On Sunday, September 7th, regular season Buccaneers football returns. No more analogies about dinner not being ready. Buckle up and ready your appetite, because this is going to be the real deal. Tension will be high in Raymond James Stadium when the Carolina Panthers come to town, and I hope that tension is so high that someone punches Sir Purr in one of his dumb baby blue eyes.
ESPN’s PickCenter currently has Carolina listed as a one and a half point favorite over the Buccaneers, with only a 54.6% confidence in those odds. That sort of precise indecision represents just how evenly matched these teams are going into this game. However, much of how it might play out is still unknown. The Buccaneers of the Lovie-Licht Connection have not gotten a chance to really show us who they are, but this game will be that chance.
The Panthers preseason was highlighted by a week three pounding courtesy of the New England Patriots. With the starters in force, the Pats shut down anything Cam Newton and his offense attempted to do. Newton’s half-and-change of play garnered him 100 yards of total offense — 88 passing and 12 rushing — but he also got sacked three times along the way. The only Panthers offensive lineman who was not on the team in 2013 is rookie third round draft pick Trai Turner, but having been shuffled around some seems to have the Panthers offensive line as shaky as ours has been going into this season.
Speaking of offensive lineman, one of ours played in that game. The freshly acquired Logan Mankins may not be used to our lineman yet, but he blocked well enough against the Panthers defense to keep Tom Brady from getting sacked at all. The Panthers defense did hold Brady to only 10 points in his time on the field, but they did not manage to force a single turnover while the starters were on the field.
Tampa Bay’s entire offense will be thrown right into the fire, especially the o-line. While Mankins held his own with his familiar group, this is something completely new. I’d be lying if I said the line wasn’t a concern for me going into this game. Mankins should immediately help with run blocking, but expectations have to be tempered considering the Panthers boasted the second best run defense in the league last season.
The Panthers seem to believe their secondary is even better this year, which would be quite a feat based on their success last season. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Chase Blackburn, 6’ 3’’ tall and 6’ 4’’ tall respectively, will be working overtime in an attempt to contain the full court press of Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
I’d like to believe they can’t shut them all down at once, which is what has me so excited about seeing this defense work. Jeff Tedford is still recovering from his mysterious maybe sorta not-so-serious surgery, and the Bucs will be calling plays by committee if he is unable to be there. As a result, this may still only be a taste of the tricks under Tedford’s sleeve.
If the Panthers’ failure to create offensive consistency in the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the Buccaneers defense is going to have a fun night. The precious “plus three turnover ratio” is something they’ll be fighting for left and right. WTB? listener and New Mexico native Nikki Ortiz, better known as Bucs Princess, likely won’t be able to control herself if Gerald McCoy’s preseason success continues against the Panthers’ shaky offensive line. (If you don’t understand that joke, it’s proof positive you should be joining everyone in the live chatroom for the weekly podcast.)
The Panthers have a respectable running back corps, but I don’t think any of them have the talent to run circles around the Bucs defense based on the way they’ve been playing. Meanwhile, any pass Cam Newton actually gets a chance to throw will likely be aimed at Greg Olsen or Kelvin Benjamin. His trusted tight end and rookie wide receiver are more lethal than they appear, but I imagine a defense captained by McCoy and Lavonte David is going to be eager to pick off Newton early.
The offensive line play from both teams will be critical in how this game turns out. Whether or not Cam Newton is his usual self following recent injuries could drastically change the Panthers’ chances, but I have faith in our defense, even against a healthy Newton. Execution, and even penalties, could end up deciding this game. Both teams are closely matched and similar in more ways than I care to admit. Despite that, ready the cannons. The Buccaneers are back, and the ship is going to need ammunition.
Prediction: Buccaneers win, 24-10
(Disagree? Then comment below!)