Gameday: Bucs look for first winning season since 2010-finish with Panthers

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What’s At Stake?

If you really want to get technical, the Bucs could actually earn a playoff berth today. Now, a lot has to go right for that to happen, but suffice to say that if the Bucs win and the Redskins tie and about six other things go Tampa Bay’s way a miracle could happen and the Bucs season could be extended. That alone should be incentive enough for the Bucs to play like this is their Super Bowl, but there’s more at stake than that. The Buccaneers also have a chance to finish the season with a winning record for the first time since they went 10-6 under Raheem Morris in 2010 and escape the basement of the NFC South for the first time in five years. Granted, those are nothing more than consolation prizes, but when you consider the Bucs recent history those are actually pretty good consolation prizes.

Key matchup

The Bucs caught a bit of a break in the first meeting between these two teams. They didn’t have to face quarterback Cam Newton. That changes today, and while Newton has run hot and cold all season he remains one of the most dangerous players in the game. Newton has improved his throwing from the pocket and while he’s not running as much these days as he has in the past he’s still an effective escape artist. Newton will provide the entire Bucs defense with one of its biggest tests of the year at a time when the defense has actually begun to slip a bit from its peak. The defense all but carried the Bucs through their five-game winning streak earlier but it struggled to keep the Cowboys and Saints off the scoreboard the last two weeks. A bounce back game from the defense should allow the Bucs to go out winners today.

Statistically speaking

No matter who’s running their defense, the Bucs always seem to have trouble stopping tight ends. It’s been that way for years for some reason and the trend has continued this year. For example, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had his best game of the year so far against the Bucs, catching nine passes for 181 yards in the first meeting between the two teams. The Bucs managed to survive that but they probably won’t get away with it if they allow Olsen to have yet another big game in this one. And there’s a good chance he will. Over the course of the last three years, Olsen has amassed 3,164 receiving yards, the most of all tight ends in the league and the 10th-most for all receivers regardless of position, according to ProFootballFocus. Clearly, if they want to win, the Bucs will have to focus on Olsen today.

He Said It

“There are a lot of different reason. Having a winning season, finishing the season on a positive note, having the chance to still go to the playoffs. Yeah, I know that all that crazy stuff has to happen for us t get there but a lot of crazy stuff can happen. Besides, if we don’t win, we know how bad we’ll feel going into the offseason. It sucks to know the last thing we did the prior season was lose. And then add in that we’re at home. The fans have been great here, and I think we’re sold out already or we’re on our way to a sell out, so they deserve to go out with a win.” Bucs DT Gerald McCoy on why a win today would matter to the Bucs.

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