Next Stop: Bucs Face Panthers in Week 16 Action
After failing to win the 2021 NFC South title in a 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 15, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hit the road for another divisional contest in the during week 16 and another chance to land a playoff berth. Tampa Bay’s next assignment is a road game in Charlotte, the first of two meetings with the Carolina Panthers in the final two weeks of the season. This game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, December 26.
The Buccaneers could have locked down NFC South with a Sunday night win over the Saints, but their hopes were held up by at least a week. Tampa Bay still leads the division by three games with three weeks to go, which means they can settle the matter next Sunday with a win over the Panthers no matter what happens in the league. The Bucs’ loss to the Saints took a heavy toll on their chances of taking first place in the NFC overall standings and securing the accompanying first-round playoff leave.
The Panthers fell to 5-9 on Sunday with their 31-14 loss to the Bills in Buffalo and are 13th overall in the conference, two games behind Wild Card’s last place. As such, Carolina is a long way from qualifying for the playoffs in 2021, but it can certainly do a lot to make the road harder for the Buccaneers in the final three weeks of the regular season. Following their game next Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, the Buccaneers and Panthers meet at Raymond James Stadium in the regular season finals for both teams on January 9.
The Buccaneers beat the Panthers twice last season by a combined score of 77-40, both times with Teddy Bridgewater as Carolina quarterback. Since then, the Panthers have gone through several other options at quarterback before returning to where they left off in 2019. Carolina first traded for former Jets first-round pick Sam Darnold and went shipped Bridgewater to Denver. Darnold started the Panthers’ first nine games before landing in the injured reserve, after which the team re-signed the most prominent player in their history, Cam Newton.
PJ Walker started the Panthers’ 10th contest, a win over Arizona, but Newton opened the last four, all losses. Since returning to Carolina, Newton has compiled a 67.8 passer rating completing 62 of 113 passes for 623 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Newton also remains a dangerous weapon on the ground, running 41 times for 183 yards and five scores. The Panthers are also without their star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is in the injured reserve and will not be returning this season.
Carolina entered Week 15 with the NFL‘s second and best passing defense, allowing just 177.7 aerial yards per game before Josh Allen threw 210 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. The peak duo of Brian Burns and Haason Reddick combined for 20 sacks and 35 quarterback hits and the Carolina defense produced 36 total sacks. The Panthers were traded for former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore in October and former Corner Patriot is one of three different Panthers defensemen who have multiple picks this season.
The Bucs had hoped to win the division in Week 15 with the very direct result of beating the team that had won them the past four years. With the missed opportunity, Tampa Bay’s next move is against another avid divisional rival on their home turf in Week 16.