1. Working to make Winston wilt: Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston didn't burn the Panthers' defense in the team' first matchup, but more importantly for his team, he didn't get burned.
Winston tossed just one touchdown pass but didn't turn the ball over in Tampa Bay's 17-14 victory over Carolina in Week 5.
"We have to make him uncomfortable," said defensive end Mario Addison, Carolina's season sack leader with 8.5. "We have to get him off his spot and keep the pocket collapsed."
It's not breaking news to say that the Buccaneers don't win as often when Winston doesn't take care of the ball, but still it's striking. He's thrown 12 interceptions in Tampa's seven losses versus just five in their eight victories, and four of his five lost fumbles came in losses. Touchdown passes aren't even important by comparison, with Winston tossing just one more (14) in victories than losses (13).
In other words, Winston might well get his, but it's about the Panthers defense getting its share as well – in the form of turnovers.
2. Evans always a concern: When Winston is in trouble – or when he wants to cause trouble for opposing defenses – he need look no further than wide receiver Mike Evans.
"He's a great receiver, a big-bodied guy who uses his size well. Similar to what we have here in KB (Kelvin Benjamin)," rookie cornerback Daryl Worley said. "He definitely knows how to make big plays with the ball."
Tampa's lone touchdown the first time against Carolina came on a 26-yard strike to Evans, who ranks in the top five in the NFL in receptions (91), yardage (1,256) and touchdowns (11). It was just Evans' second touchdown in five career games against Carolina, which will have Worley and running mate James Bradberry in the lineup for the rematch after Bradberry missed the Week 5 game with a toe injury.
3. It starts with the run game: The way to initially slow Tampa's passing attack is to slow its running game, a task supposedly made easier by Doug Martin's absence because of a suspension. The thing is, Martin was out with an injury in the teams' early-season matchup but the Bucs didn't miss a beat, with Jacquizz Rodgers rolling to the first 100-yard rushing day of his six-year NFL career. The former Falcons change-of-pace back got back into the mix last week with Martin a surprise healthy scratch, rushing for 63 yards.
The Falcons ran the ball effectively against Carolina early in last week's game and went on to enjoy a big offensive day. The two games prior, when the Panthers shut down the San Diego and Washington run games, Carolina cruised.
4. Counting on Cam: Despite a shoulder injury that certainly hasn't helped things down the stretch of the season, Cam Newton is expected to be under center for the Panthers. He's among the most durable quarterbacks in the league, aside from the Buccaneers being a bit of a blind spot: All three games Newton has missed in six NFL seasons have been against Tampa Bay, including the Week 5 matchup.
When he does face the Buccaneers, he's often been close to an unstoppable force. In eight career meetings – six of them resulting in victories - Newton has accounted for 22 touchdowns with his arm and legs versus just four interceptions.
5. Accounting for McCoy: The one game missed by five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy over the last two seasons was the Carolina game earlier this season, so Newton certainly will have to account for him after both were mere spectators in Week 5.
"He's a great player," Panthers center Tyler Larsen said. "But you can't treat him any different than any other player. You just have to go out there, use the technique you're taught and the rest will follow."
McCoy does call for special attention but not too much because the Buccaneers have other special players on defense. The unit is one of the main reasons Tampa Bay still has an outside shot at the playoffs coming off five consecutive NFC South last-place finishes.
"They're talented. There's nothing else you can say about them," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "From top to bottom, with G (McCoy) in the middle to Robert Ayers who's coming on strong, Kwon (Alexander) and 'Vonte (Lavonte David) – they're doing their thing in the middle.
"There's a reason they're playing so good. We just have to go out and execute and just try to make plays and pick our spots when we can and take shots."
View photos of the Panthers as they prepare for their game against Tampa Bay.