Panthers take on defending Super Bowl champions

Source: Lance King / Getty

The Panthers face the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday, hosting Tampa Bay at Bank of America Stadium. The Bucs brag about the NFL’s passing offense and number one offense, led by eternal Tom Brady. The 44-year-old quarterback won a record-breaking 15th trip to the Pro Bowl this week and is a favorite to win MVP honors. He pitched for over 4,300 yards and 36 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. “It’s amazing to be able to play at a high level for so long,” said Panthers cornerback and former Brady teammate Stephon Gilmore. “It’s impressive.”

Brady’s surround cast is also impressive, starting with a trio of Pro Bowlers on an offensive line who have allowed just 21 sacks this season, he’s number one in the NFL. However, he’ll have lost some of his best guns, with pro Bowlers Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette all likely sitting on this one. But the Bucs have backups – star wide receiver Antonio Brown is back from a suspension and they signed All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell this week. And of course there’s tight end Gronk – All-Pro Rob Gronkowski is a head-to-head nightmare, he’s got 40 catches, six of which are for touchdowns. The Panthers will laugh with a passing defense that ranks second in the league, allowing just 179 yards per game in the air. The Bucs are managing just 97 rushing yards per game, and with Fournette out, it will be Ronald Jones who will team up with Bell, who is also an excellent wide receiver.

The Bucs might not be able to throw the ball but they can definitely stop it, allowing just 89 rushing yards per game, which is third in the league. Their first seven are packed with talent, including All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Pro Bowl linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, who combined 11 and a half sacks and four forced fumbles. The Bucs’ passing defense isn’t that good, they rank 20th in the league with over 244 yards per game. Of course, the Panthers had their own struggles to throw the ball, managing just 195 yards per game in the air, which is 29th in the league. Besieged quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to return to the lineup today, but who knows if that will help. And the Bucs will have the return of star safety Mike Edwards, he leads the team with three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.

After losing their last four games at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers would love nothing more than to end their losing streak and give fans a win in the final home game of the season. It’s also a chance to take out the defending Super Bowl champions and waste their chance to win the division today. “I think we have a great opportunity to face Tom Brady and that powerful offense and really make a statement,” said Panthers defensive end Brian Burns. “Even though it’s the last three games, we can still enjoy that stretch and really make it something special. “

by Sharon Thorsland

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