Buccaneers at Panthers: Channel, time, how to stream, game pick, what to know about Thursday Night Football in Week 2
Two 0-1 teams look for their first win on Thursday night
The NFC South did not not have the best opening week of the season. Sure, the Saints pulled out a miracle victory on Monday night, but before that, the Falcons got stomped by the Vikings, the Panthers lost a nail-biter to the Rams, and the Buccaneers shot themselves in the foot against the 49ers.
In the second edition of Thursday Night Football, version 2019, two of those Week 1 losers will look to get back on track, Cam Newton and the Panthers welcome Jameis Winston and the Bucs to Carolina. As always, we're here to break down the matchups and give you an idea of what to be on the lookout for on each side of the ball.
I joined Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to break down this game. You can listen below and be sure to subscribe.
Info on Buccaneers at Panthers
- Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
- TV channel: NFL Network
- Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)
- Odds: Panthers -6.5, O/U 49 (via SportsLine)
When the Buccaneers have the ball
To paraphrase the late, great Dennis Green, Jameis Winston is who we thought he was. Winston has a huge arm and can "make all the throws," but he far too often makes the wrong throw, and is not nearly accurate enough with his ball placement even when he makes the right one. Winston was picked off three times by the 49ers in the season opener, allowing San Francisco to surpass its interception total from all of last season in just one game.
By some measurements, Winston was the worst quarterback in the NFL in Week 1, and it was not particularly close.
Winston will now have the challenge of facing a significantly better defense -- one that just last week held Jared Goff of the Rams to one of his worst performances of the Sean McVay era, yielding a paltry 59 percent completion rate, 4.8 yards per attempt, and 69.0 passer rating to the newly-minted $134 million quarterback. The Panthers got pressure on Goff on 14 of his 41 drop backs, and allowed only three of 12 passes to be completed on those snaps, for just 34 yards. Winston was similarly ineffective when under pressure against the 49ers: he went 4 of 12 for 37 yards and two of his three interceptions on those plays.
Bruce Arians-coached offenses tend to see their quarterbacks face more pressure than others, because he loves to attack downfield out of deep drops and rarely keeps extra blockers in to protect the QB, instead sending out five pass-catchers on a significant number of snaps. That type of passing attack is a fairly strong fit for Winston's skill set given his arm strength, but also calls for him to calmly navigate a pressured pocket fairly often, which is not his forte.
The Bucs obviously want to push the ball up the seams to O.J. Howard and to the deep thirds of the field to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but they may need to strike a better balance between those throws and more quick-strike passes that let their playmakers get the ball in their hands early and make plays after the catch, given Winston's tendency to struggle with rushers in his face and generally poor decision-making overall.
If and when he has enough time to survey the defense and identify a target, he'll likely be looking at a shadow situation for No. 1 wideout Mike Evans fairly often. As ESPN.com's Mike Clay noted, James Bradberry has shadowed Evans in each of the last five matchups between these two teams.
In the first meeting back in Week 17 of the 2016 season, Evans had a good day, posting a 10-5-65-1 line. In the two 2017 showdowns, Evans didn't find the end zone but managed solid lines of 10-5-60 and 8-6-107. Last season, however, Bradberry had his number, limiting the star receiver to lines of 10-1-16 and 6-4-48. That 2018 production works out to a total of 16 targets, five receptions, 64 yards and zero touchdowns on 73 routes.
Bradberry tracking Evans means Chris Godwin will be left to work against Donte Jackson when he's on the outside, and slot corner Javien Elliott when he bumps down inside. Godwin caught only three of six passes thrown his way last week, but he did tally 53 yards and find himself on the receiving end of Winston's lone touchdown toss. Jackson, meanwhile, was targeted six times by Goff last week, allowing four catches for 48 yards while managing to break up one throw.
Howard, as well as pass-catching back Dare Ogunbowale, may have his work cut out for him, as he'll presumably see a whole lot of Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, and safeties Eric Reid and Tre Boston. That's an excellent second and third-level group of interior pass-defenders, and they should be able to handle those matchups capably.
Things in the passing game could be complicated by the fact that it seems at least somewhat unlikely that the Bucs will be able to get their rushing attack going. Peyton Barber is and has been ineffective. Ronald Jones finally had the first real contributions of his career with 13 carries for 75 yards last week, but he wasn't running into a front of Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and revenge-game Gerald McCoy.
The Rams had success running against that front last week, but they have one of the best run-blocking units in the league. The Bucs, to put it kindly, do not. There will be a lot of pressure on the interior trio of Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, and Alex Cappa to hold up against a very strong group of Panthers defensive linemen inside.
Who wins Buccaneers vs. Panthers? And what critical x-factor makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the spread you should jump on Thursday, all from the top NFL expert who is 20-5 on Bucs picks, and find out.
When the Panthers have the ball
Perhaps the biggest question of all here -- and maybe the only one that really matters in this particular game -- is, "Can anyone stop Christian McCaffrey?" Run CMC carried 19 times for 128 yards and two scores last week, adding 10 catches for 81 yards on his 11 targets. Over his last 16 full games (he had only five touches in Week 17 of last season), McCaffrey has 234 carries for 1,208 yards and nine scores, plus 116 catches for 926 yards and six more scores. That's 134 total yards and a touchdown, per game. Let's be up front about it: that is insane.
The Panthers' entire offense flows from McCaffrey's versatility, as his presence on the field tips off the defense to neither a run nor a pass. Throw in Cam Newton's rushing abilities and there are just so many different things that can happen on any given play. And that's before we account for the running back-esque skill sets of Panthers wideouts D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, which provide an additional element that defenses have to account for before and after the snap.
Those various threats provide all sorts of avenues through which Newton can attack this defense through the air. The Buccaneers fared surprisingly well against the San Francisco passing attack last week, but it's difficult to see that continuing in Week 2 given all the different ways McCaffrey, Moore, Samuel, and either Greg Olsen or, if Olsen can't play, Ian Thomas, can stress the defense -- particularly on short, quick-breaking routes that allow them to make hay after the catch.
The linebackers, safeties, and slot corners for Tampa were targeted 19 times by Jimmy Garoppolo last week, allowing 16 completions for 145 yards and a touchdown to the combination of George Kittle, Kendrick Bourne, Tevin Coleman, Marquise Goodwin, Richie James Jr., Deebo Samuel, Dante Pettis, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert. Needless to say, the McCaffrey-Moore-Samuel trio is significantly more threatening than that group, and it is even more so if Olsen is able to play.
McCaffrey is uncoverable in the open field. Moore has both deep speed and the ability to make defenders miss in short areas. Samuel does as well. And Olsen has long been one of the best field-stretchers in the league at the tight end position. If Norv Turner can get those guys matched up one-on-one with rookie linebacker Devin White, safeties Jordan Whitehead or Darian Stewart, or slot corner M.J. Stewart, look out.
One thing to watch out for is whether Newton is willing to test this Bucs defense with downfield throws. He attempted only one pass that traveled more than 20 yards in the air in Week 1, a rarity for him, while 23 of his 30 pass attempts were to receivers within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (per Pro Football Focus). Newton threw deep an average of 2.9 times per game last season, and that's with the average being dragged down by his late-season shoulder injury. Meanwhile, 59 percent of his throws last year were to receivers within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, a figure far short of the 77 percent rate he posted last week. Newton has appeared healthy throughout the offseason, according to reports who have been on scene at Panthers camp and preseason games, but just as it did for Andrew Luck last year, it may take him a bit to ramp up to letting it rip deep downfield in the way he usually does.
The Panthers have also been fairly open about wanting to limit Newton's designed runs this season in order to minimize the stress and potential for injury around that shoulder, and indeed he had only two designed rush attempts last week. His mere presence on the field is threatening to opposing run defenses, though, and that is to McCaffrey's benefit. The Panthers even broke out a reverse read-option run last week, with McCaffrey taking the snap and faking a hand-off to Newton before taking off and finding the end zone himself. If we see that kind of creativity again on Thursday night, the Bucs may not know what hit them.
Prediction: Panthers 27, Buccaneers 16
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