Jameis Winston against Carolina’s secondary.
More than any other matchup, that’s the one that bears watching Monday night as Tampa Bay and Carolina face off in Charlotte.
Winston can be very, very good (four touchdown passes in a season-opening victory against Atlanta) or very, very bad (his eight interceptions rank second-worst in the NFL). He’s facing a secondary that gave up a staggering 503 passing yards last week and unceremoniously fired one of its starters (Bené Benwikere) on Friday.
Mike Evans is Tampa Bay’s version of Julio Jones, and big No. 13 might have his own triple-digit day against the Panthers. Shoot, he might go for 200. The Panthers absolutely have to force Winston into the kinds of mistakes he is wont to make. If Carolina can’t get Winston to turn the ball over at all, this is going to be a very long night.
▪ The Panthers’ Ron Rivera said he was “crushed” last week by the team not rushing for at least 100 yards, breaking a string of 30 consecutive regular-season games in which Carolina had done so. So expect a steady diet of the run this week.
If I were the Panthers, I’d get Fozzy Whittaker more involved in the run game, too. He has the outside burst that Cameron Artis-Payne generally lacks, and had a 100-yard game against San Francisco. Given the fact Jonathan Stewart is out yet again, Whittaker is not touching the ball enough.
▪ Derek Anderson certainly knew where his bread was buttered in his two starts against Tampa Bay in 2014 – he threw the ball to either Kelvin Benjamin or Greg Olsen on 61 percent of his attempts. Because Anderson gets the ball out so quickly, he prefers a bigger target.
▪ I am 2-2 picking the Panthers this season, which is not much better than the team’s record. Because Tampa Bay is also banged up and the Panthers have a lot of urgency swirling in the air, I am going to try Carolina one more time. My pick: Carolina 23, Tampa Bay 20.
Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler