With just two divisional opponents to go in the 2022-23 gauntlet, Sunday marks a high-stakes matchup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home. The Buccaneers will host the visiting Carolina Panthers on New Year’s Day. Both teams are vying for a stranglehold in the NFC South. A win for the Buccaneers would mean a guaranteed playoff spot and a loss for the Panthers would mean elimination from playoff contention. The stage is set. The Panthers have revived their playoff hopes by winning three of their last four games, including a 37-23 drubbing of the Lions last weekend. Carolina rushed for a franchise record 320 yards and the Bucs will have to match his physicality on Sunday. The Bucs are coming off a comeback win over the Cardinals on Christmas night and will look to capitalize against the Panthers. There are several matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Panthers affair in Week 17. Here’s an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to watch on Sunday.
An opportunity arose for Nick Leverett in Week Seven – the first meeting between the two clubs in 2022 – and he took advantage. The Buccaneers began alternating Leverett and Luke Goedeke at left guard against Carolina. Goedeke was injured and Leverett intervened. He has since taken full ownership of the role, helping to strengthen the entire unit as injuries have hindered continuity. Leverett will face a tough task facing Derrick Brown, the Panthers’ rugged defensive tackle. It is a monster at the point of attack, with the strength to work the blocks. To see also : 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan on Jimmy Garoppolo’s cheerleader interaction: ‘It’s a tough life he’s got to live’. Brown possesses a rare combination of size, speed, power and technique. He can push the pocket with a lethal bull. Brown can quickly throw blockers to the sideline in pursuit of the quarterback. Has devastating speed with a burst to close / fire by blockers. That’s a heavy load for any lineman to handle. This will be an intense matchup on Sunday.
The Panthers’ 2019 first-round pick, Brian Burns, leads Carolina with 12.5 sacks, fueling the unit. With the burst out of his position, Burns disrupts with a lethal spin move as the tackles engage his speed run. He is steadily gaining influence and has become entrenched among the league’s elite runners. The Panthers move Burns along the line to keep the offense off balance, so Tristan Wirfs sees a heavy dose of Burns. To see also : Panthers fall to 0-2 after 19-16 loss to NY Giants; another late field goal sinks Carolina. Wirfs missed time with an ankle injury, but emphatically told local media that he will be available against the Panthers. Their inclusion will help anchor the unit. Wirfs has established himself as one of the premier right tackles in the NFL and is only in his third season. With quick feet, an on-point punch and a powerful upper body, Wirfs can gain momentum in the ground game and make traps and pulls effortlessly. Coach will need a solid outing against Burns in Week 17.
The Panthers’ offense is centered around running the football and it’s no secret that they strive to establish their ground attack early. Carolina workhorse D’Onta Foreman averaged 7.9 yards per carry against the Lions last Sunday en route to eclipsing the 100-yard mark. Foreman possesses speed and shiftiness to make defenders fail. The physically imposing, one-cut runner runs behind his pads with stellar vision and balance. Foreman wears down defenses with his ability to generate yards after contact and Bucs inside linebacker Devin White will tackle the back. This may interest you : Lawrence & WRs in sync, Allen on Walker’s development | Training camp report. 66 of White’s 115 stops have come on rushing touchdowns. He is a force against the run and if Tampa Bay’s defensive front can win his matchups at the line of scrimmage, that will free up the linebackers in pursuit. White’s ability to move from gap to gap to neutralize the rebounding runners will come into play. With a quick trigger off the snap and rare burst to close, White has a chance to get to Foreman before he hits the jets at the second level. If Foreman is placed at the chip line, he could come face to face with White in a blitz. This will be a competitive battle on Sunday.
Due to injuries, outside linebackers Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson played every snap over the previous two games. During that span, Tryon-Shoyinka recorded five quarterback hits. Setting the edge and not leaving a crease for Hubbard to exploit on a perimeter run or Darnold with his legs will be crucial in Sunday’s matchup. With a rare curve and the ability to gain inside leverage, Tryon-Shoyinka has played a key role for the Buccaneers this season and will be relied upon come Sunday. Over-setting or crashing in by outside linebackers can leave open spaces for the Panthers to take advantage of. Tryon-Shoyinka made a myriad of splash plays throughout the 2022 season and Sunday will provide a new roster to catapult forward.
With the athleticism of Carolina’s front, Tom Brady will have to use a quick passing game to try to mitigate the pressure in Week 17. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay’s dynamic slot weapon, has continued to progress and grow more strong from last December’s ACL/MCL tear. . Godwin leads the Bucs in receptions with 89 (eighth in the NFL) and has emerged as Brady’s target in the middle of the field. Over the past six games, Godwin has averaged more than seven yards per reception, consistently picking up yards after the catch. Godwin is physical at the point of catch and uses his frame to throw off defenders. He is effective in the running game on crack blocks and bolsters the Bucs offense. With a blitz-heavy (38.7% dropbacks) Panthers team coming to town, Godwin could emerge as the catalyst in the short to intermediate zone as Brady looks to get rid of the ball quickly.