It happens every time, every year. A great team gets hot and starts looking toward the playoffs, and the key games they will need to win to get there. They see the games between as mere stepping stones; easy jumps over bad teams to get to the true battle for supremacy. It’s all supposed to go off without a hitch, but that’s the wonderful thing about football, and life for that matter, that things rarely go according to plan. That stepping stone might have stumbled earlier in the year and spoiled their record, but maybe they’re starting to get their bearings, starting to get on a roll. Maybe that stepping stone is bigger than what it shows on the surface.
Every great team runs into a trap game at some point during the season, and though many people may write off the game, it may act as the test before the test. The Carolina Panthers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, a week before key divisional battle with the New Orleans Saints, which could give Carolina the division lead depending on the outcome of Monday night’s game. Carolina is the hottest team in the NFL, sporting a seven-game win streak, but the Bucs have a three-game streak of their own after starting 0-8.
Carolina has all the tools to win this game and bring Tampa back to reality, but they also have some key weaknesses that could spoil the party. The offensive line has been hampered with injuries, especially in the interior, and that could spell trouble with Gerald McCoy manning the middle. Carolina can’t let McCoy get penetration, because he could shut down the run game, and put pressure on Cam Newton to not only make plays but also elude the sack.
The secondary must also avoid getting beat deep by Vincent Jackson, because without an established running back and a strong-armed quarterback in Mike Glennon, the Bucs will be looking downfield. The Panthers are more than talented enough to win this game, but they can’t beat themselves if they want to keep pace in the NFC South.