The Tampa Bay Times Bucs coverage team makes its picks for the Bucs-Panthers Monday night game in Charlotte, N.C.
Bucs will play better against an embattled Carolina defense but still doesn't have the firepower to keep up with Cam Newton or Derek Anderson. The Bucs may struggle against WR Kelvin Benjamin.
Doesn't matter who is playing QB for the Panthers. Carolina owns the Bucs, which haven't beaten the Panthers since 2012. Carolina's defense doesn't have Josh Norman or his swagger anymore, but it might be tough for the Bucs to score enough points without Doug Martin and with Jameis Winston turning over the ball so much.
This game has been as a billed as a game against the defending NFC champions. The Panthers, however, are nowhere near the team that went 15-1 last season. Josh Norman is gone, and the secondary has been revamped. Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart, who accounted for 71 percent of Carolina's rushing attack last season, have been banged up. If both of them miss Monday night's game, the Bucs stand a reasonable chance. It'll come down to whichever one of these turnover-prone teams takes better care of the football.
I really want to pick the Bucs, but there are too many question marks. Tampa Bay would need a full complement of players —- including Gerald McCoy and Doug Martin -- to pull off this upset. Without them, Derek Anderson can sub for Cam Newton and produce the victory.
Even if Jameis Winston and the Bucs straighten out the offense, this will be a tough one, whether or not Cam Newton is in there or not. Newton's back-up, Derek Anderson, has beaten the Bucs a few times. Who hasn't? Panthers are 1-3, desperate, at home, and heard grief all week about Matt Ryan throwing for 500 yards.
Tampa Bay 24-21
So much can change: is Cam Newton playing? Can backup Derek Anderson, winless against everyone else in the NFL since 2010, beat the Bucs for a third time since 2014? Both sides understand the importance of avoiding 1-4, but the Bucs, heading into a bye week, might have more urgency. Win the turnover battle here, you can pull off a high-profile upset win.