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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

6 Key Matchups for Buccaneers vs. Panthers

Neither Robert Ayers nor Cam Newton played in the Week Five matchup, but how well the former can contain the latter will greatly affect the outcome in Week 17.

The 8-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will conclude their regular season on Sunday against the 6-9 Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium, going for their first season sweep in the head-to-head series since 2012. Here are a few individual matchups that could play a key role in determining the outcome of Sunday's season-capper against the Panthers:

Buccaneers RB Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Panthers LB Thomas DavisRodgers started at running back for the Buccaneers in the first matchup between these teams, gaining 129 total yards on 35 touches. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season and has two touchdowns. The Panthers announced that LB Luke Kuechly would not be playing, leaving Davis as the main force in the middle of the defense. He has 104 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs and a forced fumble this season.


Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers CB James Bradberry **Evans is approaching the Bucs' single-season receiving touchdown record, needing just one more to tie his own standard of 12 from 2014. He had six receptions for 89 yards and a score in the first meeting. Evans ranks in the NFL top five in catches, receiving yards and receiving TDs this season. Bradberry could be lined up against him for much of the day. He has 53 tackles and an interception this season.

Buccaneers C Joe Hawley vs. Panthers DT Kawann ShortShort has been a force in the middle for the Panthers with 53 tackles and six sacks this year, but Hawley and the Bucs O-line held him to three tackles and no sacks last time, while the Bucs offense rushed for 113 yards. Hawley and the Bucs' guards will again have their hands full against the Panthers strong interior duo of Short and Star Lotulelei.

Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Buccaneers DE Robert AyersNeither Newton nor Ayers played in the first Bucs-Panthers matchup in which the Bucs were held without a sack but had four takeaways. So far this season, Ayers has 5.5 sacks while Newton has been sacked 33 times. Rushing from the edge, Ayers will look to take down Newton but must be mindful to set a strong edge to prevent Newton from running. Newton has 353 rushing yards and five rushing TDs this year.


Panthers TE Greg Olsen vs. Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander **Olsen had a strong outing in the first matchup, catching nine passes for 181 yards. While the Bucs defense has allowed 72 catches and 848 yards to tight ends this year, they've only given up three touchdowns to opposing TEs. Should the Panthers look to feed their leading pass-catcher, look for Alexander to continue racking up pass breakups and tackles over the middle.

Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart vs. DT Gerald McCoyThis is another key matchup between two players who sat out Week Five. Backup RB Cameron Artis-Payne had 85 yards on 18 carries against the thinned Bucs defensive line. Stewart has 3.8 yards per carry this year with eight touchdowns. McCoy was named to the 2017 Pro Bowl and has 28 tackles and seven sacks.

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