Carolina has won three of its last four games and is now 3-3 on the season and two games back in the division. Cam Newton is playing extremely well as of late and his performance combined with Carolina's solid defense have the Panthers looking like a possible playoff contender.
Tampa Bay is headed in the opposite direction and has had issues on and off the field this season. The Bucs have moved on from the Josh Freeman situation but are still in search of their first win of the season. Doug Martin leads the way offensively for the Bucs, but a shoulder injury will likely keep him out of the lineup against Carolina.
Tampa Bay swept Carolina last season, but the Panthers lead the head-to-head matchup 13-9 since 2001.
Meet the Buccaneers
Not much has gone right for the Bucs this season. Tampa Bay lost a pair of close games to open the season and that was just the start of it. Freeman eventually got demoted, then released amid questions about how head coach Greg Schiano handled the situation. The team has been dealing with MRSA issues and now Martin has a shoulder injury. There isn't much of a timeline for when Martin will return with some reports saying he could miss the rest of the season.
Mike Glennon took over for Freeman and while the rookie has shown some ability, he's averaging only 5.6 yards per attempt, the second lowest of any quarterback with a qualified number of attempts. Tampa Bay is last in the NFL in yards and second-to-last in scoring offense.
Tampa Bay has been better on the defensive side of the ball, ranking seventh in yards allowed and tied for 13th in points allowed per game. The unit has had more issues recently, however, allowing 31 points in each of its last two games.
Meet the Panthers
Coming off back-to-back wins, the Panthers are 3-3 and have a chance to move above .500 for the first time since Ron Rivera took over as the head coach. Carolina had some offensive issues early in the season, but has looked better recently. The Panthers are averaging 34.3 points in victories and 12.0 points in losses this season.
Newton appears to have taken the next step as a passer and is coming off arguably the best passing game of his career. He threw for just 204 yards against the Rams, but completed 15-of-17 passes, good for 12.0 yards per attempt. He's averaging 7.8 YPA this season and 9.2 YPA in October.
The Panthers defense is in the discussion of the best units in the NFL. Carolina is second in points allowed and have allowed the third-fewest yards per game. Carolina is solid across the board, ranking fifth against the pass and fourth against the run.
Local Takes: Tampa Bay
Glennon has shown some flashes, but Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation wrote there are still too many issues:
The most obvious flaw is one we've all seen: the deep ball. Glennon has hit on just one deep ball so far, and even that one was an underthrown 40-yard pass to Vincent Jackson. Sideline deep passes continually land out of bounds rather than giving his receivers a chance to catch the ball. I don't need to go to the game film to show anyone that: it should be obvious to anyone who's watched Glennon play over the past games.
It's one thing to hit the receiver, but it's another entirely to hit the receiver in the right spot. It's one thing to hit the receiver in the right spot, but another entirely to do it at the right time. Throwing receivers open with placement and anticipation is what separates the good from the mediocre quarterbacks, and over the past three games Glennon has cost the Bucs several big plays and scores with poor ball placement and anticipation.
Local Takes: Carolina
Newton has always been a dangerous threat, but now he's starting to be that threat more because of his arm and less because of his legs, as James Dator of Cat Scratch Reader wrote:
In the past we've seen Newton finish with a decent pass grade supplemented with a good running grade, but on Sunday he finished with +4.0 on the pass, +0.2 on the run and gained an extra +0.1 from goading the Rams into a costly offsides penalty.
We saw the evolution of Newton as a quarterback. A player that realized he didn't need to do it all himself, finally trusting the players around him and getting the crowd involved. There is nothing more you could ask of the third-year quarterback.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Rams vs. Panthers: Player grades from Sunday http://t.co/n0MhAlUVB4— Cat Scratch Reader (@CatScratchReadr) October 22, 2013
@RCummingsTBO -- Bucs beat writer
Bucs RB Doug Martin says his shoulder injury is not necessarily season ending and is currently day to day, "working with the trainers.''— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) October 22, 2013
@josephperson -- Panthers beat writer
No real rush to play Stewart. Have to think first game will be in 2 weeks vs Falcons.— Joe Person (@josephperson) October 22, 2013
Tampa Bay has struggled offensively this season and will now be forced to play without Martin. Combine that with the fact the Bucs will be up against a very good Panthers defense and it's hard to imagine Tampa Bay putting many points on the board.
Thursday night games tend to be ugly and usually favor the home team, but not this week. Carolina has won two straight and will make it three in a row.
The Panthers opened as a three-point favorite according to OddsShark.com. Some oddsmakers have Carolina favored by as many as seven points.
Tampa Bay will travel to Seattle for a tough matchup against the Seahawks.
The Panthers will host Atlanta, its second straight NFC South game.