The Carolina Panthers continue their playoff push in Week 13 against a team that has moved from punchline to prime time. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has settled into being a starting quarterback and a talented team is starting to reach it's potential. It's too late for the Buccaneers to make a playoff push, but they would relish a chance to spoil Carolina's fun.
Glennon is the focal point of any evaluation of the Buccaneers at the moment. He is playing exceptionally well, and showing that teams should wait until the third round to select a NC State quarterback. In eight starts he's thrown for 1,782 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions while posting a 91.6 passer rating. Extrapolate this out and he's having a 3,500 yard season while taking care of the football, and in recent weeks he's been less afraid to throw deep -- averaging over 10.0 yards per attempt in his last two games.
The Panthers air attack has been a Jekyll and Hyde affair in 2013. At times it's been effective, but overall this hasn't been a great season for passing. Cam Newton is playing his best football, but he's on pace for career lows in yards and yards per attempt, while throwing more interception than 2012. He's a better overall leader, but things are less flashy. We've seen an uptick in his touchdowns this year, but that's largely due to most red zone passing, where the team would run in the past.
Glennon has the better cast of weapons, that much is clear. Vincent Jackson is one of the league's best receivers, and tight end Timothy Wright has stepped up in a big way following a season-ending to Mike Williams. This is a varied and dangerous team that can't be taken too lightly.
The discussion of two offenses in isolation makes this an interesting debate, until we factor in defenses -- then the hammer drops. Tampa Bay has a young and talented unit but they're no Carolina Panthers. All signs point to Charles Johnson being a game time decision, but I have the feeling CJ will play in this one. He was live-tweeting the team's game last week, and clearly wants to be out these. I think it will take a lot to sideline the team's top pass rusher.
There's cause for concern, but Carolina should win this matchup.
This is where things get interesting. Carolina's run offense has steadily regressed over the past month, moving them from a top-five running team to 9th in the league. Margins are small, however and just 17 yards per game separate the Panthers and Buccaneers.
Doug Martin struggled early this season, prompting discussion of "sophomore slumps" and other such foolery. The truth was simply that Tampa Bay was an offensive mess. No threat of passing allowed teams to stack the box, and Martin couldn't do anything.
Just as Carolina was red hot early, then came down to earth -- the Buccaneers did the opposite. Mike James stepped in and had success, now Bobby Rainey has taken the reigns. The offensive line is supporting them in ways Carolina can't help theirs.
On a pure ability level Tampa Bay wins this matchup. Younger more-able legs, and better blockers up front. However, when you factor in the Panthers defense this once again leans the home team's way.
There are legitimate fears this is a trap game, but the Panthers wont be caught off guard following Week 12's scare in Miami. That was the best thing that could have happened to Carolina in ensuring they wont take any opponent lightly.
Mike Glennon and the Bucs are talented, but they're not ready to compete yet. Carolina extends their streak to 8-0, while we await Monday Night Football and hope for a Saints loss.
Carolina Panthers 24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13