Game Overview ::
By mjohnson86 >>
- This is a rare rematch of a matchup that we saw just two weeks ago, with the Bucs winning the first game in Carolina 32-6.
- Tampa Bay has a chance at securing multiple home games in the playoffs despite a tumultuous second half of the season.
- Sam Darnold has continued to look shaky this season for the Panthers, with one last audition for next season against a tough defense.
- Tampa Bay’s strength lines up with the strength of the Panthers defense.
How carolina Will Try To Win ::
Carolina was able to stay with their running game in Week 17 against the Saints, despite limited success, because the Saints were unable to generate much offense themselves to force the issue. In this matchup against one of the league’s top offenses, Carolina is unlikely to be able to maintain the near 50/50 run-pass split that they operated with last week. Tampa Bay also operates as one of the more extreme “pass funnel” defenses in the league, so Carolina is likely to need to move the ball with short area to intermediate passing. The Panthers attempted 45 passes compared to just 15 rushes in the Week 16 matchup with the Bucs, and that was with Cam Newton starting and playing a good portion of the game. It is highly likely that the Panthers will be forced to have Darnold throw 40+ times again in this game against a Tampa Bay defense that gave up solid production to Zach Wilson, Braxton Berrios, and the Jets last week. In the Week 16 game, the Panthers only managed a meager 5.58 yards per pass attempt.
The only scenario where I could see the Panthers being able to stay balanced would be if they make a big play or get a turnover that leads to an early score and lead that gives them some control of the game.
How tampa bay Will Try To Win ::
Tampa Bay’s offense is second in the league in pace of play and leads the league in pass rate. While the Panthers have a very good pass defense, which is the easier path to attack them, they will be without star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and there is a chance that some other key players will sit as well. Coming off an ugly performance in Week 17 and with all of the negativity around the Bucs over the last week, I would expect Tom Brady to come out focused and dice up the Panthers through the air. The Bucs are already without Leonard Fournette, and now Ronald Jones is likely to miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, leaving Ke’Shawn Vaughn as the lead running back. Vaughn has looked good the last two weeks, but the Bucs are unlikely to give him 25-30 touches, increasing the likelihood of an aggressive passing attack for Tampa Bay.
Likeliest Game Flow ::
This is a game that means a lot for the Bucs in terms of playoff seeding, as well as momentum heading into the playoffs. Coming off the bad performance in New York and with a lot of new pieces on offense, the Bucs will treat this game with laser focus and like a dress rehearsal to get things rolling heading into the playoffs. Last year the Bucs won four straight games heading into the playoffs, scoring an average of 37 points per game, as they built momentum for their playoff run. This year, they have an ugly win against the Jets and a shutout loss to the Saints in the last three weeks. I don’t know if the “Angry Tom” narrative is real, but I do know that when good teams with high-end quarterbacks play poor teams whose seasons are over, it usually has a predictable outcome.
With that in mind, this game sets up for the Bucs to take control of the game early and really pour it on. The Bucs control the tempo in that scenario and force Darnold to throw the ball at a very high rate against a secondary that should be in much better shape than they were last week (when multiple starters were on the COVID list and cleared Sunday morning, then had flight issues that kept them from arriving at the stadium until right before kickoff). The Bucs may pull their starters and key players in the 4th quarter of this game if they are in clear control and/or the Rams are able to pull away from the 49ers (thus locking Tampa into the 3-seed), but even in that scenario, they will have likely done a ton of damage already.
The Bucs are currently the 3-seed but can get up to the 2-seed with a win and a Rams loss. The Rams play at the same time as the Bucs in a game that the 49ers also need to win. The 49ers also beat the Rams in their first matchup, so the 2-seed is very viable for the Bucs. This would be a big deal as it would give Tampa Bay back-to-back home games in the first two rounds of the playoffs, as well as a chance for a home game in the NFC Championship if the Packers were to lose in the divisional round. The Bucs also have incentives for Brady and Gronk that are attainable, and Mike Evans can reach his 8th consecutive 1,000-yard season. They will approach this game in a normal fashion until it is fully in control.
Pay attention to news out of Carolina regarding players being surprisingly inactive or limited. They may be looking for a franchise quarterback in the draft and currently would have the 6th pick in the draft. Depending on other results, if they win, they could fall as far as the 9th pick, and if they lose, they could move up as far as the 3rd pick. The Panthers are an analytically driven team and are likely very aware of this situation. They likely don’t need to give the Bucs any help in taking care of this game, but it wouldn’t be surprising for them to be “overly cautious” with some key guys to make sure they don’t hurt their future in a meaningless game.
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