This week’s Thursday night game is one that looked much better in the preseason as the Panthers go on the road to take on the Buccaneers. The Panthers were a trendy sleeper pick to make the playoffs and they’ve shown why in the past two weeks. Granted, they’ve beaten two reeling teams in the Vikings and Rams, but they’ve played very well defensively and have played mistake free football. Cam Newton hasn’t been putting up the gaudy numbers many have come to expect after his first two years, but his performance is essential to the Panthers winning.
In games the Panthers have won, Newton has completed 71 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and one interception. In the ones they’ve lost, Newton’s completion percentage drops to 58 and has three touchdowns compared to four interceptions. One of the marquee matchups this game will be Steve Smith facing off against Darrelle Revis. Smith’s numbers are down this year, but he still has the ability to beat one on one coverage and it will be interesting to see how many looks he gets against Revis. If Revis shuts him down, look for Newton to look for Greg Olsen early and often as he is surprisingly leading the team in receiving yards.
With the Josh Freeman saga behind them, the Buccaneers have turned to Mike Glennon and while that hasn’t resulted in wins, Glennon hasn’t been that bad. Give Glennon credit for giving his best playmaker Vincent Jackson chances to make things happen as he’s targeted him early and often. Jackson has been one of the few highlights for the Buccaneers this season as he continues to put up elite receiver numbers despite teams knowing the ball will be thrown his way 12 plus times a game. That should be the case again this week as the Buccaneers won’t be relying on the ground game as much with Doug Martin. In his place will be 6th round pick Mike James. James has some speed and receiving ability, but it could be a rough go against an extremely underrated Panthers front seven. This week Glennon will need to continue relying heavily on Jackson and also get Mike Williams more involved than he’s been of late.
This game looked like it could have had a big impact on the NFC Wild Card race but a lot has changed in the past few months. After some big time offseason acquisitions, the Buccaneers are 0-6 and Greg Schiano is well on his way to going down as one of the worst NFL head coaches of all time. There is just too much going the Panthers way (rookie quarterback on a short week, a top ten defense in a situation where games are usually low scoring) for me to think they will lose this one. My prediction is Panthers 24 Buccaneers (+6.5) 13