By Ted Fleming
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS BY THE NUMBERS
2012 Record: 4-5
Record vs. Panthers: 10-14
Streak vs. Panthers: W1
Last Meeting: Buccaneers 16, Panthers 10 (9/9/12)
Next Game: Sunday at Bank of American Stadium (73,298) @ 1 p.m.
With their hopes of a postseason berth fading in the rear-view mirror, the Panthers are still looking to finish with a flourish, but standing in their way are the resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers who currently reside in second place in the NFC South. Greg Schiano has his team on a roll, winning their last three and four of their last five while becoming a contender a lot sooner than many has thought under a rookie head coach.
The Pewter Pirates are for real. They have one more win, five, and one more touchdown, 31, than they did all of last season. They are also just 27 points shy of surpassing last season’s total through just nine games. They have turned around their net points total from a -207 in 2011 to +51 this year.
The Bucs have an offensive rookie of the year candidate in running back Doug Martin, who is averaging just over 95 yards per game and is on pace to go over 1,500 for the season. He also has seven touchdowns to his credit. Quarterback Josh Freeman is in the midst of having a career year with 18 TD passes to just five interceptions. If the season were to end right now, his passer rating would be his career best. Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams have already combined for 1,337 yards and 11 TDs.
Other than points allowed (24 ppg – 21st in the league), Carolina is right in the middle of the pack, 16th, in three defensive categories – yards (344.9), passing yards (231.9) and rushing yards (113).However, the Panthers much improved defense will be tested early and often by offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s game plan.
On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay has struggled at times, but the Bucs have recently been better than their numbers indicate. While they are dead last (32nd) against the pass, allowing 321.3 yards, they are 3rd in the league with 15 interceptions (the Cats have just six which is tied for 21st). Against the run, they have allowed only 80.1 yards a game and that is the best mark in the entire league.
The Panthers have struggled with their ground game all season despite having what many believe is one of the best duos in the backfield with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. On paper, Panthers’ QB Cam Newton should have a field day, however, if Stewart, Williams and fullback Mike Tolbert fail to make a dent in the Tampa Bay defense, Newton could be running for his life – again – even though Tampa Bay is just 26th in sacks with 15.
PREDICTION: Buccaneers 31, Panthers 17
TAMPA BAY: Defensive tackle Corvey Irvin was drafted by the Panthers in 2009…..Defensive tackle Gary Gibson played for the Panthers from 2007-08…..Guard Roger Allen was a member of the Panthers practice squad in 2011.
CAROLINA: Director of Communications Charlie Dayton was the Buccaneers’ assistant director of public relations during Tampa Bay’s first season in 1976…..Quarterbacks coach Mike Shula played for the Buccaneers’ in 1987 and he also coached from 1988-1990…..Running back Josh Vaughan originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.