I've managed to pick the Panthers correctly the past 4 weeks in a row in the newspaper and on this blog. Here's what I think will happen Monday night.
** There are bitter rivalries and healthy rivalries, and I’d like to think this one is the latter. It seemed more bitter when Warren Sapp and Kris Jenkins were around to fuel the fire. But guys like Jake Delhomme, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks and Jeff Garcia -- they understand what the NFL is all about, and they understand how special a game like this can be in prime time.
** It’s nice to have a meaningful game like this to talk about on a Monday in December – far preferable to talking about how your 401(k) has turned into a 101(k) or how far behind you are on your Christmas shopping.
** Remember that Tampa Bay blocked a Jason Baker punt in the first game this season, and that sent the whole thing spiraling downhill for Carolina in that 27-3 Panther loss. Watch for the Bucs to go after another one.
** Delhomme generally plays well against Tampa Bay, which is why that 24-point loss the first time around was such a surprise. He will rebound tonight in front of the home crowd. But Garcia has always given the Panthers trouble – mobile quarterbacks often seem to befuddle this team.
** Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams both have to have big games tonight for Carolina to pull this one out. I think they will.
My prediction: Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 21.