Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2022 Game Preview: Panthers-Buccaneers, Week 17

The NFC South title is at stake as the Panthers visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, and the Buccaneers know they have to slow down an increasingly powerful Carolina ground game

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome the Carolina Panthers to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for perhaps the most critical game in their head-to-head series in nearly two decades.

In December of 2005, the Buccaneers were in the middle of a difficult stretch of three straight road games when they visited Charlotte in Week 14. The Buccaneers, at 8-4, were sandwiched between the 9-3 Panthers and the 7-5 Falcons and were in a precarious position in the NFC playoff race, let alone the battle for the NFC South title. However, a rousing 20-10 victory on the Panthers' home field moved them into first place in the division, a spot they would not relinquish over the following three weeks.

This time around, the end of the season is even closer, with the division still lying in the balance, and it's the visiting Panthers who hope to leap-frog into first place with a win on the road. Though the Buccaneers could conceivably still snatch the division back in Week 18 after a loss on Sunday, the Bucs-Panthers Week 17 showdown is most likely to decide who takes the South crown. That will definitely be the case if Tampa Bay can protect its home turf, as a victory would clinch the team a second consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history. And with no Wild Card possibilities for either team, the game is essentially a winner-take-all endeavor.

In a division that currently does not have a team over .500, the Panthers have reinserted themselves in the playoff chase by winning three of their last four outings, most recently a dominant 37-23 blowout of the previously-streaking Detroit Lions last Saturday. Carolina ran for a team-record 320 yards in their trouncing of the Lions, a concern for the Buccaneers, who gave up 173 rushing yards to the Panthers in a 21-3 loss in Charlotte in Week Seven.

The depressed nature of the NFC South standings obviously made it possible for a 6-9 Panthers squad to keep their postseason hopes alive, but their resurgence is remarkable nonetheless. Carolina got off to a 2-7 start and in the process fired Head Coach Matt Rhule and traded superstar running back Christian McCaffrey, as well as starting receiver Robbie Anderson. The Panthers have cycled through three starting quarterbacks, mostly due to injury, and opening-day starter Baker Mayfield was last seen leading the Rams to a blowout victory of the Broncos last weekend.

Carolina is now back to Sam Darnold at the helm of their offense, and he has complemented a rugged ground game with a 61.4% completion rate, a four-to-zero touchdown-interception ratio and a 104.3 passer rating. The Panthers have also stepped up a level on defense, allowing an average of 18.1 points per game over their last six contests. That unit is led by defensive end Brian Burns, who is sixth in the league with 12.5 sacks, and active linebacker Shaq Thompson, who has a team-high 116 tackles to go with eight tackles for loss, four passes defensed and three quarterback hits. That crew did just lose top corner Jaycee Horn to a wrist injury last weekend, however.

The Buccaneers have left the door open for the Panthers (or possibly the Saints) to steal the NFC South in the 11th hour by losing three of their last five. However, the team is coming off an uplifting comeback win over the Cardinals in Arizona on Christmas night. Tom Brady directed yet another late-game comeback to guide the Bucs to a 19-16 overtime victory that kept them in control of their own playoff destiny. Running back Leonard Fournette paced the offense with 162 yards from scrimmage and the defense produced three takeaways, their most in any game since Week Two.

The Buccaneers will be monitoring some key health situations leading up to Sunday, mostly along the offensive line. Neither left tackle Donovan Smith nor right tackle Tristan Wirfs is a sure bet to suit up against the Panthers, and the Bucs are also now waiting on the status of Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, who was designated to return from injured reserve on Wednesday. However, Head Coach Todd Bowles knows the Buccaneers' mental preparations for the rematch with Carolina are just as critical.

"Well, we know the importance of the game – that doesn't need to be harped on," said Bowles. "It's really about detailing our work, detailing ourselves and making sure we go into Sunday with no stone unturned mentally and make sure they get as physically well as they can to be ready to play the Panthers."

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

Carolina Panthers (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)

Sunday, January 1, 1:00 p.m. ET

Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 69,500)

Tampa, Florida

Television: FOX

TV Broadcast Team: Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Greg Olsen (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter)

Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station

Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)

GAMEDAY INFORMATION

Coming to the game or enjoying pregame festivities? Check out our Buccaneers Gameday Page for everything you need to know about getting ready for the game, Tailgate Packages, Bucs Beach and more!

TICKETING INFORMATION

The 2022 season is underway and there are a limited number of Single Game Tickets on sale now! Visit Buccaneers.com to purchase tickets.

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

The Panthers lead the all-time series with the Buccaneers, 25-19, having snapped Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak in the head-to-head battle in Week Seven of this season. The Buccaneers had shrunk the gap in recent years, winning six of the previous seven dating back to 2108 and, over the past two seasons, getting consecutive sweeps over Carolina for the first time since the two teams became NFC South mates in 2002. The Buccaneers and Panthers did meet three times before the 2002 realignment put them in the same division, including a contest in Death Valley that the Bucs won, 20-13, in the Panthers' 1995 inaugural season.

Since the two teams started playing each other twice a year, the head-to-head battle has traditionally been one-sided, though that side often flips back and forth. From 2002-17, 13 of the 16 season series between these two teams ended in a sweep, including every one from 2009 through 2017. It went Carolina's way in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Bucs got the sweep in 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2016. Interestingly, the three splits came in years the Buccaneers either made the playoffs (2005, 2007) or really should have (2008…which ended in a four-game losing streak after a 9-3 start). After a pair of splits in 2018 and 2019, the series has gone back into sweep mode, though the Buccaneers hope to avoid that fate in 2022.

Carolina handed the Bucs perhaps their most humbling loss of the season in the most recent meeting at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The Panthers came into the game with a 1-5 record and had recently fired Head Coach Matt Rhule and traded superstar running back Christian McCaffrey. Third-string quarterback P.J. Walker completed 16 of his 22 passes and tossed two touchdowns against no interceptions and running backs D'Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard combined for 181 rushing yards.

The Bucs and Panthers met twice in the final three weeks of last season, with Tampa Bay taking both contests by a combined score of 73-23. In the regular season finale, the Buccaneers got 137 receiving yards from Rob Gronkowski and two touchdown receptions from Mike Evans before wideout Scotty Miller capped the scoring by taking an end-around 33 yards for a touchdown. Two weeks earlier, the Buccaneers had prevailed at Bank of America Stadium when the defense sacked quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Cam Newton a total of seven times and allowing just two field goals. Safety Jordan Whitehead had a key interception and three pass break-ups. Ke'Shawn Vaughn's 55-yard touchdown jaunt, the Bucs' longest run of the year, started the scoring and emerging wideout Cyril Grayson accounted for 95 yards of offense, including a 62-yard reception.

In 2020, the Bucs' September win at home against Carolina was the first of 15 they would stack up on their way to a Super Bowl championship, and the first win as a Buccaneer for Tom Brady. Leonard Fournette paced the offense with 116 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns and Carlton Davis and Whitehead each had interceptions off Teddy Bridgewater in a 31-17 decision. The rematch in Charlotte in November was a high-scoring affair that included the longest run in Buccaneers' history, Ronald Jones' 98-yard touchdown dash. Incredibly, the Buccaneers scored on 10 straight possessions to pull away from the Panthers for a 46-23 win.

In 2019, the Buccaneers secured a tight win in Charlotte on a Thursday night in Week Two when Vernon Hargreaves knocked Christian McCaffrey out of bounds two yards shy of the sticks on an all-or-nothing fourth-down run off a direct snap. That 20-14 Bucs win was balanced four weeks later by a 37-26 win for Carolina in a game played in London.

Perhaps the most notable wins for Tampa Bay in the series with Carolina came in 2002 and 2005. At the midpoint of the 2002 Super Bowl campaign, the Buccaneers were coming off a deflating loss in Philadelphia (again) and had to play at Carolina without their quarterback, Brad Johnson, who woke up with the flu. Defense dominated and the Bucs were trailing 9-6 late in the fourth quarter before Martin Gramatica saved the day with two long field goals. In 2005, the Buccaneers were in the middle of a late-season three-game road swing when they went to Bank of America Stadium and won a battle for first place by a 20-10 score. Ronde Barber punctuated that game with a sack and a critical interception, becoming the first cornerback ever to reach 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in his career.

NOTABLE CONNECTIONS

  • Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht was a member of the Panthers' scouting staff in 1998.

SENIOR COACHING STAFFS

Tampa Bay:

  • Head Coach Todd Bowles
  • Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
  • Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
  • Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers
  • Pass Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote
  • Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong

Carolina:

  • Interim Head Coach Steve Wilks
  • Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo
  • Interim Defensive Coordinator Al Holcomb
  • Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor

KEY 2022 ROSTER ADDITIONS

Buccaneers:

  • P Jake Camarda (fourth-round draft pick)
  • WR Russell Gage (UFA)
  • G Luke Goedeke (second-round draft pick)
  • DL Logan Hall (second-round draft pick)
  • T Fred Johnson (FA)
  • WR Julio Jones (FA)
  • TE Ko Kieft (sixth-round draft pick)
  • G Shaq Mason (trade–NE)
  • CB Zyon McCollum (fifth-round draft pick)
  • OLB Carl Nassib (FA)
  • S Keanu Neal (UFA)
  • TE Cade Otton (fourth-round draft pick)
  • TE Kyle Rudolph (FA)
  • S Logan Ryan (FA)
  • RB Rachaad White (third-round draft pick)

Panthers:

  • DE Henry Anderson (FA)
  • DE Amaré Barno (sixth-round draft pick)
  • C Bradley Bozeman (UFA)
  • G Austin Corbett (UFA)
  • QB Matt Corral (third-round draft pick…on injured reserve)
  • T Ikem Ekwonu (first-round draft pick)
  • P Johnny Hekker (FA)
  • WR Rashard Higgins (UFA)
  • DT Matt Ioannidis (FA)
  • LB Cory Littleton (FA)
  • G Cade Mays (sixth-round draft pick)
  • WR Laviska Shenault (trade-JAX)
  • LB Brandon Smith (fourth-round draft pick…on injured reserve)
  • LB Damien Wilson (UFA)
  • S Xavier Woods (UFA)

ADDITIONAL 2022 CHANGES OF NOTE

Buccaneers:

·    While the Bucs continue to maintain enviable continuity on their coaching staff, there is a new person in the corner office. In March, Bruce Arians stepped down after three years as the head coach and took on a new role as a senior advisor to the general manager. Todd Bowles was promoted from defensive coordinator to take his place. Bowles previously served as the New York Jets' head coach from 2015-18 before rejoining Arians when the latter came on as the Buccaneers' head coach in 2019.

·    With Bowles stepping up the Bucs needed a new defensive coordinator and they essentially named two of them. Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers added the title of Run Game Coordinator while Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote switched to inside linebackers and added the title of Pass Game Coordinator. They are in effect co-defensive coordinators. Bob Sanders joined the staff to take over for Foote in the outside linebackers room. Foote made his switch after Inside Linebackers Coach Mike Caldwell landed the defensive coordinator position in Jacksonville under new Head Coach Doug Pederson.

·    The Buccaneers had two key players retire after the 2021 season, but only one of them stayed retired. While quarterback Tom Brady eventually elected to return 40 days after announcing he was stepping away from the game, his long-time buddy Rob Gronkowski walked away for good, leading to big changes in the Bucs' tight end room. While veteran Cam Brate returned, O.J. Howard left in free agency and the Buccaneers subsequently drafted Cade Otton and Ko Kieft and signed veteran Kyle Rudolph.

·    Tampa Bay's defense also saw the departure of two front-seven stalwarts from the extremely successful 2020-21 seasons, as neither DL Ndamukong Suh nor OLB Jason Pierre-Paul was re-signed. The team signed veteran standout Akiem Hicks and drafted Houston's Logan Hall 33rd overall to address depth up front and are relying on 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step up on the edge.

Panthers:

·    The Panthers made a big change in leadership, not during the offseason but less than two months into the regular season when the team elected to fire Head Coach Matt Rhule. Rhule had assumed his post before the 2020 season and had led the team to an 11-27 record, including a 1-4 start to this year. Defensive Pass Game Coordinator Steve Wilks, who was the Arizona Cardinals' head coach in 2018, was promoted to interim head coach.

·    On the same day that Rhule was fired, October 11, the team also parted ways with Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow and Assistant Special Teams Coach Ed Foley. Al Holcomb, previously the defensive run game coordinator, assumed the defensive coordinator duties on an interim basis.

·    Carolina's coaching staff had a new look in 2022 even before the recent firings. Rhule made eight changes to the group in February, including the hiring of former Giants Head Coach Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. He replaced Joe Brady, who had been fired 12 games into the 2021 campaign. Offensive Line Coach Pat Meyer and his assistant, Tony Sparano Jr., were also let go and replaced by James Campen and Robert Kugler, respectively. Rhule also fired Defensive Line Coach Frank Okam and replaced him with Paul Pasqualoni, and when Secondary Coach Jason Simmons left for a similar position in Las Vegas the Panthers brought back Wilks for that spot. Two other coaches on offense – Brian Angelichio (tight ends) and Frisman Jackson (wide receivers) also left for positions elsewhere in the league – so Carolina hired Joe Dailey to tutor the wideouts and reassigned Kevin M. Gilbride from defensive analyst to tight ends coach. Finally, Rhule brought on a new Special Teams Coordinator in February, replacing Chase Blackburn with former Bears assistant Chris Tabor.

·    The Panthers' changes at quarterback have been ongoing, and they include the release of Week One starter Baker Mayfield on December 5. Mayfield, a summer trade acquisition from Cleveland, began training camp in a battle for the starting job with Sam Darnold – the two were the first and third-overall picks in the 2018 draft – and on August 22 Rhule announced that Mayfield would start the opener. A week later, the point became moot when Darnold suffered an ankle injury in the preseason finale and was placed on injured reserve. Mayfield started the first five games of the season but sustained a high ankle sprain of his own in Week Five and was expected to miss several weeks. That thrust third-year man P.J. Walker into the top spot; he started five games, including a Week Seven win over Tampa Bay but was later sidelined by an ankle injury. It has all come full circle as Darnold has started the Panthers' last four games.

·    The Panthers also traded wide receiver Robbie Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for two draft picks, a sixth-rounder in 2024 and a seventh-rounder in 2025.

·    Carolina's defense saw the departure of three starters in free agency over the offseason, most notably edge rusher Haason Reddick. After leading the Panthers' defense with 11.0 sacks in his one season in the town, Reddick got a lucrative deal from the Eagles. Linebacker Jermaine Carter started all 17 games for the Panthers in 2021 but signed with Kansas City before eventually being released in the final cuts. And cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a midseason trade acquisition last year, signed with the Colts after starting eight of the nine games he appeared in for Carolina.

TOP STORYLINES

Punch Your Ticket – As noted above, the Buccaneers can clinch the NFC South on Sunday with a win, which would mark the first time they've won division titles in back-to-back seasons. That would afford them a home game to start the playoffs. Since they will be the fourth seed and have, at best, a 9-8 record, the Buccaneers are likely to have few believers if they do make the postseason field, but their focus is on getting a ticket to the dance. After that, they will try to get on a run and fulfill their ultimate goal for the season. If Carolina wins on Sunday, they will take over first place in the division thanks to a head-to-head sweep of the Buccaneers. Even if the Saints also get to 7-9 by winning in Philadelphia, the Panthers would still own the tiebreaker edge thanks to a 3-0 record in games played among the three tied teams. Carolina would also maintain control of its own playoff destiny with a win, as they would then be able to clinch in Week 18 with a victory in New Orleans. The playoff odds calculator on FiveThirtyEight.com currently gives the Buccaneers a 70% chance of getting in, but that drops to 33% with a loss, including a very slim shot at a Wild Card spot. Tampa Bay would still win the division after a loss to the Panthers if they can win in Atlanta while the Saints upend the Panthers in Week 18. There is even a scenario that gives the Saints the division title if they first get that win in Philly; they would need the Bucs to lose out and then they would get in by beating the Panthers on the final weekend.

Slow Down the Steamroller – The Panthers are 6-2 this season when their rushing attack exceeds 100 yards, and they have averaged just under 200 rushing yards in those eight games. That average went up last Saturday when Carolina rolled for a team-record 320 yards in a high-scoring upset of the previously-streaking Lions. The Panthers' continued success on the ground in the season's second half has been a bit of a surprise given that the team traded star back Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco in Week Seven. Just days later, the Panthers ran for 173 yards against the Buccaneers in a 21-3 victory in Charlotte, with D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard leading the way. That performance has proved not to be a fluke as Carolina has risen to 10th in the NFL rankings in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry. After three seasons of utter domination against opposing ground games, the Bucs' rush defense in 2022 ranks 17th in yards per game allowed (120.3) and 20th in yards per carry allowed (4.50). The Buccaneers have played most of their last three games without gap-plugging nose tackle Vita Vea, and while Vea returned to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday there is no guarantee he will be back from his calf injury in time to help the team slow down Carolina's ground game.

Tom and Mike – Mike Evans heads into the final two weeks of the season needing only 83 more receiving yards to top 1,000 for the ninth time in his ninth NFL campaign. He already owns the NFL record for most consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start a career, and if extends it to nine that will be tied for the second-longest streak at any point in a player's career. Since Evans is averaging 65.5 yards per game this season, this would seem like an easily attainable goal, but he has only topped 60 yards once in his last seven games and hasn't hit 100 since Week Eight. In last Sunday's win in Arizona, Evans topped out at 29 yards on three receptions and only had one catch prior to overtime. Two of the passes Tom Brady threw in his direction were intercepted. When Brady arrived in Tampa in 2020, he quickly formed a big-play connection with Brady and those two combined for 29 touchdowns in their first 35 games together (Evans caught one other TD pass from Blaine Gabbert in that span). Brady's most frequent target for much of the season has been Chris Godwin, in part because Godwin is often featured on screens and other quick, high-percentage plays. Evans average depth of target is roughly twice as long as Godwin's but he and Brady have been able to make those lower-percentage throws work with regularity through most of their time together. For the Buccaneers to make it to the postseason and have a chance at making some noise after that, they probably need for Brady and Evans to rediscover their usually fruitful connection.

O-Line Concerns – The Buccaneers haven't played a game with both starting tackles, Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs, on the field together since November. And the man who helped hold the line together while one or the other was out, swing tackle Josh Wells, is now on injured reserve. It's possible that the Bucs won't have either of their regular starters available on Sunday against Carolina, as Smith is still dealing with the foot injury that kept him out of the last game and Wirfs aggravated the ankle injury that caused him to miss three contests. Both were on the practice field to start the week, but in a limited fashion. First-year man Brandon Walton is now the "next man up" for either tackle spot with Wells on injured reserve, but the rest of the depth behind him is a trio of players on the practice squad. It was Justin Skule, who does have 12 NFL starts from his time in San Francisco, who was elevated from the practice squad last weekend for emergency depth at tackle. The Buccaneers also designated Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen for return from injured reserve on Wednesday but he is not in play for this weekend. The Buccaneers will be monitoring their offensive line closely all week and could have to make some significant adjustments on Sunday.

60 Minutes – In Week 15, the Buccaneers put together a dominant first half against a very good Cincinnati team but then collapsed after halftime in a 34-23 come-from-ahead defeat. In Week 16, the Bucs scored six points in the first 52 minutes against a four-win Cardinals team, then quickly rallied for 10 points to send it to overtime. Their one possession in the extra period was a sharp nine-play field goal drive to win the game, and they finished with 396 yards of offense. Those two games weren't particularly similar, but they both highlighted a persistent problem the Bucs have had all season: inconsistency within games. Fast starts can't be maintained; slow starts lead to harried finishes. As a result, the Bucs haven't won a game by more than five points since Week Two. Tampa Bay will take a win any way it comes, but the team will have a hard time both making the playoffs and doing something once they get there if they can't at some point put together a full 60-minute game.

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers CB Keith Taylor

The Panthers got a huge win over Detroit in Week 16 to stay very much alive in the NFC South race, but it did come at a cost. Top cornerback Jaycee Horn fractured his left wrist in the fourth quarter and, while he has not been placed on injured reserve he had surgery on Tuesday and will definitely miss Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. Keith Taylor, a fifth-round pick in 2021 who has four career starts, came in to replace Horn and would be the likely replacement against Tampa Bay. The team bring back former star corner Josh Norman, signing him to the practice squad, but he is expected to be in a reserve role. Like Horn, Taylor is a tall corner (6-3), giving him a chance to match up physically with the 6-5 Mike Evans. As noted above, Evans' numbers have been down of late, but he's still the same dynamic force who wins jump balls, gets deep with deceptive speed due to his long strides and holds onto the ball even when taking big hits. The Panthers don't restrict their starting corners to a specific side, so they might have tried to shadow Evans with Horn had he been able to play. They could try the same thing with Taylor.

2. Panthers RB D'Onta Foreman vs. Buccaneers ILB Devin White

D'Onta Foreman averaged 7.9 yards per carry last weekend and has a shot at hitting the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his NFL career. He has been in high gear for much of the second half of the season, gaining 163 rushing yards over expected since Week Six, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the sixth-highest total in the NFL in that span. The former Texan and Titan has a big frame (6-1, 236) and can power through defenders but he also moves well laterally and can make quick cuts to get to the open field. Devin White is the Buccaneers' leading tackler against ballcarriers, with 66 of his 115 stops coming on running plays. Gap integrity will be crucial for the Bucs on Sunday as the Panthers are almost certain to try to establish their suddenly powerful rushing attack early. If the Buccaneers' front line can keep blockers off their rangy off-ball linebackers, White, who has elite acceleration, will have opportunities to shoot those gaps and get to Foreman before he gets a head of steam. In addition, if Foreman spends much time in pass protection he's likely going to run into White on occasion. The fourth-year linebacker is not an every-down pass rusher, obviously, but he leads the team with 16 quarterback hits. According to Next Gen Stats, White has 70 QB pressures when aligned as an off-ball linebacker; no other NFL player has more than 29 in that span. That includes and NFL-high 23 this season.

3. Buccaneers G Nick Leverett vs. Panthers DT Derrick Brown

Nick Leverett first got a chance to play this season when the Buccaneers began alternating him and rookie Luke Goedeke at guard against the Panthers in Week Seven. Goedeke was injured in that game, leading to Leverett stepping into the starting lineup, and he has since settled in at that spot. Leverett is a tenacious blocker who fights hard on every snap and helps set the tone for the entire line, particularly in the absence of center Ryan Jensen. He has helped the Buccaneers' offensive line allow a league-low 19 sacks in 2022. Leverett will face a stiff challenge this Sunday when Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown lines up in his vicinity. Brown moves around the interior of the Carolina front, and while he has not yet emerged as a high-volume sack producer (1.0 this season, 6.0 in three seasons), he does have eight QB hits this year and he's an absolute load for any blocker to handle. The 6-5, 236-pound Brown has immense upper-body strength and can drive opposing linemen back into the pocket. He's also a maximum-effort player on every snap, like Leverett. It should be an intense battle between those two.

4. Panthers T Taylor Moton vs. Buccaneers OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

With Genard Avery on injured reserve and Carl Nassib out with a pectoral injury, the Buccaneers' starting OLB duo of Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson has played every single defensive snap over the past two games. While that's unusual for outside linebackers, who are usually in a three or four-man rotation to keep everyone's legs fresh, Head Coach Todd Bowles said the experience "is doing them wonders." Tryon-Shoyinka has five QB hits in those two games, nearly half of his season total of 12, and has also had some good moments in run support. He has a quick first step and explosiveness around the corner and features a solid array of pass-rush moves. Right tackle Taylor Moton is basically the one position on the offensive line that the Panthers haven't felt compelled to fix in the last couple seasons. A second-round pick in 2017, he has started every game since the 2018 season and the Panthers used their franchise tag to keep him around after the 2020 season. The 325-pound Moton somehow ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash before his draft and he has the athleticism and quickness to stay in front of even the most dangerous edge rushers.

INJURY REPORT

Key:

  • DNP: Did not participate in practice
  • LP: Limited participation in practice
  • FP: Full participation in practice
  • NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

  • QB Tom Brady (rest) – WEDS: NL, THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • ILB Lavonte David (rest) – WEDS: NL, THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • DL Akiem Hicks (rest) – WEDS: NL, THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • CB Carlton Davis (shoulder) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful.
  • CB Jamel Dean (toe) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • S Mike Edwards (hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • WR Julio Jones (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • OLB Carl Nassib (pectoral) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Doubtful.
  • OLB Anthony Nelson (illness) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches (personal) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • TE Cade Otton (quadriceps) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • T Donovan Smith (foot) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • NT Vita Vea (calf) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • Antoine Winfield, Jr. (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • T Tristan Wirfs (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

Panthers:

  • DE Marquis Haynes (ankle) – WEDS: NL, THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • CB Jaycee Horn (wrist) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • G Cade Mays (knee) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • WR Shi Smith (foot) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • TE Stephen Sullivan (ankle) – WEDS: FP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • LB Shaq Thompson (hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • TE Tommy Tremble (hip) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.

WEATHER FORECAST

Cloudy skies with scattered storms in the morning, high of 78, low of 66, 35% chance of rain, 86% humidity, winds out of the SSW at 6 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: Brad Rodgers (sixth season, fourth as referee)

BETTING LINE

· Favorite: Buccaneers (-6.5)

· Over/Under: 41.0

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers-

Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 108

Touchdowns: RB Leonard Fournette, 6

Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,178

Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 87.9

Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 640

Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 89

Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 917

Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean/Mike Edwards, 2

Sacks: DL Vita Vea, 6.5

Tackles: ILB Devin White, 115

Panthers -

Points Scored: K Eddy Pineiro, 119

Touchdowns: WR D.J. Moore, 6

Passing Yards: QB Baker Mayfield*, 1,313

Passer Rating: QB Sam Darnold, 104.3

Rushing Yards: RB D'Onta Foreman, 811

Receptions: WR D.J. Moore, 56

Receiving Yards: WR D.J. Moore, 761

Interceptions: CB Jaycee Horn, 3

Sacks: DE Brian Burns, 12.5

Tackles: LB Shaq Thompson, 116

(* No longer on team.)

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers-

Scoring Offense: 28th (17.7 ppg)

Total Offense: 15th (346.3 ypg)

Passing Offense: 4th (269.3 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 32nd (77.0 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: t-10th (20.6)

Third-Down Pct.: 21st (37.6%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (2.83%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 21st (52.3%)

Scoring Defense: 8th (20.3 ppg)

Total Defense: 6th (315.4 ypg)

Passing Defense: 4th (195.1 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 17th (120.3 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 3rd (18.0)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 6th (36.7%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 8th (8.15%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 23rd (59.5%)

Turnover Margin: t-26th (-4)

Panthers-

Scoring Offense: 18th (20.9 ppg)

Total Offense: 29th (306.9 ypg)

Passing Offense: 29th (175.9 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 10th (131.0 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 31st (16.3)

Third-Down Pct.: 31st (29.4%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 23rd (7.90%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 16th (53.5%)

Scoring Defense: 19th (22.5 ppg)

Total Defense: 20th (344.7 ypg)

Passing Defense: 18th (219.7 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 12st (125.0 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 21st (20.3)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 27th (42.9%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 25th (6.08%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 22nd (57.4%)

Turnover Margin: t-17th (-1)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

·    As noted earlier, the Buccaneers would clinch the NFC South with a win over Carolina on Sunday. If they accomplish that feat, it will mark the first time in team history that the Bucs have won back-to-back division titles.

·    Both tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Chris Godwin have 33 career touchdowns. With one more, either one or both will tie Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles for fourth place in franchise history in overall touchdowns. All 33 of Brate's touchdowns are receptions (Godwin has one rushing touchdown), meaning he is also one behind Giles for second place on the team's all-time list in that category.

·    Godwin's 89 receptions in 2022 lead the team. If he gets eight more on Sunday he will pass Mike Evans for the third-highest single-season total in team history. Evans had 96 catches in 2016. The team record is 106 by Keyshawn Johnson in 2001, followed by Godwin's own career high of 98 in 2021.

·    Wide receiver Mike Evans has 917 receiving yards on the season. He needs 83 more to get to 1,000 in 2022 and extend his record of consecutive seasons to start a career with at least 1,000 receiving yards to nine. That would also tie Time Brown for the longest streak of 1,000-yard receiving seasons at any point in a player's career.

·    Kicker Ryan Succop has made 29 field goals in 2022. He needs four more to surpass the Bucs' single-season record of 32, which is shared by Matt Bryant (2008) and Martin Gramatica (2002).

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

·    Head Coach Todd Bowles on how the Panthers have performed under Interim Head Coach Steve Wilks: "They've done a great job stopping the run and getting turnovers and getting off the field. They've done an outstanding job running the football. Sam [Darnold] has done a great job getting plays down the field, as well. The runners are playing well – they've got playmakers all over the place. They have a lot of confidence and they've been playing some good ball."

·    Wide receiver Chris Godwin on if this week's game against Carolina has the same urgency as a playoff game: "One hundred percent. You know, we understand what's at stake here. We've been pretty up and down all season, but it's time for us to turn it on. If we want to make it to the postseason, we control our own destiny right now, so we've got to go and take advantage of it. This is a team that has beaten us already and they play really hard, so we've got to go out there and bring it."

·    On the rematch with Carolina, who beat the Bucs in Week Seven: "Yeah, I think it's going to be huge. We know what type of game it's going to be. We know what playing them earlier in the season, how that went, how we came out. We watched some tape on it this morning with Coach Bowles. We've got to set the tone early and go from there."

·    Wide receiver Russell Gage on playing for a division title: "It would be my first time going to the postseason, so for me – I'm just being honest – it's a lot more juice. I'm excited coming into it. I want to see a postseason game for sure. Do or die. This is why I came here. These are the games I want to be in."

·    Outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka on expecting the Panthers to try to establish the run and trying to stop it: "That's what we're going to do, try and stop it. That's the mindset they have and that's the challenge we've got this week. So it's a big challenge for the defense; we're going to be up for the task. We've just got to show up on Sunday and make it happen.

·    Bowles on if the Bucs have a heightened sense of urgency for this game: "There was a heightened sense after the game on Sunday. We understand what the game means – trying to win a division is not easy. They're coming in here, they're a tough team to play – we've just got to prepare mentally and be ready to play on Sunday."

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