned. He’s missed just four games in his last three years as a member of the Colts.
Still, he’s 36-years old this season, and the Bucs offense is way too young and athletic for him to keep up for 60 minutes.
Captain Munnerlyn is on the right side of 30-years old, but isn’t what he once was when he started 16 games in back-to-back seasons starting in 2013.
Since then, he’s started just 14. He’ll likely play nickel where the Buccaneers will line up guys like DeSean Jackson to exploit the speed differential.
Biggest Threat – Cam Newton
Despite his struggles, and the Buccaneers’ ability to beat him last year, Newton still is the heart-and-soul of this team.
If he gets rolling, the whole team hits a new gear.
Ever since he walked out on the media during the Super Bowl post-game interviews in 2016, questions about his leadership and team mentality have been constant and deafening.
They’ll continue to be there until he can show he’s capable of leading the Panthers back to the level of play they enjoyed in 2015.
If he does, then the Bucs defense better be ready to stall his efforts.
This completes our look at the Carolina Panthers and how they match-up against the Buccaneers in 2017.
The pre-season will tell us more about what to expect when these two rivals collide.
Let me know your thoughts on this year’s version of the Carolina Panthers, and how you see this year’s games going for the good guys.
Find me on Facebook or twitter, and let me know your thoughts!