NFL Week 1: Panthers vs Buccaneers Preview

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The NFC South division was created with the arrival of the expansion Houston Texans into the league in 2002. That caused the NFL into a realignment that solved some of its geographical issues while leaving some anomalies intact for the sake of rivalries. Seattle jumped from AFC to NFC, and thus last year’s Super Bowl win would have been less likely without thee Houston Texans.

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The old NFC West division was divided, with Rams and 49ers going to the new NFC West and Falcons, Panthers, and Saints forming the core of the NFC South. They were natural rivals, all along the I-85 corridor (Ok, I-65 from Montgomery to New Orleans, but it’s the same road. Look at a map sometime.) and they all knew each other from their days in the strange NFC West.

The addition was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the NFC Central. While the rest of the Central became the NFC North, Tampa was added to the South. It lost all of its rivalry ties with the old Central, and there was some question of whether it could develop new ones in the new division.
We should not have worried. Play someone often enough and you will add significance to beating them. It helped that the Dungy-Gruden Buccaneers were roughly contemporary with the Fox Panthers, meaning that both teams were pretty good. They were the establishment with Sapp and Brooks. We were the up and comers with Peppers and Morgan. A couple games were decided by turnovers and blocked field goals to make things really interesting.

But breaking Chris Simms’ spleen aside, the Buccaneers have become an important opponent for the Panthers every year. The team is slightly down at the moment, meaning it is critical that the Panthers beat them now to take advantage. Wins are going to be hard to come by this year, and Tampa is one of the easier games on the schedule.

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Updated NFL Draft Order heading into Week 15: Bucs fall outside of the Top 20 /

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    Date: September 7

    Time: 4:25 PM

    TV: Fox

    Radio: WBT (99.3 FM in Charlotte)

    Aug 23, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Understanding Tampa Bay is all about understanding new head coach Lovie Smith. Smith was the head coach of the Chicago Bears until a couple of years ago. His tenure was marked by strong defenses led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs at linebacker. Devin Hester was the X-factor on returns. However the offense never quite developed, until Jay Cutler came on board. At that point the defense started to age, and they booted Smith before he could fix it. Now the Bears have lots of offense, but less defense than the Lovie era.

    Smith’s views on team construction mesh well with Tampa. When he took the job he found a young line with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to use. On offense, he had a back named Doug Martin to run the ball. All he needed was a quarterback he could rely on to not make mistakes. Someone who could score just enough to let Tampa’s young defense win for him.

    He found that player in Josh McCown, the now journeyman quarterback whose rashness has been beaten out of him by experience. McCown had success with the Bears last year simply by not taking the chances that Jay Cutler might. Smith is not ready to bet that the young Mike Glennon can turn those urges off.
    In many ways Smith is looking to build a mirror image of the Panthers, or what the Panthers would look like if their quarterback was not named Cam Newton.

    The teams in the NFC South are never as far apart as their records might indicate. Tampa went 10-6 under Josh Freeman in 2010. The fourth place team seems to win the division a fair amount the next year. With Newton uncertain, Smith has likely circled this game as a chance to make a big splash at home against a division rival.

    Aug 16, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown (12) hands the ball off to running back Doug Martin (22) against the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The Panthers then need to watch out for Doug Martin first. Stop Martin and you can harass McCown, denying the deep ball to Vincent Jackson.

    On offense, the Panthers need to establish the run to take pressure off of Newton or Derek Anderson, if need be. If the Tampa line stops that, then the Panthers will have to ask a lot of their quarterback to find receivers down field. Dump offs may be advisable, or screen plays. Look for Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, and the running backs to have a role in the passing game.

    Buccaneers Player To Watch: Doug Martin, RB

    The game really hinges on the Panthers ability to stop the bowling ball from Boise. Martin was hurt much of last year, but he had a monster rookie season in 2012. He had 1900 total yards and 12 touchdowns that year.

    Aug 22, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) tackles New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray (35) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

    Panthers Player To Watch: Star Lotulelei

    As if I could not emphasize stopping the run enough. Lotulelei will be a big part of gumming up the works for the Tampa offense. I can’t say that he’ll generate a lot of stats doing this, but what he will do will be necessary for the Panthers.

    Prediction: Buccaneers 14-10
    ONJ Record: 4-0 (Completely based on college picks, but I will run the records together)

    Geez, I hope I’m wrong. I see this as a kind of perfect storm for Tampa. They are excited to be with Lovie, they are at home, the Panthers are hobbled, and it’s the first game of the season. There is more for them to derive energy from. If Rivera can motivate the Panthers to take this game and not let go, then that is a sign that we are in good hands.

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