Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) vs. Carolina Panthers (1-3)
8:30pm ET on ESPN
Both the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into Monday night carrying 1-3 records, but Carolina is a good team playing poorly, while the Bucs are a bad team playing poorly. Even without starting QB Cam Newton – who, let’s be frank, has been part of the problem – given that the Panthers are at home and have a trustworthy(-ish) backup in Derek Anderson, you gotta believe that by the time the final whistle blows, the Panthers will have doubled their win total, and the Bucs will lead the league in points allowed.
Since opening the season with an eye-popping win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Buccaneers have been awful, getting outscored by 58 points in their last three games, with QB Jameis Winston throwing 7 interceptions. Ugh. With reigning MVP Cam Newton having fallen prey to the league’s concussion protocol (and refusal/inability to call roughing/spearing/what-all), Carolina will hand over QB duties to journeyman Derek Anderson.
Winston has shown off the cannon arm and pro-set experience that made him the first overall pick, but he’s alos been prone to playing “Hero Ball,” says Danny Kelly of The Ringer. In short, Winston too often tries to do too much, sometimes forcing throws that should never fly, leading to 8 interceptions, second-most in the league, or holding on too long, leading to 10 sacks for 74 yards, and 3 fumbles. And Winston’s not getting much help, as Charles Sims leads the team with just 116 yards on 41 carries (2.8 y/a), and the whole team averages just 82.5 yards a game. Receiver Mike Evans, 23, does have 360 yards on the season, but he’s pulled in just 52% of the 50 passes thrown his way, well below the league average of 65%, or even the Bucs average of 63%.
And the Bucs’s D is even worse than the offense, giving up 32 points per game, second-most in the NFL. What’s interesting is that for all the points they surrender, they’re middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed, and yards per play. How do they do it? Simple – they’ve only forced 2 turnovers all year, trailing just the Giants and Lions. They actually play against the run pretty well, holding opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry, but in the air they give up a TD every 14.5 pass attempts, while giving up a league-worst 13.8 yards per completion. Of course the offense giving up a TD on a turnover once every other game doesn’t help the old points allowed tally, does it?
While it’s in poor taste to find good fortune in the suffering of others, the Bucs are lucky to be playing the Carolina Panthers this of all weeks. Not Only is Cam Newton out with a concussion but so is left tackle Michael Oher, and running back Jonathan Stewart is out with a hamstring injury, and on the other side of the ball, the Carolina secondary will feature rookie Daryl Worley in his first start and career backup Robert McClain.
But maybe the Bucs aren’t so lucky to catch the Panthers and backup Derek Anderson this week, given that Anderson beat them twice in 2014, completing 49 of 74 passes for 507 yards and 3 TDs. Injuries could have Tampa’s defensive line down to just one starter, William Gholston, while Anderson will still have Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin and Fozzy Whittaker at his disposal. Given that Carolina’s lead rusher, Newton, is already out, along with #3 rusher Stewart, there’s every reason for Anderson to let it fly and against Tampa porous pass defense.
Yes, the Panthers could be exposed on defense. Carolina has given up 29.5 points per game, and like Tampa, they’ve done it in part by being tough on the run, though they’re marginally better than Tampa against the pass, even without Josh Norman. And really, the Panthers' D has only really been lit up once, giving up 48 to Atlanta last week.
Superman may be stuck in a phone booth, but Jimmy Olsen will save the Panthers.