The overhauled Buccaneers open the Lovie Smith era Sunday at Raymond James Stadium against QB Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, who won the NFC South title in 2013 behind a ferocious defense.
Here’s a closer look at the matchup:
2013 RECORDS: Bucs 4-12, Panthers 12-4.
REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: Panthers lead, 16-11.
BUCS HOME RECORD VS. PANTHERS: 5-8.
LAST MEETING: In extending their winning streak to eight games, the Panthers limited Tampa Bay to 10 first downs and 206 yards in a 27-6 victory Dec. 1 at Bank of America Stadium. Newton threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and also plunged over from a yard out for another score. Rian Lindell kicked a pair of first-quarter field goals for the Bucs, who arrived in Charlotte with three consecutive wins. Carolina out-rushed Tampa Bay 163-66 and maintained possession for 34:26. Rookie QB Mike Glennon was picked off once and lost a fumble after driving the Bucs to Carolina’s 4-yard line with the Panthers clinging to a 7-6 advantage.
NEED TO KNOW: Newton will be wearing a flak jacket to protect a hairline rib fracture and Carolina is missing two familiar faces on offense: WR Steve Smith is now catching passes for the Ravens and LT Jordan Gross retired, raising questions up front. ... Defense is the strength of the Panthers, especially a front seven anchored by MLB Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. OLB Thomas Davis has overcome three knee surgeries to become a disruptive force. A dynamic front four led by ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson paved the way for a league-high 60 sacks. ... The Bucs have their own issues along the offensive line, where six-time Pro Bowl G Logan Mankins will start after being acquired from New England in a trade. ... Tampa Bay could feature eight new starters on offense, including veteran QB Josh McCown and rookie WR Mike Evans. ... The first-string defense appeared formidable in the preseason and MLB Mason Foster looks primed for a breakthrough year.
— Ira Kaufman
Category Bucs Panthers
Total Offense 32nd (277.0 ypg) 26th (316.8 ypg)
Rushing Offense 22nd (100.8 ypg) 11th (126.6 ypg)
Passing Offense 32nd (176.3 ypg) 29th (190.2 ypg)
Total Defense 17th (348.0 ypg) 2nd (301.3 ypg)
Rushing Defense 15th (110.1 ypg) 2nd (86.9 ypg)
Passing Defense 17th (237.9 ypg) 6th (214.3 ypg)
Points Scored 30th (18.0 ppg) 18th (22.9 ppg)
Points Allowed 21st (24.3 ppg) 2nd (15.1 ppg)
Sacks t23rd (35.0) 1st (60.0)
Sacks Allowed t26th (47.0) t17th (43.0)
Turnover Margin 7th (+10) 6th (+11)
Category Bucs Panthers
Rushing Yards Bobby Rainey (532) DeAngelo Williams (843)
Passer Rating Mike Glennon (83.9) Cam Newton (88.8)
Receptions Vincent Jackson (78) Greg Olsen (73)
Receiving Yards Vincent Jackson (1,224) Greg Olsen (816)
Sacks Gerald McCoy (9.5) Greg Hardy (15.0)
Interceptions Lavonte David (5) Mike Mitchell, Luke Kuechly (4)