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Buccaneers' top-ranked offense has weapons everywhere

CHARLOTTE – The Buccaneers may have a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands, but it hasn't stopped them from fielding the top-ranked offense in the NFL.

Tampa Bay averages 467.6 total yards per game and 376.3 passing yards per game, good for first place in both categories.

The Bucs rank 28th in rush yards per game at 91.3, so their success moving the ball up and down the field obviously comes through the air.

Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (still the league leader in passer rating at 119.3) will make his fifth start of the season against Carolina on Sunday in favor of former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, who has been benched after serving a suspension and starting the last three games.

No matter the quarterback, the Bucs' weapons are plentiful and dangerous.

Here's a look at how Carolina will match up with their explosive division rivals.


WRs Mike Evans & DeSean Jackson

Since he was drafted in the first round back in 2014, Evans has been Tampa Bay's productive No. 1 wideout. He can be dominant with his 6-foot-5, 231-pound frame and natural playmaking ability. Through seven games he's averaging 110 yards per game with four touchdowns.

Jackson is in his 11th season, but he's still one of the premier vertical threats in the game with his deep speed. He's second to Evans with 594 yards and four touchdowns and leads the team with a 22.8-yard-per-reception average.

But Carolina is well positioned to match up with James Bradberry on Evans and Donte Jackson on Tampa Bay's version of D-Jack.

"Those guys kind of fit into our styles of play," Jackson said.

Bradberry is the physical, long-armed corner capable of going toe-to-toe with Evans. And Jackson has the speed and quickness to run stride-for-stride with DeSean.

"We have a guy who can match up with (DeSean) in Donte. And I know with Mike, I'm a physical guy and I'll try to get my hands on him as much as possible," Bradberry said. "I'm glad to have Donte here to go against those fast guys. I'm a more physical guy to go against the bigger receivers.

"We have the matchups, but it'll be a challenge because they are great receivers."


TEs OJ Howard & Cameron Brate

Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are on the same page when it comes to analyzing Tampa Bay's tight end duo.

"Their tight ends are as good a tandem as you're going to find," Kuechly said.

"One of the top tandems in the league," Davis said. "Some of the most athletic tight ends in the league, if you ask me."

Howard, a first-round pick a year ago, has big-play ability. He averages 17.5 yards per reception, which is tops for any tight end with at least 10 catches. That average is boosted by a 75-yard touchdown catch – another indication of his explosiveness.

Brate doesn't see as many targets as Howard, but he's another big body who poses a threat. And he, like Howard, has three touchdown receptions on the year.

The Panthers have had some issues with tight ends this season, and they'll surely be tested by this duo down the middle of the field on Sunday.


WRs Chris Godwin & Adam Humphries

And don't forget about these guys.

Godwin, a second-round pick last year, has emerged as yet another dangerous pass catcher for the Bucs, one who can play outside or in the slot.

He's got the second most targets on the team (44) behind Evans (68) and he's responded with 340 yards and four scores. Godwin's style is a blend of Evans and Jackson – fast enough to separate down the field while also excelling in contested situations.

Humphries is a small slot receiver – a matchup fit for Carolina's nickel Captain Munnerlyn. But he gets his fair share. Last week against the Bengals, he was targeted 10 times and finished with seven receptions for 76 yards.

Moral of the story is this: Tampa Bay spreads the ball around to a wide array of playmakers. But playing a team that airs it out offers chances for defenders to pounce.

"(Fitzpatrick) has plenty of weapons to choose from," Bradberry said. "But we know he's going to throw it down the field, so we are going to have opportunities to get our hands on the ball."

Carolina is 25-19 all-time against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, posting a 13-10 record at home and 12-9 on the road.