Through the first quarter of the 2013 NFL season, it appeared that the Carolina Panthers were headed for another disappointing year. Since then, the team has turned things around and could be ready to make some noise in the conference.
At the start of Week Eight, the Panthers will visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on "Thursday Night Football." The Panthers enter the contest at 3-3 for their first divisional game of the year.
The Panthers have won two straight games in convincing fashion. In Week Six, they went to Minnesota and beat the Vikings by 25 points. On Sunday, they defeated the St. Louis Rams 30-15, leading by two scores for much of the season half. Carolina’s other win was easy, as well, shutting out the New York Giants 38-0.
Cam Newton has played much better during the Panthers’ winning streak, completing 81 percent of his passes. The Panthers, though, are winning on the strength of their defense. No NFL team has allowed fewer total yards.
Tampa Bay certainly can’t identity with Carolina’s recent hot streak. The Buccaneers are one of just two remaining winless teams.
"I want to be clear on this because I don't take lightly 0-6,” said head coach Greg Schiano. “I've never been 0-6. But we do our best. We're trying our hardest. Our guys are working ... and I have found when you have good people and they work hard and they work smart it'll turn. That's what I believe."
For the most part, the Bucs have been competitive. They’re losing by an average of 7.5 points per game, and half of their defeats have come on field goals in the final two minutes.
On Sunday afternoon, the Buccaneers offense will look much different from the one that took the field on opening day. Quarterback Josh Freeman, who made his first start for the Vikings on Monday, was released earlier this month and replaced by Mike Glennon in Week Four. The rookie has improved every game, even though it hasn’t translated into victories. In Tampa’s most recent loss to the Atlanta Falcons, he finished the game with a season-high 90.7 passer rating.
Against the Panthers, Glennon will be without the team’s No.1 offensive weapon. Doug Martin suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder and could miss the rest of the season. The running back had amassed 456 yards in six games.
"There's no doubt Doug's a great running back, a Pro Bowl running back and there's definitely going to be pressure even trying to fill half his shoes," backup Mike James said. "I'm just trying to do what I can to help the team win a game."
James was taken in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He only ran three times before Martin went down this past week. In Martin’s absence, the rookie rushed 14 times for 45 yards.
Without his No.1 rusher, Glennon may rely even more on his favorite target. He targeted Vincent Jackson 36 times in the last two games. Only A.J. Green has been targeted more this season.
Las Vegas Betting Odds: Carolina favored by 6.5 points
Over-Under: 40 points
Kickoff Time: 8:25 PM Eastern Time
Where To Watch Online: nfl.com/tnf
TV Channel: NFL Network
Prediction: Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 14