The Carolina Panthers enter Sunday’s showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to put a strangle hold on the NFC South. At 4-1, the Panthers can move up two games over the Bucs, and depending on other results Sunday can have a solid early lead in the division. On the other hand, the Bucs want to ruin the early momentum that the Panthers have had, and get back to even in the division.
Carolina last week played about as well as they could have played, shutting out the weak KC Chiefs at home 34-0. Jake Delhomme, who has a QB rating of 90.6 in five games, threw for two scores, and the team ran the ball well all afternoon. Their defense made life tough for the Chiefs, and by the end of the day wore out KC to the point where they probably had the plane running midway through the third quarter.
The Bucs were losers in Denver to the Broncos 16-13. While their defense did a good job vs a good Denver offense, the teams offense had a major letdown vs a Broncos D that had given up a lot of points and yards. They lost QB Brian Griese to a shoulder injury in the second half, and while backup Jeff Garcia was able to get them a score, they were unable to pull it out in the three point loss.
Tampa Bay should get a lift playing at home. They will look to run the football with Earnest Graham to set up the passing game. Garcia appears to be the man to get the start, as Griese is still ailing from the shoulder injury from a week ago. Look for Garcia to be his usual scrambling self, meaning that the Panthers DB’s are going to have to stay with the WR’s longer. It’s a part of the game that when done right, makes Garcia dangerous.
The Bucs D will look to put a stop to the Panthers two-headed monster of a running game of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. They want to force Delhomme to throw, and at that point will unleash the dogs and try to force him into mistakes and turnovers. Delhomme has played well against the Bucs, throwing 13 TD’s and 7 picks and has a QB rating of 93.6 in 9 games.
Look for this to be your typical NFC South slugfest between two teams that know each other all too well. The Bucs are going to come out swinging, and the Panthers have to weather the storm early and then come back with some throws to Steve Smith and Mushin Muhummad to spread the defense. Won’t be easy. Look for a bunch up at the top of the division after this one as Tampa Bay takes home a three-point with with a late field goal.