Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Tampa Bay:
1. Cam Newton will have a 300-yard passing game.
The Panthers QB and the entire offense will have a bounce-back game against a Bucs defense ranked 30th in total yards (408.5) and passing yards (294.8) allowed. The line – even without center Ryan Kalil again – will give Newton plenty of time to throw. Tampa Bay is last in the league with seven sacks in six games.
2. Newton won’t be the only 300-yard passer.
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Jameis Winston’s sprained throwing shoulder didn’t seem to bother him last week, when he torched Buffalo for 384 yards and three touchdowns (with one interception) in a 30-27 loss. In his third season, Winston is directing the league’s top-ranked passing offense (312.3 yards per game) and the No. 2 attack overall (408.5 ypg). Winston again will get great protection and pick on the Panthers’ cornerback rotation of Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour.
3. Ed Dickson will have a 100-yard receiving game.
Greg Olsen, the Panthers’ injured Pro Bowl tight end, has had some of his best games against the Bucs, including a 181-yard receiving performance last season. Newton is at his best when the play-action game is working. The Panthers will emphasize more north-and-south runs, which will get the Bucs linebackers biting on play fakes, and Dickson will be the beneficiary.
4. Panthers will end their interception drought.
This has been unsuccessfully predicted in this space before, so take it with a grain of salt. But Winston has thrown seven interceptions in four games vs. the Panthers, including four in a loss as a rookie. The return of linebacker Luke Kuechly, after a one-week stint in the concussion protocol, will solidify the underneath coverage. And cornerback James Bradberry, who was close to a pick last week, will snag the first interception by a Panthers’ defensive back this season.
5. Get ready for some points.
The Bucs defense could be the tonic for what has ailed the Panthers offensively. Ron Rivera hinted running back Cameron Artis-Payne will be used as a pass-blocker, which should bolster the protection. The result will be a return to the form Newton flashed at New England and Detroit. Like those games, the Panthers will grab a two-touchdown lead and withstand a furious fourth-quarter rally by Winston, Mike Evans, et al. Panthers 27, Bucs 24.
Panthers at Bucs
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Sunday, 1 p.m.
FOX (Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin)