Carolina comes in 8-3 and looking to win the NFC South. The Panthers only trail the New Orleans Saints by one game, and Drew Brees and the boys will be on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. After that, the two teams play twice over the final four weeks against each other, including a Sunday Night Football contest next week.
Tampa Bay is only 3-8 but is riding a three-game winning streak. The Buccaneers have come alive in November behind quarterback Mike Glennon and head coach Greg Schiano, who both appeared lost earlier. Schiano is fighting to keep his job, and might be able to should the Buccaneers stay on such a roll.
Meet the Buccaneers
The big question surrounding this team for the remainder of the campaign is whether Glennon deserves to be the franchise quarterback going forward. It's obvious there is talent in the rookie, but how much stock does Tampa Bay put into its third-round pick? The Buccaneers are going to have a high pick in a loaded class.
Glennon's numbers are solid, throwing 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions while completing 62.5 percent of his passes, despite being without Mike Williams and Doug Martin in recent weeks. Vincent Jackson has been the main target and lived up to the billing of top receiver, hauling in 58 passes for 888 yards and five touchdowns.
Defensively, former first--round pick Gerald McCoy is leading the team with six sacks. Linebacker Lavonte David is also having an excellent campaign with five sacks and a team-leading 99 tackles. Overall, the Buccaneers rank ninth against the run but only 21st against the pass despite having Dashon Goldson, Darrelle Revis and Mark Barron in the secondary.
Meet the Panthers
After starting out 1-3, Carolina has reeled off seven consecutive victories largely due to a defense that is playing maybe the best football of any team right now. The Panthers' defense is the best scoring defense in the NFL and ranks third and seventh against the run and pass. The best player on the unit is middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly leads the team in tackles with 93 and also has six passes defended to go with three interceptions. Drafted in the first round last year out of Boston College, Kuechly went on to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He has certainly carried over that success, with other stars like Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy playing great around him.
Cam Newton has continued his maturation process. The former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at Auburn is completing 61.7 percent of his passes and has 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions. His top receiving target is Steve Smith, who has 51 catches for 581 yards. Tight end Greg Olsen has 526 yards and a team-leading five receiving touchdowns.
Local take: Tampa Bay
Over at Bucs Nation, there is plenty of discussion about the future of Mike Glennon:
There was absolutely things to like about Glennon on Sunday, and some signs of definite improvement - but there are still far too many mistakes, bad fundamentals and a lack of, well, gumption to make the kind of 'big-boy throw' that earned him a lot of praise last week. Did Glennon improve to have his best performance so far? Absolutely. Is two good games really enough to be sold on a guy, especially as they followed a three game stretch that showed considerable regression, culminating in his worst game to date? It isn't for me - but there's still five games left.
Local take: Carolina
James Dator of Cat Scratch Reader writes about the play of Thomas Davis, who was named NFC defensive player of the month:
November has been a spectacular month for Davis, who registered 35 tackles, as well as a sack, interception and a forced fumble. It brings his season totals to 89 tackles, and 4.0 sacks -- both of which are on pace to be career highs. The numbers are remarkable in their own right, but unbelievable when given the context of of his three ACL tears. It was unclear whether Davis would be able to play again, let alone be an impact player but he has become one of the team's most reliable defensive weapons.
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Tampa Bay is playing much better football, but this is a massive game for the Panthers. The only question is whether the Panthers are a bit immature as a young team being good for the first time and looking past the Buccaneers, waiting for next week. This game will be much closer than Carolina fans would like, but look for a few late plays to make the difference.
Pick: Carolina 23, Tampa Bay 20
The Panthers are favored by 9.5 points over Tampa Bay at home, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Buccaneers are at home against the Buffalo Bills while Carolina heads to New Orleans and the Superdome.