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Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Carolina Panthers: Things to watch Sunday

Panthers Cam Newton (1) is happy after connecting with Ted Ginn Jr. for a TD in the 3rd qtr. during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium Sunday afternoon in Tampa (10/04/15).

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Panthers Cam Newton (1) is happy after connecting with Ted Ginn Jr. for a TD in the 3rd qtr. during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium Sunday afternoon in Tampa (10/04/15).

TAMPA — Five things to watch in today's Bucs-Panthers season finale:

1 How many passing records can Jameis Winston set?

With 3,888 passing yards, Winston needs 112 to become the first NFL QB ever to throw for 4,000 in each of his first two seasons. If he throws for 155, he tops last year's total, and 178 would break Josh Freeman's 2012 team record (4,065).

If he throws for 266, he'll break Andrew Luck's 2012 record for yards in a player's first two seasons. If you're really keeping track, Winston already has the Bucs record for combined passing and rushing yards; he needs 221 to reset that mark of 4,255.

Mike Evans needs nine catches to become the second Bucs player with 100 in a season; Keyshawn Johnson had 106 in 2001. One touchdown will match his 2014 team record (12). He could break Mark Carrier's 1989 record of 1,422 receiving yards with 167, a total he has matched or surpassed once in three NFL seasons.

2 Can the Bucs remember to cover Greg Olsen?

Olsen had nine catches for 181 yards in the Bucs' win at Carolina, the most ever for a tight end against Tampa Bay and 47 more than in any game in his 10-year career. Olsen hasn't had a 100-yard game since and has one touchdown in the past 10 games.

Last year, in two games against the Bucs, he totaled four catches for 44 yards. An excellent way for the defense to show its improved communication is to keep Olsen relatively in check.

3 How many players have their last game with the Bucs?

Tampa Bay has 17 unrestricted free agents after P Bryan Anger signed a five-year extension, with some injured or in backup roles.

That includes S Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte, C Joe Hawley, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR Russell Shepard and three backup defensive tackles. DE Will Gholston, out with an elbow injury, will be among the most coveted, as will backup QB Mike Glennon.

Some could be playing their final game, period — LB Daryl Smith is 34, RT Gosder Cherilus is 32. WR Vincent Jackson is injured, but he's 33 and in the final year of his contract.

4 Can the Bucs really score another December/January win?

Entering this season, the Bucs were a ridiculous 3-21 in games played in December and January from 2011-15. They could match that five-year total in five weeks with a win against the Panthers.

Tampa Bay opened December with wins against the Chargers and Saints before losing their next two. Beat Carolina and they are 3-2 in December/January. In their 41 seasons, the Bucs are a .375 team (63-105) in regular-season games on Dec. 1 and later; only the Lions and Browns are worse in that span.

5 Can Bryan Anger avoid a big return and clinch a net punting record?

Anger is on course for a Bucs record for net punting, but he won't celebrate just yet.

As a rookie with the Jaguars in 2012, Anger had a net average of 42.3 yards through 15 games, which would have been a Jacksonville record. But in the final game of the season, the Titans' Darius Reynaud returned two of his punts 69 and 81 yards, so Anger wound up with a 14.4-yard net in the game, and his season net dropped to 40.8.

"We weren't doing as well as we are doing here, we were like 2-and-whatever and guys just kind of shut down," Anger said. "I ended up losing like 1.7 yards on my average in one game, so we have to finish off strong. Putting a full year together like that is awesome. It's cool to see that we're up there in the top as a team."

Barring a surprise today, he'll have both of the Bucs' major punting records. Josh Bidwell has the punting average record with 45.6 yards in 2005, and Anger enters today's game at 45.9; Michael Koenen has the net punting average record at 40.3 in 2011, and Anger is at 42.4. His net punting average ranks fourth in the NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Carolina Panthers: Things to watch Sunday 12/30/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2016 8:58pm]
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