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BUCS (5-4) AT PANTHERS (2-7)

The Bucs beat the Panthers in the season opener in a game that didn't feel as close as the final score, 16-10, indicated. The Bucs have evolved a great deal since, opening up their offensive playbook with downfield throws the Panthers didn't see that day. The Bucs' balanced attack will create problems for Carolina, which hasn't fared well against high-octane offenses.

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Panthers' top offensive player

It's still quarterback Cam Newton, right, pouty news conferences and all. While he seems to have work to do in the leadership department, he's still putting up big numbers, including2,143 passing yards. The blight is his 10 interceptions.

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Panthers' top defensive player

Rookie linebackerLuke Kuechly, left, has been a wonderful addition, leading the Panthers with 88 tackles. He has become a consistent playmaker on a defense that was in sore need of one.

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What the Panthers do best

They make plenty of big plays, tied for seventh in pass completions of 20 yards or longer with 31. (The Bucs have 32.)

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How you beat the Panthers

Defensive success on early downs is key. The Panthers convert just 33.3 percent of their third downs, tied for 25th in the league.

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The Bucs must avoid ...

An early deficit would allow the Panthers to be judicious in their play-calling. And their ability to run and pass with success will position them for a win.

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Prediction

Bucs 28, Panthers 24

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