FROM THE OTHER SIDELINE : PANTHERS
By Leo Haggerty & A.J. Curtiss
Tampa Bay travels north to Charlotte for a National Football Conference South division tilt with Carolina. Kickoff is slated for 1 PM under cloudy skies at Bank of America Stadium with temperatures in the mid-50’s with a very slight chance of rain. That equates to perfect football weather in December.
Both teams are going in opposite directions. The Panthers are at 10-4 and tied for the NFC South division lead with New Orleans. Plus, don’t look now but the Falcons are just a game back.
The Buccaneers are at 4-10 and are mired in last place in the NFC South division. The Pewter Pirates have lost the last four games and are currently playing their 15th straight game thanks to Hurricane Irma. The Bucs are a tired and beat up football team both mentally and physically.
Being that int’s Carolina, we go back to our NFC South correspondent, A.J. Curtiss, for expert analysis for this week’s match-up. Below you’ll find A.J.s in-depth commentary on, as he aptly puts it, the Cardiac Cats. Enjoy.
LH : A.J., in my opinion, the Panthers should change their name from Carolina to “Camolina” as much as they depend on #1. I don’t think the Cats can overcome a sub-par performance from Newton. What’s your feeling on Superman?
AC : This year, you know the Cardiac Cats go as far as Cam will take them. He starts making poor decisions and bad plays, and it’s as if everyone’s mind goes with him. I think Cam has had a pretty up and down year, but last week had a real good performance. Completed over 50% of his passes for 242 yards and 4 touchdowns. I think Cam is Superman when he gets enough time to deliver a crisp ball, and when the run blocks are there. You get Cam throwing and running and it’s gonna be a long day for the Bucs.
LH : Newton may be the engine but I believe RB Christian McCaffrey is the gasoline. He can hurt you running and catching as well as in the return game. He’s the perfect compliment to RB Jonathan Stewart. How much has #22 meant to the success of the Panthers this season?
AC : McCaffery really has had a great year for the Panthers. He makes your linebackers and corners hesitate when they see him go out for a route. He’s not the biggest, but when he gets those legs moving, you might as well sit down and watch him run to the end zone. When McCaffery is getting the ball in space he’s key, drawing so much attentions that it allows Johnathan Stewart the chance to catch a team off guard and find his way to the end zone.
LH : The NFL just slapped LB Thomas Davis with a two-game suspension for a blind side hit. Is #56 getting a bad rap as a headhunter?
AC : If you saw this hit by Davis on Adams, you’d see he left his feet and lined Adams up for this hit. I get it, it’s football and I’ve played the game. You want that big hit, especially at home, that gets the crowd into it and your sideline jumping. But he’s had a history of this, and I’m sure the Bucs are happy to see him out. He’s a great player, two time Pro Bowler so let’s not knock him. But the NFL is cracking down on big hits. They want their players protected. I wouldn’t say he’s a head hunter, but he’s not a first time offender either.
LH : Is there a better every down LB than Luke Kuechly in the NFL?
AC : No, Kuechly is the best LB you will see. He’s really just an everywhere type backer, from pass coverage, and a gap filler, to a pass rusher. #59 does it all for the Panthers. He’s got 107 tackles plus 3 interceptions and 1 Fumble recovery. He’s the heart and soul of the unit. When the Eagles played him and he had to come out with an injury you could see they looked lost. Carolina really needed him to make some key plays. It’s the same thing with Sean Lee, and Clay Mathews, but Kuechly is constantly trying to up his game, and has had a remarkable impact for the Panthers.
LH : Can the Panthers win the NFC South?
AC : I think the Panthers can with the NFC south but they need the Falcons to beat the Saints this week and Atlanta nearly did it earlier in the season. They squeaked out a win against the Falcons, when Julio Jones dropped that key touchdown that would have secured a win for the Falcons. I think the Panthers are a team that just won’t go away, they’ve hung in long enough, I see them winning these next two games and getting in.
LH : Ok, A.J, it’s time to make the call. I say the Panthers because they’re at home in Charlotte and they could be playing for the NFC South title. CAR, 27-19, with a late McCaffrey score. What’s your prognostication?
AC : I see this one going the Panthers 27 and the Bucs 24. Last week you saw the Bucs really almost put together a complete game, came down to a missed field goal. They let RB Devante Freeman have a day, and I see Stewart having just as good of a day. I think the Panthers are playing for a win, and the Bucs are playing for pride. A late Cam Newton scramble TD will give the Cardiac Cats one more life, and another shot at the AFC south title game. Let’s see if Santa leaves a big present under the tree for the Panthers, or if the Bucs can sneak one big lump of coal into the Panthers stocking.