• Sun. May 26th, 2024

December 31, 2015, Troy, New York  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Carolina Panthers in the regular season finale for the division rivals. This is a rematch of their Week 4 battle in Tampa, won by the Panthers 37-23.

Carolina’s undefeated season came to an end in Atlanta, losing 20-13 to the Falcons to fall to 14-1 on the season. The Panthers went 18 regular games without a loss during a streak which began in December 2014. If coach Ron Rivera had his preference, the Panthers record would have remained unblemished with home field advantage locked up throughout the postseason. In hindsight, losing has provided a sense of relief and removal from the intense glare of the national media spotlight.

Offensively, the Panthers’ skill positions are banged up. RB Fozzy Whitaker has been ruled out with a high ankle sprain. Leading rusher RB Jonathan Stewart and WR Ted Ginn, Jr. were held out of practice as a precaution. Stewart missed the last two games with a foot injury and Ginn, Jr. left the Falcons game with a calf injury. A pair of rookies could pick up the slack, RB Cameron Artis-Payne and WR Devin Funchess. QB Cam Newton had a rare off day at the office. He returned to his hometown of Atlanta and was limited to one TD rushing and a season low of 13 points. This comes on the heels of throwing 5 TD passes in 3 of his last 5 games. Defensively, DL Kawann Short, LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis have been dominant upfront. CB Josh Norman needs to focus on playing the role of a shutdown corner and keep the theatrics to a minimum.

Tampa Bay has a record of 6-9 in coach Lovie Smith’s second season with the Bucs. Rookie QB Jameis Winston is in contention for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Winston is aided by RB Doug Martin. Martin has remained healthy and returned to his rookie form. WR Mike Evans is a big target but struggles with drops. Defensively, the Bucs are led by DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David. The building blocks are in place for a turnaround in Tampa.

Per Scoresandodds.com, the Panthers opened as favorites at -11 with the current line at -10.5.

The kickoff was moved from 1pm to 4:25 p.m. EST at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.

The game will be broadcast by Fox.

Have a Happy New Year.

By Vernon McKenzie

Graduate of New Institute Of Technology with a BA in Communications with a focus on Television Radio. Owner and Executive Producer of PureSportsNY

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