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Week 15 Preview: Buccaneers at Panthers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11) at Carolina Panthers (4-8-1)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Dick Stockton, Brady Quinn, Kristina Pink

*Keys to the game: The Bucs have been eliminated from playoff contention, but coach Lovie Smith is still playing to win games and decided to stick with struggling 35-year-old QB Josh McCown rather than take another look at Mike Glennon. Then again, rookie RB Charles Sims played 40 snaps compared to 24 for starter Doug Martin last week. Due to poor offensive line play, the Bucs too often abandon the ground game early – at times because they’re playing from behind. McCown is then left to test the edges to WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson because injuries have thinned the tight end position.

With their playoff hopes at stake, the Panthers have been forced to turn to QB Derek Anderson following Cam Newton’s car accident Tuesday. Anderson is a solid veteran with a strong arm, but he lacks Newton’s mobility and the Bucs know they can attack the pocket. A big question will be the availability of DT Gerald McCoy (knee) and LB Lavonte David (concussion). Anderson did beat the Bucs in the teams’ first meeting this season, but Carolina’s offense will begin with RB Jonathan Stewart, who is healthy and coming off a 155-yard rushing day at New Orleans.

*Matchup to watch – Bucs MLB Danny Lansanah vs. Panthers TE Greg Olsen: Olsen is always a threat working the seam against Smith’s Tampa-2 defense. Lansanah struggled last week and would again start in the middle if Foster is unable to play.

*Player spotlight – Bucs DE Jacquies Smith: Despite being claimed off waivers following the season opener, Smith has been a pleasant surprise with two more sacks last week bringing his season total to six. He admitted a season-long goal of reaching double-digits.

*Fast facts: Evans has already set a single-season franchise record with three multiple-touchdown games. … Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin is second among NFL rookies with nine TD catches and 848 receiving yards.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Anderson is a savvy veteran who has already beating Tampa once this season. With the o-line playing better and the Bucs’ defense ailing up the middle, Carolina relies on a run-heavy scheme to steadily pull away.

*Our pick: Panthers 24-17


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