Bucs-Panthers game are usually hard-hitting affairs, and the Week 16 matchup could have playoff implications
As further evidence that the 5-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 6-7 Carolina Panthers are still very much alive in the NFC playoff race, their Week 16 rematch will now play before a larger audience
The NFL announced on Monday that the December 26 game between the Buccaneers and Panthers at Raymond James Stadium will now kickoff at 4:15 p.m. ET, rather than it's originally scheduled time of 1:00 p.m. That makes it part of the Fox doubleheader for that Sunday afternoon, meaning the game may be shown in markets other than Charlotte and Tampa.
The Bucs were previously a part of a CBS doubleheader in Week Four, when they faced Denver with a 4:15 p.m. kickoff. Obviously, the Bucs' Sunday Night ESPN game at Oakland and Monday Night ABC game at St. Louis were also nationally-televised.
Five weeks ago, the day-after-Christmas matchup of Tampa Bay and Carolina didn't seem as if it would have too much significance. At the time, the Panthers were 1-7 and the Buccaneers were 3-5. However, Carolina has won five in a row to move to 6-7 and put itself in the driver's seat for the sixth NFC playoff spot. The Buccaneers, at 5-8 and with that home game against Carolina, are also still in the thick of the race.
Thus, the Bucs-Panthers game on the 26th could be one of the more important games left on the NFL schedule over the last three weeks.
In addition, Tampa Bay and Carolina have struck up a heated rivalry, fueled by a string of close games since the two teams were paired in the new NFC South in 2002. The Bucs and Panthers are the last two NFC Super Bowl representatives, and their games have tended to go down to the wire. Three weeks ago, the Buccaneers nearly pulled off a comeback victory in Charlotte before a missed attempt of a go-ahead field goal set the Panthers up for the game-winning drive in a 21-14 decision.
The Carolina game will be the Buccaneers regular season home finale. Tampa Bay plays host to New Orleans this Sunday at 4:05 p.m.