NOTE to all readers: I will be covering Sunday's Panthers-Bucs game along with our two fine Carolina beat writers -- Charles Chandler and David Scott. We will all be blogging LIVE during and after the game, so check both this "Scott Says" blog and the "Inside the Panthers" blog on charlotteobserver.com frequently on Sunday for updates.
Now, here are my pregame thoughts that will also be published in Sunday morning's Observer....
** After outscoring their last two opponents 58-9, the Panthers will face a far stronger opponent Sunday in Tampa Bay. “I can’t wait,” Muhsin Muhammad said. “We can really create a little distance for ourselves if we win this one.”
Very true. Already in first place in the NFC South, the Panthers (4-1) could hold a two-game edge over Tampa (3-2) with a road win today. And I believe the Bucs will be Carolina’s most likely rival for the South crown this season. New Orleans doesn’t have a good enough defense. Atlanta, despite its impressive 3-2 start, lacks a bit in overall talent.
** Jake Delhomme has haunted Jon Gruden for years. Although Delhomme missed both of last year’s games with an injury, he is 7-1 overall as a starter for Carolina against the Bucs. Delhomme knows the Buc defense so well that he could list their two-deep without a blink. He’s very adept at spotting their weaknesses at the line of scrimmage and playing away from their strengths.
** Carolina’s defense is also playing very well – it is currently ranked No.4 in the NFL. This is the most positive sign for the Panthers this season, trumping even the re-emergence of Delhomme and Muhammad. A good defense means you never get blown out and so you always have a chance.
** With all that said, I think Tampa Bay is going to squeak this one out today. I like Earnest Graham. I like the way the Bucs are playing defense. I think Jeff Garcia is a “harder out” for Carolina than Brian Griese. It’s just a hunch, but I’ll predict:
Tampa Bay 17, Carolina 16.