It’s been a nightmarish season for the Panthers thus far, but they’ll look to salvage it to some degree with a week 13 win over the Buccaneers. This will be the Panthers first game of the season without Head Coach Frank Reich, who they fired after last week’s loss to the Titans. Despite their awful run so far, the Panthers technically still have a chance to host a home playoff game. While that may not be realistic, a second win could do a lot for team morale.
Reich’s firing marks the second consecutive season that the Panthers let go of their head coach in the middle of the season. It’s also Reich’s second straight season being fired in the middle of the year, after the Colts fired him midseason in 2022. In most cases we see people advocate for more than one year to work with a team, but this seems like an understandable exception. The play calling has been horrendous, leading the team to a 1-10 record.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor will take over as the interim head coach, but they’ve publicized a collaborative coaching plan moving forward. It’s a welcomed change for Panthers fans, who’ve seen weeks of stagnant offensive play. While it may not mean much for this season, some flashes of promise from the young players would be a sight for sore eyes.
Panthers Defense vs Tampa Bay
The biggest storyline of this game will be potential revenge for Baker Mayfield. Mayfield was the Panthers starting quarterback last season after an offseason trade with the Browns brought him to Carolina. After disappointing results, he was sent away to the Rams in a midseason trade. Over the course of the offseason he found himself in another starting role, this time in Tampa Bay.
While it hasn’t been the best season for the Buccaneers, Mayfield has shown signs of progress. It’s unclear whether he’ll be the long term answer, but he’ll have two shots to get back at the Panthers over the coming weeks.
Mayfield’s top target this season has been Mike Evans, who could be matched up against Jaycee Horn this weekend. Horn was injured in the first week of the season, but is questionable for this weekend’s game. A return from Horn would be massive for Carolina, but they should remain cautious due to his injury history.
Panthers Offense vs Tampa Bay
The Panthers have only scored 20+ points in two games this season, one of which included a defensive touchdown. It’s clear the offense needs an overhaul this offseason, with a heavy focus on the offensive line. Bryce Young has been fighting for his life all season, usually facing immediate pressure from the opposing defense. With very limited time to throw, he’s fallen short of expectations in his rookie year.
We’ll see if the coaching changes result in more opportunities for Young, or if it’ll be more of the same. His chance to impress may have to wait until next season, assuming the issues on offense are addressed. The Buccaneers’ defense has been hit-or-miss all season, leaving a lot in question approaching Sunday’s game. Young will look to outperform the Panthers’ 2022 starter, but will have to do so in a far less favorable situation.
As previously mentioned, the Panthers could technically still host a playoff game this season despite their 1-10 record. With every team in the NFC South struggling, the Falcons lead the way with their 5-6 record. The winner of the division will likely be the #4 seed in the playoffs, which comes with a home game.
Carolina would need to catch fire while their divisional rivals go cold, which is far from realistic. A more reasonable goal might be just pulling together a few wins in order to avoid giving the Bears the top pick in next year’s draft. A
side from escaping the embarrassment that comes with the worst record, the Panthers need to establish a winning culture. Beyond that, it’s safe to assume Young’s confidence has taken a hit this season. Reminding the sports world why he was the top selection in the draft could go a long way for him, and the team as a whole. While seemingly insignificant at this point, games like this give them the opportunity to do just that.
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Featured image courtesy of Carolina Panthers.
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