-Divisional games are always a toss-up given the familiarity between opponents. These teams face off at least twice a year and whatever continuity remains each year, you can be sure that the rest of division keys in on it. And within seasons? Those continuities are full-blown tendencies. But it begs the question, if you won the first matchup of the season against a particular division opponent, does that give you an advantage the second time around?
"I don't know if there's that big of an advantage," said Head Coach Bruce Arians, who will lead his team into Charlotte to take on the division-rival Carolina Panthers this Sunday. "Obviously, you should have confidence. I think the other team usually has vengeance on their mind. Going into the game, I think the team that won the first one has a little more confidence going into the second one. A lot of times home-field advantage matters on the second one [but] this year [it does] not because of no crowds. This year's different on everything. I think maybe you do [have more confidence] when you win."
That's a fair point. The only constant in 2020 seems to be the unexpected. Throw in the fact that this is the National Football League where anything goes in a normal year and it's hard to imagine any advantage going into any matchup. The Panthers themselves, while 3-6, may be just the kind of opponent capable of surprise. There is no underestimating Carolina this week.
"If you look at the film from before, Carolina played extremely hard the first time we played them," said defensive lineman Will Gholston on Friday. "The last two games, they've been playing on a roll. They've been jelling and meshing together, so we've got a lot of stuff we need to stop. We need to be able to stop Teddy [Bridgewater] and we need to be able to stop [Mike] Davis in the run game. They've got some explosive receivers, so I think it will be a challenge for us to be able to go out there and do what we need to do. If we do what we need to do, then hopefully results will favor [us]."
Friday's injury report revealed something favorable for the Buccaneers. Certified game-wrecker and incredibly dynamic running back Christian McCaffrey has been ruled out for Sunday's game as he deals with a shoulder injury. That is a significant part of the Panther offense the Bucs' defense won't have to contend with. That being said, the Bucs were able to contain McCaffrey in Week Two, allowing him 59 yards on the ground and 29 receiving yards for a total of 88 all-purpose yards when he had been averaging well over 100. That didn't mean they could rest, even with McCaffrey limited. So, though they won't have to deal with McCaffrey, the overall plan is still to shut the Panther offense down in all facets.
"I don't think it changes much," said Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles about the possibility of McCaffrey not playing. "[Mike] Davis is doing a heck of a job running the football. We've got a lot of respect for him. In the run game, they're doing a lot of different things and for us [and] from a mental standpoint, the game has changed. We've just got to understand what we're doing [and] how to help each other out more than we help the opponent out. I think we'll be fine then. I think we've come a long way from that standpoint."
Well, that's simply put, isn't it? That's been the harsh reality for some games this year, though far less than in years past, admittedly. That's just football. There are some highs and there are some lows. The Bucs are unfortunately in a bit of a valley after last week's performance and are now looking to get out of it with this matchup in Charlotte.
"It's just work," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich of what it will take for the team to bounce back. "I think there's a word that Tom [Brady] uses all the time – continuity. The more we can work together [and] the more we can be in those situations and learn from each other, the better. Obviously you don't want to be in the situation that we were in Sunday night, but we can learn. We're getting better piece-by-piece. I know after a game like that it [doesn't] look like you did anything right because it feels that way, but we'll learn from this [and] we'll move on. That's all we can really do is just continue doing the things that we're doing and just try to continue doing them at a high level."
The problem is, that's what every team in the division – in the league – is trying to do. And the Panthers are a team that seems to be getting better as they themselves get more continuity with their new coaching staff and players. They're one team in a division full of good teams, according to quarterback Tom Brady, who is getting more familiar with his new division as he gets more familiar with his new team this season.
"Definitely there is a lot of offense in the NFC South," said Brady. "There [are] good conditions for scoring. A little different than where I've been where a lot times games dictated a certain style of play based on weather conditions – wind, rain, snow. This is pretty much [such that] conditions are ideal for scoring pretty much every week. We've had a few tough weather games – actually, we've probably had more wind than what we're used to and a little bit of precipitation. It's a tough division. There are a lot of good players [and] good quarterbacks. You've got to be on it every week."
-The NFL announced that the Super Bowl LV halftime performer will be The Weeknd and I could not possibly be more excited. The 'Starboy' is going to have Raymond James Stadium 'Rockin' until I 'Can't Feel My Face.' If you aren't 'Acquainted' with The Weeknd's 'Wicked Games' I've just given you a bunch of the 'Party Monster's' discography to listen to 'After Hours.' Ok, I'm done. Here's to hoping 2021 doesn't screw this up for all of us.
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