Previewing the Monday Night division decider
It has been a wonderful season for the Bucs so far this year, at least on the results front. Performances have not always been highlight reel material, and god knows we're all on our 3rd heart attack after the overtime wins and the small winning margins. The same can largely be said about the Carolina Panthers. So we find ourselves looking forward to Monday Night Football in The Bank of America Stadium. With both teams sitting at 9-3 and with their season in their own hands this game will surely decide the destination of the NFC South crown, and quite possibly 2nd seed in the NFC.

I said in "Around the Pirate Ship" a couple of weeks back that I think the Bucs and the Panthers will lose one more game this season. One must lose that game this Monday, whoever is defeated will surely still make the playoffs but will face a wildcard game against tough opposition in the the form of Cowboys and the like.

On paper the teams look very evenly matched. Jeff Garcia has an completion rate of 67% with each completion being worth an average of 10 yards. Jake Delhomme is completing 57% of his passes, of an average of 12 yards per connection. Antonio Bryant has 736 receiving yards from 57 receptions, on the blue side Steve "I am the offense" Smith has 958 yards from 52 catches. The comparisons are multiple on the offensive side of the ball.

The key to this, and most of other Bucs games, will be the much feared Tampa defense. The Bucs are keeping teams to under 100 yards rushing this season and are causing the multiple turnovers and sacks that has become the calling card of the Tampa D under the soon to depart Monte Kiffin. Is the D as good as the Super Bowl team? No, not yet, but this is the best our defence played since that faithful night in San Diego back in '02. That D is only allowing 16 points per game and if they can shutdown the deep ball to Smith and Muhsin Mohammed then I think the Bucs have a great chance to taking the game.

On the offensive sideline with Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams looking to continue their blossoming partnership behind the masterful blocking of BJ Askew, the Bucs can really manage the clock and dictate the games tempo against a Panthers defense that are giving up an average of 113 rushing yards per game. Add to the mix the risk free play of Jeff Garcia minimising the about of picks the Bucs give away I can see a big day in the short passing game probably utilising the impressive trio of tight ends at Jon Gruden's disposal.

I'm gonna say Buccaneers 31 Carolina 14 with the Bucs D getting a lot of pressure on Delhomme and the Bucs +2 on the turnover count. If this happens then I see no reason the Bucs shouldn't finish up 13-3 and the 2nd seeds in the NFC, a week off, a home game and from there...who knows?

Alex Howells, December 2008