Game Overview ::
By mike johnson >>
- This is essentially an early playoff game, with the NFC South division title on the line and neither team in contention for a wildcard berth.
- The Panthers dominated the first meeting between these teams with a 21-3 victory that turned their season around.
- Sam Darnold has been a highly efficient quarterback since entering the lineup in Week 12.
- These offenses have very different approaches in terms of both play calling and tempo.
How Carolina Will Try To Win ::
The Panthers season has been a whirlwind as they started out looking like potentially the worst team in the league, fired their head coach after five games, traded their best offensive player shortly after, and have since pulled things together to be firmly in contention for the NFC South division crown. The Panthers can win the division if they win their last two games but will be eliminated from contention if they lose this week in a matchup against a Bucs team that they thoroughly dominated earlier this year.
Sam Darnold has been under center for the Panthers since Week 12 and ranks second in the NFL in EPA (expected points added) per play among all quarterbacks during that time frame, behind only Patrick Mahomes. The caveat to that, of course, is the fact that Darnold has only dropped back to pass on 40% of his snaps during that time frame, which is the lowest rate in the league. The Panthers formula during this stretch (during which they have a 3-1 record) has been a heavy dose of the running game with a slow and methodical approach while scheming short area targets for Darnold to act in a game manager role and keep the game in front of him. Darnold had his best statistical start last week against the Lions porous secondary, but is in for a tougher test this week against a Bucs defense that has been very tough against the pass this season. The Panthers success has clearly coincided with pounding the ball through their running backs and we should expect much of the same this week as their surprising run at the playoffs is on the line. D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard act as a great complementary duo in the backfield, with Foreman acting as the hammering big bodied running back who pounds the defense and has the ability to break long runs while Hubbard excels in space. The Panthers will once again hope to control tempo and field position in this game through a heavy dose of their backfield and schemed easy looks for Darnold, although the speed of the Bucs defense could make things tricky for them in creating completions, as the lack of downfield threat that their offense currently presents will effectively shrink the field for them.