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Bucs opponent preview: Panthers, Week 5

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2015, file photo, Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) reacts as he watches a video board during a timeout in the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Charlotte, N.C. The 13-0 Panthers take on the New York Giants on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File) NY158

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2015, file photo, Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) reacts as he watches a video board during a timeout in the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Charlotte, N.C. The 13-0 Panthers take on the New York Giants on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File) NY158

When they play: Week 5 (Oct. 10) in Charlotte, Week 17 (Jan. 1) in Tampa

2015 record: 15-1, won NFC South, lost in Super Bowl 24-10 to Denver.

Last time vs. Bucs: Carolina has won the last six meetings, including a 2015 sweep — 37-23 in Tampa and 38-10 in Charlotte, where Cam Newton had four total TDs.

2016 outlook: It's easy to expect a dropoff coming off a 15-1 season — will this be the Panthers who dominated Arizona to get to the Super Bowl, or the team that was humbled by the Broncos in their last game? Losing Josh Norman is a high-profile departure, but the core of Carolina's defense is back for 2016.

Player to watch: QB Cam Newton. Hard to imagine someone else here. He had never thrown more than 24 TDs in his first four seasons, then had 35 last year while resetting his career low with 10 interceptions and still rushing for 10 scores. He gets Kelvin Benjamin back healthy this year, and will have the motivation of losing on the NFL's biggest stage to drive him.

Rookie to watch: With Norman gone, Carolina might be starting two rookie cornerbacks in second-rounder James Newberry and third-rounder Daryl Worley. Their secondary becomes a question mark, but on a roster that had 10 Pro Bowlers last year, some of that slack can be picked up elsewhere.

Key matchup: RB Jonathan Stewart vs. Bucs run defense. Stewart made the Pro Bowl last year without rushing for 1,000 yards — he hasn't since 2009 — as just one part of the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense. Keeping a strong run game to complement Newton takes pressure off him and makes him such a dual threat.

Familiar face: RT Mike Remmers. You may not remember him, but he was on the Bucs' practice squad in 2012-13, and at 27 is now a starter at right tackle. He had a rough night in the Super Bowl, but should be back starting again for Carolina.

Cool stat: Carolina led the NFL with 32.9 rush attempts per game, and finished No. 2 in yards per game (behind the Bills) at 142.6, despite not having a single 1,000-yard rusher. They also tied for first with 19 rushing touchdowns, so this is what sets Newton up to make the big plays he's able to make.

Bucs opponent preview: Panthers, Week 5 09/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2016 10:38pm]
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