Some thoughts on Sunday's Panthers-Bucs game and my prediction:
-- The Panther offense will have two primary plays Sunday -- the handoff and the pitchout.
In the past three games these two teams have played, Carolina has rushed for a staggering 241-yards-per-game average. No surprise that the Panthers have won all three of those.
“Double Trouble” wasn’t much trouble for the New York Giants to handle last week, however, in part because the Panthers went away from the run too early. They better not make that mistake Sunday. Although the Buccaneers have improved their defensive front, that’s still how Carolina can beat them.
-- I wrote my column for today's newspaper about Greg Hardy, who had two big-time plays in his NFL debut last Sunday. Somebody -- Hardy, Everette Brown, Tyler Brayton or Charles Johnson -- needs to get to Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman Sunday. Freeman is a tough guy (playing through a broken thumb) and very mobile. Carolina didn't have a sack from its D-line last week.
-- Aqib Talib, the Bucs’ best cornerback, returns Sunday after a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. That will help a Tampa Bay defense that has sometimes struggled in the past to cover Steve Smith. Look for Talib to shadow Smith for much of the game, and for that
matchup to determine much of how Carolina’s passing game goes.
-- The bottom line is that Carolina should win this one. The Panthers don’t have an obvious talent edge against 80-90 percent of the teams they play, but they do Sunday. If you’re not going to beat a Tampa Bay team at home that was 3-13 last season, then what game are you going to win?
-- I’m 1-0 predicting the Panthers so far this year. This week’s pick: Carolina 23, Tampa Bay 13.