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NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Carolina Panthers Who Will Shine in Week 13

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5 Carolina Panthers Who Will Shine in Week 13

Intro
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

They can all see it. They can all smell it. Some of them, the greatest of them all, can even taste it now. The happiness and gratitude of Thanksgiving has passed and the desperation and savagery of Black Friday is still fresh in the air, with the first day of December looming on the horizon. The final month of the NFL season is approaching, the home stretch toward the glory of the playoffs. The unworthy are shed from the race, left to battle for dignity or draft position, while the true contenders jostle for position in the tight corridor of the postseason.

The stories have been remarkably different for the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the Panthers rising to the top and establishing themselves as contenders while the Bucs floundered in the face of increased expectation and poor quarterback play. Carolina has firmly established themselves not only as the sole opponent to the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South crown, but also as the hottest team in the NFL with their seven-game win streak. Tampa started off very poorly, but they have found some momentum and regained some self-respect, rattling off a three-game win streak.

Carolina comes into this game as the clear favorite, with all the personnel tools to feed the Bucs some post-Turkey Day humble pie. Carolina's defense has been dominant, and should make short work of Tampa's one-dimensional offense, and the offense has enough firepower and Cam Newton clutch factor score in spite of their injured offensive line. Many Panthers have the chance to shine on Sunday, but only few will light up the stadium.

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Mike Tolbert

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers are going to have a hard time running up the middle with their hampered interior line, especially going up against Gerald McCoy. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart aren't to be able find room if the front seven is at full strength, which leaves Tolbert to pick up the slack. Look for the Panthers to use Tolbert to soften up the Bucs' interior and follow up with cutback runs to find creases. Tolbert's stats might not jump off the page, but his impact will be felt. Literally.

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Thomas Davis

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay doesn't have many weapons at tight end or running back, but that doesn't mean someone can't break out if the Panthers play soft. Davis will need to lock down the box for the Panthers, along with Luke Kuechly, to force the Bucs to make plays on the outside. That will allow Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell and jump routes and make plays, turning defense into offense.

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Greg Olsen

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We already know that Greg Olsen will have a lot of responsibilities against the Bucs, but he also has the ability to excel despite all of that weight on his shoulders. With and injured offensive line, Carolina will look to Olsen to consistently move the chains and keep the ball, dominating time of possession as per their strategy.

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Star Lotulelei

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Johnson's absence was very much felt last week against the Miami Dolphins, with Ryan Tannehill having more than enough time to heave it to Mike Wallace. Mike Glennon has displayed surprisingly good pocket movement skills this season, but he won't have anywhere to step up and avoid Carolina's edge rushers if Lotulelei can collapse the pocket in the middle. He doesn't even truly need to get sacks, only get enough push to keep Glennon on the spot for Greg Hardy to tee off on.

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Greg Hardy

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Hardy, he will by far have the biggest impact on this game. Just like Miami, the Bucs will look to push the ball downfield to their No. 1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, which they can only do if Glennon has time to drop back and step up and Jackson has time to get downfield. Neither of those things will happen Hardy gets in Glennon's face or puts him on the turf, and that is essentially the core of Tampa's offense. If Hardy can rattle Glennon, then this game will be wrapped up quickly.