Week 1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vs. Carolina Panthers
- QuarterbackThe Bucs are going to retool this year as head coach Greg Schiano tries to re-energize the franchise. He’s going with talented but inconsistent Josh Freeman at quarterback and he is hoping that mistakes will not be as plentiful as they were a year ago when he turned the ball over 27 times.It’s difficult for head coach Ron Rivera to feel anything but optimistic when the subject is Cam Newton. He had a record-setting rookie season and his experience should make him better. Newton needs to cut down on mistakes but he is a brilliant athlete with a strong arm.
- OffenseThe Bucs may not have a prolific offense this year, but they will be tough and physical with Doug Martin and LaGarrette Blount at the running back slot. Vincent Jackson is a big-play diva receiver who will soon learn that Freeman lacks accuracy.The Panthers should have one of the more balanced offenses in the league this season as DeAngelo Williams gives them a credible ground attack to support Newton’s passing. Veteran Steve Smith (foot) should be fine for this game and Brandon LeFell can make the tough catch on third down.
- DefenseThe Bucs are no longer known for the stellar defense they played when they had stars like Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. Schiano made his bones as a defensive coach and he will make sure the Bucs will hit. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is probably the best lineman, but he has struggled to stay healthy.There’s only one way to go for the Panthers since they were miserable last season on defense, setting franchise-worst records for points allowed and passing yards allowed. Rivera is depending on rookie middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to improve tackling.
- Special TeamsThe Bucs were not thrilled with special teams last year but they will give placekicker Connor Barth and punter Michael Koenen another chance this season. Koenen is a decent kickoff man as well as a decent punter.The Panthers were a disaster on special teams last year and Rivera has made changes on the coverage teams that should make them more competitive. Rookie Brad Nortman will handle the punting duties and he needs to speed up his delivery.
The Panthers have a chance to be one of the surprise teams in the league this year. The offense looks balanced and somewhat dangerous with Newton at the helm and Kuechly should be a tackling machine. The Bucs will play hard for Schiano but they won’t play well.