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Carolina Panthers v Tennessee Titans

by Sharon Thorsland

It’s been a week of upheaval for the Panthers after the team parted ways with head coach Frank Reich and assistant coaches Josh McCown and Duce Staley. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor takes over as interim for the final six games of the regular season, starting with Sunday’s matchup at Tampa Bay. “The season isn’t over, we’ve still got games to play, games to win,” said running back Chuba Hubbard. “No one is throwing the towel in, we’ve got a team of fighters. We’re all ready to win a game.

The Bucs are likely saying the same thing. After starting the season 3-1, the Bucs have lost six of their last seven games, including last week’s loss to the Colts. But they’re still tied for first place in the NFC South with the Saints and have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Running the Bucs offense is former Panther quarterback Baker Mayfield. He’s actually been pretty solid this season, throwing for 2,588 yards and 17 touchdowns. Nine of those have gone to All-Pro receiver Mike Evans, who is arguably the most consistent player in the NFL. He’s just 150 yards away from notching his 10th straight 1,000 season and shows no sign of slowing down. “He’s a great veteran player, he can beat you deep, he can beat you intermediate,” said Panther cornerback Donte Jackson. “He can run every route, he understands defenses. There’s really nothing he can’t do.”

Evans teams with fellow All-Pro Chris Godwin, who has 53 catches and a score. Second year running back Rachaad White is also a top target with 43 receptions. The problem is White and the Bucs haven’t been able to get any semblance of a run game going. They’re next to last in the league averaging just 81 rushing yards a contest. The Panther defense has been pretty stout recently, they’re ranked sixth in the NFL now in yards allowed but the Bucs weapons certainly present a big challenge.

After being a top 10 unit a year ago, the Bucs defense has fallen off this season. They rank 27th in the league in total defense, and their passing defense ranks next to last in the league allowing nearly 268 yards per game. The secondary hasn’t gotten a lot of production out of their starters besides fourth year safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., who has been all over the field with three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two sacks and an interception. The Bucs have fared better against the run thanks to a stout front seven, anchored by Pro Bowl nose tackle Vita Vea and star linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David. The All-Pros have combined for seven sacks and three forced fumbles. Of course the Panthers would seem to have a bit of an advantage in this one with the coaching change as the Bucs don’t have any tape on a Chris Tabor offense