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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key Matchups: Buccaneers vs. Panthers

Doug Martin heads into the Bucs' season finale with a shot at the NFL rushing title but Pro Bowl LB Luke Kuechly won't make it easy for Martin to surpass Adrian Peterson.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) will look to finish the 2015 season on a strong note Sunday when they take on the 14-1 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here are a few individual matchups that could play a key role in determining the outcome of Sunday's regular-season finale:

WR Mike Evans vs. CB Josh Norman


Mike Evans has 1,107 yards on the season but had a quiet game his first time out against the Panthers this year, with three catches for 32 yards. WR Vincent Jackson, who was placed on injured reserve for the final game of the season, hauled in 10 catches for 147 yards and a score in that game. Without Jackson in the game, Evans will likely draw extra attention and match up against one of the season's best corners, Josh Norman, who has four interceptions and two touchdowns this season. Two of those interceptions and one TD came against the Bucs in Week 4.

RB Doug Martin vs. LB Luke Kuechly


Since he's 64 yards behind Adrian Peterson in the race for the NFL rushing title, Doug Martin will likely need to put up big numbers against one of the league's best run-stopping defenses in order to become the first Buccaneer to achieve that feat. The Panthers, led by Luke Kuechly's 109 total tackles, allow the 5th fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Martin put up 106 yards and a TD against them in the first meeting and leads the league in runs of 20+ yards with 13 on the year. He'll need a few of those big gains to keep the Bucs offense churning and put his name back ahead of Peterson.

LB Lavonte David vs. RB Cameron Artis-Payne


Lavonte David is the NFL's third-leading tackler with 135 stops this season. He has finished in the top five in the NFL in tackles in each of the last three seasons and in the top 10 every year of his career. Neither RB Jonathan Stewart nor RB Fozzy Whittaker practiced on Wednesday for the Panthers, so the home team may lean on rookie Cameron Artis-Payne as their primary back. Over the last two weeks he has 19 carries for 108 yards and 5.7 yards per carry.

QB Jameis Winston vs. DT Kawann Short


The Panthers have the third most sacks in the NFL this season (42) and Short leads the way with 11, which is tied for the most by a defensive tackle this season. Winston has only been sacked three times in the last four weeks and just 25 times this season, tied for the fourth fewest in the NFL. Short has five sacks in the Panthers' last four games. Tampa Bay's offensive line will need to be at their best and Winston must evade any pressure that sneaks through for the offense to find a rhythm.

DT Gerald McCoy vs. QB Cam Newton


Gerald McCoy was just named to his fourth Pro Bowl and leads the Bucs in sacks with 8.5 on the year. He had four tackles and sacked Cam Newton once in their first meeting. McCoy has played an enormous role clogging the middle for the Buccaneers run defense, which is one of just 10 NFL defenses allowing under 100 rushing yards per game. Newton is always a danger to break out of the pocket and pick up big gains with his legs. He has 626 rushing yards on the year and eight rushing touchdowns.

DE William Gholston vs. RT Mike Remmers


The task of keeping Cam Newton from scrambling to the outside for big gains and providing an edge pass rush lies partly on Gholston. He has 21 tackles over the last three weeks and three sacks on the season. When rushing primarily from the left side, he'll line up across from Remmers, who has started every game for the Panthers since Week 13 last season. The Panthers have allowed 29 sacks this season, 11th fewest in the league.

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