What: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) vs. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: 1 p.m.
Latest line/Over-under: Buccaneers +10.5/46.5
Why you should watch
The Buccaneers may be out of the playoff race but the Panthers certainly aren’t. The Panthers are locked in a virtual tie for the NFC South lead with the Saints and can clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie today. This then is another chance for the Buccaneers, their fourth in as many weeks, to put a dent in a team’s playoff hopes. They’ve yet to do that, of course, but they did manage to give the Packers, Lions and Falcons each a good competitive game despite suffering from an incredible run of injuries. Those injuries will make competing against the Panthers a challenge as well but if the Bucs can get another good game out of quarterback Jameis Winston and some of their more promising reserves such as running back Peyton Barber, wide receiver Chris Godwin and tight end Antony Auclair they could pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
Key on: Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander
Winston isn’t the only Buccaneers quarterback who hasn’t had the breakout third season everyone hoped he’d have. Alexander, the quarterback of the Bucs defense, hasn’t played up to expectations this year either. Much like Winston, injuries have played a part in Alexander’s struggles. Alexander missed four of the first five games of the year with a hamstring strain and has played sporadically ever since he made his return in Week 7. In the past two weeks, however, the Bucs have seen more of the Alexander they became accustomed to over the course of his first two NFL seasons. Playing as if he has his legs back under him, Alexander has racked up 25 tackles, including two for a loss, the past two games and the Bucs defense has looked a lot more representable as a result. Alexander is one of the keys to the Bucs future, and if he’s on his game again today he could make life difficult for the likes of Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen.
In the midst of one of the worst seasons ever for the Buccaneers defense as a whole, safety Chris Conte is having what may be his best individual season ever. A starter in 12 of the Bucs 14 games so far, Conte has yet to allow a touchdown in 364 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s coming off a game in which he didn’t allow a reception on any of the three passes that were thrown his way against the Falcons last week. Good thing, too, because Conte figures to get tested a lot today. With fellow safety Justin Evans out it will likely fall to Conte to slow Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who is quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target. Conte had a good game the first time out against the Panthers this year, allowing Olsen’s fill-in, Ed Dickson, to catch just two passes for 6 yards. Olsen will give Conte a far greater challenge than Dickson did, but given the way Conte has played this year, he may not have a whole lot more success.
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