It was less than 11 months ago that Carolina last hosted Tampa Bay, playing in a Christmas Eve game the Panthers were very lucky to win.
That was a pretty different Carolina team, though. For instance, Jerry Richardson was the owner. Brenton Bersin was the leading receiver that day. Daryl Worley was the Panthers’ No. 2 cornerback, and Tampa Bay threw at him incessantly.
The Panthers won on a touchdown in the final minute. Cam Newton first fumbled the shotgun snap, then picked it up and scored from 2 yards out. The Panthers escaped with a 22-19 win.
Jameis Winston started for Tampa Bay that day and threw for 367 yards, although he also lost three fumbles. While Newton is having a far better year in 2018, Winston has gotten so bad that he’s been benched for this game in favor of backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
▪ The Panthers secondary better lace on their running shoes Sunday, because DeSean Jackson still can fly. Jackson has a staggering 24 touchdowns of 60 or more yards in his career, the most in NFL history from that distance. He is part of a Tampa Bay offense that leads the NFL in total yards at 467.6 per game. So after playing the NFL’s No. 1 defense last week in Baltimore, this time the Panthers are facing the No. 1 offense.
▪ The oldest player on Tampa Bay’s roster is Fitzpatrick, who is 35. But the Panthers have two older position players on defense who will be chasing him around: Julius Peppers (38) and Mike Adams (37).
▪ Carolina almost always has trouble with Mike Evans, the Buccaneers’ No. 1 wide receiver. On the other hand, Tampa Bay almost always struggles to guard Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
▪ The Buccaneers have their own version of Luke Kuechly in linebacker Lavonte David, who is a lot of fun to watch and has a real knack for turnovers. Newton will take a look at where No. 54 is lining up on every play.
▪ Prediction time. I moved to 5-2 last week after correctly picking Carolina’s victory over Baltimore.
Of the four teams in the NFC South, Tampa Bay is the weakest — although still dangerous with that pass-heavy offense that can get yardage in chunks.
Carolina at home has been a pretty sure bet lately, though, as the Panthers are riding a nine-game win streak in Charlotte dating back to 2017. That’s tied with New England for the longest active home winning streak in the league. It goes to 10 on Sunday.
My pick: Carolina 33, Tampa Bay 24.