No one gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a chance the last time that they faced the Carolina Panthers, and rightly so. At the time they were 0-6 and just starting to get used to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon; and the Panthers’ defense dropped the hammer as expected. The Panthers rolled to a 31-13 victory, the third win of their current seven-game win streak. Things have changed, however, and the Bucs are not so hapless anymore. They now have a three-game streak, and they have passed the Atlanta Falcons for the third spot in the NFC South. Both teams have a wealth of talent, but a few matchups will be crucial to the outcome of this divisional battle.
Ryan Kalil vs. Gerald McCoy
Kalil has looked like his old self since returning from Lisfranc surgery, and he will have his hands full with the young and athletic McCoy. Cam Newton needs to be able to step into throws and also have lanes to run if needed, and the only way to make that happen is to keep McCoy out of the backfield. Kalil won’t be able to get much help from the injured Panthers’ interior line so it will be on his shoulders to get a good push up front on McCoy to keep Newton clean and keep the run game from bogging down.
Vincent Jackson vs. Captain Munnerlyn/Mike Mitchell
Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell have been sensational this year for a young Panthers secondary, but neither of them have the size to cover Jackson one-on-one. The 6-foot-5 Jackson can easily beat the 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn and the 6-foot Mitchell for a jump ball, so the Panthers will most likely double Jackson with both to discourage Glennon from making that throw. The Bucs don’t have the running game to grind the ball down the field, so they will have to rely on the passing game to get points with Jackson bring the primary target.
Steve Smith vs. Darrelle Revis
This matchup is as much about the physical battle as it will be for the extracurricular activities. Revis isn’t known for his trash talking — other than a small Twitter war with Richard Sherman — but Smith has become a master of baiting players with his mouth. We’ve already seen him force Janoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib into personal fouls and blown coverage, and Smith will need to use his mouth heavily against the technically brilliant Revis. Don’t expect Revis to swing, but Smith will be working hard to get into his head.