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Bucs Winston/Smith praise Panthers LB Luke Kuechly

Florida Football Insiders

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of the NFL releasing its “Top 100” players for 2019 later this month, the Bucs rivalry with the Panthers came to the forefront in a promo released by the league on Friday.

In that online promo, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and left tackle Donovan Smith are both seen praising the skill, instincts and overall disruption that Panthers All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly causes for them twice a year, year after year.

Kuechly a former 9th overall pick by Carolina in the 2012 draft is a five-time All-Pro, including each of the last two seasons, and he’s therefore widely regarded as one of the best inside linebackers in all of the NFL

And as Winston and Smith detailed, his film study and instincts serve him well, especially on being able to predict what plays are coming next. In fact Winston said in promo, “about 60% of the time,” you can count on Kuechly knowing the play that you’re about to run and being somewhere in the vicinity of trying to break up the pass over the middle or clobber the back out of the backfield.

The Panthers overall have enjoyed some recent success against the Bucs, including winning 7 of the last 10 games in the series. Now, Kuechly hasn’t played in all of those, primarily due to concussion issues that he’s had throughout the last few seasons.

And, it should be pointed out that Winston and the Bucs swept the Panthers in 2016. And, they also pulled off a December win a year ago, where the Bucs QB helped lead them to a 24 – 17 win at Raymond James Stadium that kept their faint playoff hopes alive, at that time. (Kuechly had 5 tackles and a fumble recovery in the loss).

Further adding to the intrigue of this rivalry is: Kuechly is now being joined by former Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was released by Tampa Bay in May and signed by the Panthers the following week.

And, it’s further interesting on the NFL schedule, the two Rivals of the NFC South will meet on Thursday night of week 2 in Charlotte. They will also play later of the year in October in a stand-alone Sunday morning National Television game from London.

It’s almost assured that Panthers QB Cam Newton will also be part of the NFL’s 2019 “Top 100” list voted on by the players.

However, the real question is: will Winston, Mike Evans or any of the Buccaneers make a list this season? Coming off back to back losing seasons, the Bucs have been shutout in the “Top 100” in each of the last two years.

The full list reveal will begin, in descending order, on NFL Network on July 22nd.

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