Tampa Bay Buccaneers Week 17 Keys to Victory

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 24: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 24, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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At the beginning of the 2016 season, nobody would have expected that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers would end the in opposite directions. Opposite directions meaning that the Buccaneers are trending in a positive direction and the Panthers are trending in a negative direction.

The Panthers went 15-1 in 2015 and reached the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history and quarterback Cam Newton was the NFL’s MVP. The Buccaneers went 6-10 in 2015. They haven’t finished a season .500 or better since 2010.

Yet coming into week 17, the Panthers are 6-9 and won’t even finish the season with a winning record and the Buccaneers are 8-7 and could finish the season with nine wins. Tampa Bay maintains the slimmest chance to make the postseason.

The Buccaneers need the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants to tie and they need the Green Bay Packers to lose to the Detroit Lions. Then the Buccaneers would also need to have the strength of victory tiebreaker over Green Bay. They need the Tennessee Titans to beat the Houston Texans, the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dallas Cowboys to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers to beat the Seattle Seahawks.

But first and foremost, the Buccaneers simply have to beat the Panthers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Week 17 Keys to Victory

A Strong First Quarter

The Panthers have to be equally surprised and disappointed to the extreme with their 2016 season. It is difficult to know what the team’s mindset will be. They should be frustrated regardless if they win or lose. If the Buccaneers can get to the Panthers early in the game and get a lead after the first quarter, they could take away the team’s motivation to play hard, since they aren’t playing for anything.

Put Pressure on Cam Newton

One thing that seemed to undo the Panthers early on and throughout the season was their inability to protect their quarterback. It seemed like Newton played the whole season with a concussion. Newton has been sacked 33 times, which is ninth most in the NFL. If not for Newton’s mobility and size, that number could be higher than it already is.

Furthermore, the Panthers will have four offensive linemen on injured reserve in tackle Jordan Rigsbee, center Ryan Kalil, guard Gino Gradkowski and tackle Michael Oher.

The Buccaneers’ defensive line will be without defensive end William Gholston, who has 3.5 sacks, but they will still have defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Robert Ayers, defensive end Noah Spence and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. The remaining defensive line still has 21 sacks combined and the team has 35 sacks overall, which is eighth best in the NFL.

Force Fumbles

The Panthers have had 13 fumbles as a team, including their three primary playmakers Newton, running back Jonathan Stewart and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. They have nine fumbles between all three of them and they each have three. The Buccaneers likewise have a knack for forcing fumbles, with 16 forced fumbles as a team. Four fumbles were forced by linebacker Lavonte David, three by Spence and two by McCoy.

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 32 – Carolina Panthers 31