Yet another key divisional matchup this week – this time in the NFC South, as the resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers. The Buccaneers are looking to play a Panther team that will more than likely be without their starting quarterback Jake Delhomme (elbow injury); David Carr will replace Delhomme.
Delhomme got injured at an inopportune time as he was enjoying a career year so far (55-for-86, 626 yards, 8 TD’s, 1 INT). So expect some additional pressure on Carr, who left the Houston Texans and signed a contract with the Panthers. Besides the aforementioned Delhomme, the Panthers have a productive running attack, led by the duo of DeShaun Foster (46-238-1) and DeAngelo Williams (34-140). Also offering solid contributions is wide receiver Steve Smith (16-281-4). The Panthers’ defense, as opposed to previous seasons, has regressed some (ranked 23rd overall); they will be without linebacker Dan Morgan, who is suffering from several injuries (shoulder, hamstring, ankle).
The Buccaneers’ offense, while not on the equal of the Indianapolis Colts, has been improving on a weekly basis (averaging almost 28 points/game the last 2 games). Jeff Garcia, while not putting up All-Star numbers (43-for-65, 595 yards, 2 TD’s, zero interceptions), is efficient and managing the ball games very well. Also contributing mightily to the improving Bucs’ offense is WR Joey Galloway (13-249-2). But it is the defense that has gotten the Bucs where they are; they have only allowed 37 points all season (ranked 5th overall). Their forte thus far is the pass defense, led by LB’s Barrett Ruud (35 tackles, 27 solo), Derrick Brooks (25 tackles, 22 solo), and 2002 5th-round draft pick safety Jermaine Phillips (24 tackles, 18 solo, 1 sack, 1 INT).
The Panthers will need an excellent effort from Carr and their offensive line (read: protect Carr -something he never really got in Houston) and some enhanced play from their LB corps in order for the Panthers to win today. The Buccaneers just simply need to play smart ball, commit no or as few turnovers as possible, and get the consistent play from their defense that they’ve shown so far this season. I expect the running game of the Buccaneers to overwhelm the Panthers and their defense to take over a times in what will be a close game, with the Bucs pulling this one out late.