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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Bucs to Watch Against Carolina

Here are five players to keep an eye on as the Bucs set out for a rematch with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.


1. WR Chris Godwin

Yes, Godwin is playing with a surgically repaired finger, but that didn't stop him from expressing his level of confidence in how he's playing this week.

"If I'm out there playing, it's because I feel confident in my ability to go out and help the team," he said on Wednesday. "I'm not going to put myself at a disadvantageous position, nor am I going to put my team in a [compromising] position. If I'm out there, it's because I feel confident in my ability to help my team."

Godwin had only three catches against the Saints, but it was a game where nothing much went right for the Buccaneers, period. Godwin got the first target of the night though, so we know the coaches aren't afraid to use him. Couple that with how he's fared against Carolina thus far in his career and he becomes an interesting player to keep an eye on. In six games against the Panthers, Godwin has a 17.9 yard-per-reception average and has a total of 519 yards. Let's see if he can have a similar performance to help the Bucs bounce back on Sunday in Charlotte against the league's 20th-ranked pass defense.

Honorable mention: WR Mike Evans

Evans will play in his 100th NFL game on Sunday. He's also four catches  away from the 500 mark. Like Scott Smith pointed out, wouldn't it be cool for him to have both in the same game?

2. RB Leonard Fournette

Fournette had his first 100-yard game this season in Week Two against the Panthers, scoring two rushing touchdowns on 12 carries for 103 yards. But this isn't the same Carolina team from Week Two. Though their record might not show it at 3-6, they've been in most every game they played and were within one score of the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday in the fourth quarter before the Chiefs eventually put the game away.

But the Bucs (and Fournette) may still have an opportunity on the ground. Carolina is allowing 114.3 rushing yards per game on average this season, leaving Fournette plenty of room to have a repeat performance. Where Fournette sets himself apart from the other backs in his room is how comfortable he is catching passes, as well. It's why Head Coach Bruce Arians said they've been playing him on third down as of late. Put simply, it's working, with both Fournette and running back Ronald Jones sharing most of the carries. What will affect both backs the most though could have nothing to do with Carolina, and instead hinge on the Bucs' offensive line. Unfortunately, left guard Ali Marpet could not clear concussion protocol by the time the Bucs flew to Charlotte on Saturday. He was ruled out for Sunday's game. How the Bucs choose to fill his role will be another thing to keep an eye on come Sunday.

3. S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Winfield Jr. has been an immediate contributor to this Bucs' defense in only his first year as a pro. He even garnered mid-season Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, according to FOX Sports. That's because he's collected every stat you could want out of a safety and has made game-altering plays week in and week out. He sealed the win for Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football against the Giants by breaking up the two-point attempt that would have sent the game into overtime. He got his first interception of the season against Derek Carr and the Raiders. You know what he hasn't done in a while, though? Sacked a quarterback.

He had two in the first three games of the season, his first of which came against Carolina the first time around. It's been seven weeks since he's had one and now, the Panthers may provide him and his defensive counterparts an opportunity to get back on track with more. Carolina has let up 18.0 sacks despite quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's mobility and five of those came at the hands of Tampa Bay. That's good news for a Bucs' pass rush that got just one sack on quarterback Drew Brees Sunday night. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh had two sacks of Bridgewater in Week Two and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul accounted for the other.

4. QB Tom Brady

Tom Brady doesn't like to lose. And as a quarterback with the highest win percentage in the National Football League, he hasn't done it often. He said this week following Sunday night's game against the Saints that he remembers losses. All of them.

"No, I remember pretty much all the losses," he said. "I probably don't remember all the wins, but I definitely remember all the losses. I think they all stick with you because you're competitive and you want to go out there and play your best every week. You're not a movie actor where you get six takes when it doesn't go right like, 'Oh, let me do that one over again. I messed that one up. Let's run that back.' You're a football player and you're making split-second decisions and you always wish, 'Man, I made every split-second decision right,' but that's just not the reality of the sport. You've got to try and improve it as best you can."

Rest assured, he doesn't want to go through another loss this week and historically, he's been able to bounce back well. This season, the Bucs have won in convincing fashion following their previous two losses. Not to mention Brady has only lost back-to-back games three times in the last five seasons. And with Carolina's 20th ranked pass defense, Brady may have an opportunity to make some things happen as the team tries to get back on track.

5. ILB Lavonte David

We've got Winfield Jr. on track for some end of season awards, let's make sure David is the same. As the longest-tenured Buc, David has the most familiarity with the Panthers than anyone else on the roster. In 17 games against them, he has 12 tackles, 14 of which were for loss, three forced fumbles and 6.5 sacks. In Week Two, he had one of those forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, along with nine combined tackles. In other words, just a normal day for David. Let's see him have another one this Sunday.

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