It’s looking like the Carolina Panthers will have to play in Week 5 without their star quarterback. Cam Newton left last week’s game with a concussion, and while the team doesn't play until Monday night, last year’s MVP isn’t expected to suit up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The injury comes as the Panthers are trying to dig themselves out of an early-season hole. Following last year’s 15-win season that ended with a loss in Super Bowl 50, Carolina has lost three of their first four games, falling two games behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. Time is quickly running out for the Panthers to turn their 2016 season around, and they might be relying on quarterback Derek Anderson in an important divisional matchup.
Anderson is one of the most reliable backup quarterbacks in the NFL. He went 2-0 in 2014 when he was forced to start because of an injury to Newton, and he kept Carolina in the game against Atlanta in Week 4 when Newton went to the locker room. He threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns, though he was picked off twice in a 48-33 loss.
There’s no doubt that Newton’s injury hurts Carolina’s chances of winning, but they are still favored to beat Tampa Bay at home. The Panthers were 6.5-point favorites at some Las Vegas sportsbooks earlier in the week, and the betting line moved to 4.5-points after Newton missed practice on Friday, via OddsShark. The over/under has dropped from 46 to 44.5 points.
Tampa Bay has gotten off to a 1-3 start, and they have questions at quarterback, as well. Jameis Winston isn’t hurt like Newton, but he’s struggled through the first quarter of the season. Since throwing four touchdown passes in the season opener, Winston has thrown for four touchdowns and seven interceptions while losing a fumble.
After a 27-7 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 4, Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter admitted that he’s “very concerned” about his second-year quarterback.
“He's not regressing, but we've got to take care of the football,” Koetter told reporters. “I mean, we've got to take care of the football. We can't turn it over three times in a half. We just can't do that.”
Winston is facing a team that allowed nearly 50 points last week, but Carolina’s defense is too good to continue playing that poorly. Prior to their loss in Atlanta, the Panthers had held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 197 yards passing. Both Trevor Siemian and Blaine Gabbert posted passer ratings of less than 70.0 against Carolina in the first two weeks of the season.
Tampa Bay’s defense, however, has struggled against the pass in every game, no matter the opponent. The Buccaneers are 30th in the league, surrendering a 106.5 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
Whether it’s Newton or Anderson at quarterback, the Panthers won’t have trouble scoring against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have allowed 24 points in every game, even surrendering 37 points to the Los Angeles Rams, who have totaled just 26 points in their three other games this season.
The Panthers' struggles have mirrored those of the Arizona Cardinals. After losing to Carolina in last year’s NFC Championship Game, Arizona got off to a 1-3 start, losing their quarterback to a concussion in Week 4. With a backup under center, the Cardinals took care of business against a bad team on Thursday night, and the Panthers should be able to do the same on Monday night.
Prediction: Carolina over Tampa Bay, 26-17