The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like they could be contenders in the NFC South after a Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Since then, they’ve reeled off three straight losses – two of which were by at least 20 points. The schedule hasn’t been particularly favorable thus far, but they’ve caught a break by facing a Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers squad.
The Buccaneers will pay the Panthers a visit on Monday night, and they’ll do so without having to face Newton or Jonathan Stewart. It’s in no way an easy game for the Bucs, but it’s one they’re certainly capable of winning. With the way Carolina has been struggling of late, I expect Tampa Bay to escape with a win – and here are three reasons why.
Jameis Winston will take care of the football
Jameis Winston’s Achilles heel this season – and through his first 20 NFL games – has been turnovers. He’s coughed it up 10 times in four games this year, eight of which have come on interceptions. It’s an issue that head coach Dirk Koetter and Winston himself have addressed, and it’s something that can’t continue if the Bucs want to win football games.
Given the emphasis Tampa Bay has put on this unfavorable trend, I expect Winston to protect the football the best he can against the Panthers. Whether that’s by getting it out of his hands quickly with short throws or leaning on the running game, Winston will make a concerted effort to avoid turnovers. Not having Doug Martin to hand the ball would certainly hurt, but this team goes as Winston does – regardless of who’s playing running back.
With the Panthers thin at cornerback and lacking playmakers throughout the secondary, Winston should have little trouble racking up good yardage through the air. And if he builds his confidence with high-percentage throws early, he’ll only get better as the game goes on.
Getty ImagesDon Juan Moore
The Panthers’ secondary is reeling
The Panthers entered 2016 without their top two cornerbacks. Josh Norman had his franchise tag rescinded, and Charles Tillman retired from the NFL. That left Bene Benwikere as the only returning starter at corner. Now, he’s been given the boot.
The Panthers released Benwikere just a few days after he and the entire secondary was torched by Julio Jones and the Panthers. Not to mention James Bradberry, the team’s second-round pick, will also be out Monday night. That leaves the Panthers dangerously thin at cornerback against a Buccaneers team that boasts two towering wide receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.
The Panthers may call it retooling, but their secondary is a mess right now. They don’t have the size or talent to match up with Evans and Jackson on the outside, which could cause serious problems. Neither player will go off the way Jones did, but expect a 100-yard game out of at least one of them.
TNS via Getty ImagesCharlotte Observer
No Cam Newton
The Panthers will be without Cam Newton on Monday night, the third time he’ll miss a game in the NFL. Fortunately, Carolina has one of the best backup quarterback situations with Derek Anderson No. 2 on the depth chart, but let’s be frank: He’s no Cam Newton. The Panthers have struggled on offense even with Newton at the helm this season, and it’s going to be noticeably worse without him – even against Tampa Bay’s terrible defense. His running ability adds another layer for opposing defenses to take into account. He makes plays outside of the pocket when plays break down, which is something Anderson doesn’t have in his repertoire.
Had Newton been cleared to play in this one, the Panthers would be heavy favorites. But alas, he’s not, which changes things drastically. Add in the fact that Jonathan Stewart is also sidelined and the Panthers’ offense will be lacking its two best playmakers. Tampa Bay’s defense isn’t good by any means, but it can certainly limit a Cam Newton-less Panthers team enough.