SERIES HISTORY: 37th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 23-13. Carolina has three victories in a row, including a 42-28 victory at home on Nov. 4. The Panthers are 11-4 against Tampa Bay under head coach Ron Rivera.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers have to find more red-zone success because they've stalled too often after potential big momentum-turning plays. They're not necessarily built for a power running attack, so that might limit some options. With quarterback Cam Newton a threat to run, it ought to give Carolina enough possibilities to improve their touchdown rate. The Panthers have tried to dial up their pass rush and that's something that will be more important with their secondary dealing with more injuries. They probably can't afford to blitz much because of coverage lapses on the back end, so that means getting it done with stunts and pushes from the front four.
The Bucs have tried a lot in recent games to achieve more balance on offense. The explosive plays may be down, but they are running the football more consistently and helping a porous defense. At home the last two games, Tampa Bay has allowed 16 and nine points, respectively. The Bucs still are hit hard by injuries in the secondary, but the defensive line is playing better, having produced eight sacks in the past two games. Tampa Bay may not have an answer for running back Christian McCaffrey, but linebacker Lavonte David and possibly safety Justin Evans will return this week.
The Bucs will hope that quarterback Jameis Winston can protect the football and use his receivers -- Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin and tight end Cameron Brate -- to move the football and dominate time of possession.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
-- QUESTIONABLE: WR Devin Funchess (back, not injury related)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
--OUT: CB Carlton Davis (knee), WR DeSean Jackson (thumb), CB M.J. Stewart (foot)
--DOUBTFUL: T Demar Dotson (knee, hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Lavonte David (knee), S Justin Evans (toe), CB Brent Grimes (knee), DT Rakeem Nunez-Riches (knee, ankle)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Buccaneers LB Lavonte David vs. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. David is coming off a sprained MCL that forced him to miss two games. McCaffrey played 95 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps last week and had a franchise-record 237 yards from scrimmage, becoming the first player in team history to top 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game and only the second player to do so since 2011.
--Panthers CBs vs. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans. The Panthers are banged up in the secondary and had to make adjustments on the fly last week. They allowed too many receivers to find openings down the field and that's something that Evans will try to take advantage of. If CB James Bradberry is healthy, he likely draws the assignment on Evans. Evans has posted 100 or more receiving yards in the past two games. If he can do it again, it will be the fourth time a Tampa Bay receiver has a three-game streak of 100 yards (and Evans is one of those to previously do it). Evans is the franchise leader with 37 touchdown catches.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers WR DJ Moore. The rookie continues to show why he was a first-round draft pick of the Panthers, becoming a go-to weapon on offense. With eight catches last week against Seattle, he set his season-high mark. In a two-game stretch, he has compiled 248 receiving yards, making it the most productive back-to-back stretch for a rookie receiver in franchise history.
FAST FACTS: PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON completed 19 of 25 (76 pct.) for 247 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 133.3 rating in last meeting. In 2 division games this season, has 582 pass yards (291 per game) with 5 TDs vs. 1 INT for 115.3 rating. ... RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY had franchise-record 237 scrimmage yards (125 rush, 112 rec.) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) last week. Is 5th different player since 2000 with 100+ rush yards, 100+ rec. yards, rush TD & TD catch in single game. Is 1 of 3 in NFL with 1,350+ scrimmage yards (1,365) & 10+ scrimmage TDs (10). Had 157 scrimmage yards (79 rush, 78 rec.) & 2 rush TDs in last meeting. ... WR D.J. MOORE (rookie) had career-high 8 receptions for 91 yards in Week 12. Has 17 catches for 248 yards (124 per game) & TD in his past 2. ... LB LUKE KUECHLY led team with 12 tackles in Week 12. Aims for his 3rd in row with 10+ tackles. In his past 2 at TB, has 17 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 PD, sack, FF & INT. ... DE MARIO ADDISON had career-high 3 sacks & FF in last meeting. Has 6 sacks in his past 4 vs. TB. ... LB SHAQ THOMPSON had 7 tackles, sack & FF in Week 12. ... BUCCANEERS QB JAMEIS WINSTON completed 29 of 38 (76.3 pct.) for 312 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 117.4 rating last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 115+ rating. Has 1,424 pass yards (356 per game) with 9 TDs vs. 5 INTs for 103.9 rating in his past 4 vs. NFC South. ... RB PEYTON BARBER had 63 scrimmage yards & rush TD last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with rush TD. ... WR MIKE EVANS had 6 receptions for 116 yards in Week 12. Has 1,073 rec. yards this season & joined HOFer RANDY MOSS & A.J. GREEN as only players in NFL history with 1,000+ rec. yards in each of 1st 5 career seasons. Aims for his 3rd in row with 100+ rec. yards. ... WR ADAM HUMPHRIES had TD catch in Week 12. Has 4 TDs in his past 4. Aims for his 3rd in row with rec. TD. ... DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL had sack last week. Ranks 4th in NFC with 10.5 sacks in 2018, his 3rd-career season with 10+ sacks. ... Rookie DT VITA VEA had sack & career-high 3 TFL in Week 12. Has sack in 2 of his past 3. ... DE CARL NASSIB had sack & FF last week. Has 6.5 sacks in his past 6. Aims for his 5th in row with 0.5+ sacks.
PREDICTION: The Panthers are fading fast, but they have won the last three matchups against Tampa Bay, including a season-high point total in a 42-28 romp four weeks ago.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 30-27