TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs with the ball during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CAROLINA PANTHERS VS. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
LINE: PANTHERS -2 ½
Welcome to Week 1 of the NFL. I’m guessing right about now Bucs fans don’t really know what to think about this team under new Head Coach Greg Schiano.
Can’t blame ‘em.
The Bucs open against a team with plenty of potential, but we’ve discussed what potential really means.
It’s nothing more than you haven’t proven yourself yet. That would be the Carolina Panthers.
They have plenty of offensive weapons to lay a whooping on the Bucs defense, but will they?.
It all starts with QB Cam Newton, who embarrassed the Bucs last season in a December romp that included four touchdowns, three on the ground.
Joining Newton is wide receiver Steve Smith, running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and a young WR by the name of Brandon LaFell.
Their offensive line is better than average, and there is nothing to tell me this team can’t put up at least 20 points a game.
Where the Achilles heel kicks them in reverse is their defense. It was so bad last year, (not quite to the Bucs dubious standards) it makes it hard to believe they could have done enough upgrading to improve even into the mediocre range.
That’s why I have no idea where center Ryan Kalil came out and predicted the Panthers would win the Super Bowl.
Apparently his view was blocked the entire season when the defense was on the field.
Even with the expected troubles on defense, the Panthers appear to have more than enough to beat the Bucs in week one.
Problem is you just don’t know what to expect from this Buccaneers team.
Throw out the fourth preseason game. Get it out of your head. Unless the Bucs lose all their starters to injury, we should not see a debacle like the one against the Skins.
True, the Bucs lack depth in plenty of places.
However, they do have a better than average group of 11 on offense led by their new lean, mean fighting machine QB Josh Freeman.
Your guess is as good as mine if the Freeman of 2010 or 2011 will emerge this season.
Much of it will have to do with the running game.
Freeman was forced to do too much last season, and failed miserably.
The Bucs will be counting on a rookie in Doug Martin, who I must say, has plenty of vision with north-south running ability.
He is a key to Sunday’s game. Martin must be on his game or the Bucs will have a tough time winning this one.
Head Coach Greg Schiano wants badly to open the field up.
A Freeman to Vincent Jackson connection can be as lethal as any in the NFL, if Freeman can find him and if he has time.
I’m having nightmares thinking about the absence of Guard Davin Joseph. He was a pillar on the right side, and made T Jeremy Trueblood better.
You have one breakdown; the entire line will fail, leaving problems for Freeman and the Bucs running game.
I expect Carolina’s defensive front to improve from a year ago, mainly due to better health.
If L Jon Beason’s preseason hamstring injury doesn’t linger on, he is a force in the middle accompanied by Thomas Davis.
Special teams could also be a key Sunday.
I’m not sold on the Bucs special team’s coverage.
I am sold on K Connor Barth, who is the team’s preseason front-runner for MVP again.
Carolina will go with Justin Medlock in the kicking department. He went north of the border to the CFL to resurrect his career.
Bucs have a distinctive advantage here.
But the bottom line is this- Carolina is farther along in putting its pieces together.
The Bucs are young with little depth.
Yet as I look at the Vegas line, I see the Panthers only 2 ½ point favorites.
Do they know something I don’t?
I think in time the Bucs can become a contender in the NFC South, but it won’t be this year.
I do expect the Bucs to become a much better team by week 10.
To expect anything more in my estimation would be wishful thinking.
Not what Head Coach Greg Schiano would want to believe, but it is what I believe.
So, in the home season opener, I’m taking the Carolina Panthers minus the points.
Let the season begin!
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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