Buccaneers vs. Panthers preview

When: 1 p.m., Sunday Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte TV: Fox

A late-season game between teams with a combined six wins typically wouldn’t warrant much attention, but Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn’t typical.

First, the Panthers (4-8-1) will be without starting quarterback Cam Newton for the second time this season against the Buccaneers (2-11). He suffered two small fractures in his lower back Tuesday when involved in an automobile accident near Bank of America Stadium that drew national attention.

Then there’s the NFC South. The Panthers, despite winning for the first time in eight weeks this past week, are only half a game behind Atlanta (5-8) and New Orleans (5-8) for the division lead. If they can win out and the Saints lose one more game, the Panthers repeat as division champions.

See, not typical. NFL Nation Panthers reporter David Newton and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas are here to break it down:

Pat, the Bucs were predicted by many to make a big turnaround under Lovie Smith and challenge for the division title. What happened?

Yasinskas: I was one of the many who expected a big and quick turnaround for the Bucs. They upgraded their roster on paper through free agency. But everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Just about all the free agents have underachieved, and injuries have played a big role. But I think the thing that might have hurt the Bucs the most was the loss of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford to health issues at the end of the preseason. Tedford was supposed to bring an up-tempo, innovative offense. The Bucs had to throw the play-calling duties on quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo. The offense hasn’t responded. It never has gotten into any sort of rhythm. The defense isn’t bad, but the lack of production on offense has cost the Bucs a lot of games.

David, how will the Panthers' offense change with Derek Anderson starting instead of Newton?

Newton: Well, Anderson isn’t Superman, as Newton likes to pretend to be. As tight end Greg Olsen said, you won’t see him fly over the middle, as Newton did for a 2-yard touchdown against the Saints this past week. But, as you saw in the opener, when Anderson also started for the injured Newton, he’s quite efficient. He completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 2-yard run on a fourth-down quarterback sneak to set up a touchdown. With the exception of the read-option that Newton runs so well, nothing will change. Heck, a couple of players said not to rule out the read-option with Anderson. It’s not as if the Panthers have two different offenses for their quarterbacks.

While we’re on quarterbacks, what are your thoughts on the Bucs' starter the remainder of the season, and how has that position had an impact on the team’s struggles this season?

Yasinskas: All indications are that the Bucs will stick with veteran Josh McCown. Personally, I don’t agree with that. I think the Bucs should throw second-year pro Mike Glennon out there for the last three games and find out whether he has any shot to be the quarterback of the future. If Glennon isn't the answer, the Bucs will have to draft a quarterback or sign a free agent. McCown is what he is -- a 35-year-old quarterback who has spent most of his career as a backup. The Bucs already know what they have in McCown. I think they should be giving Glennon one final look.

What got into the Panthers on Sunday against New Orleans? I thought Carolina was done, but it looked as if the Panthers might be the best team in the NFC South, although that isn't saying a lot.

Newton: As I said before the season, the team that shows it can play defense will win the division. I’m not predicting the Panthers will win it. But they clearly are the best defensive team among the four. Their record doesn’t show it because of special-teams and offensive blunders, but during the last six weeks the defense has put up numbers, in terms of rushing and passing yards allowed, that are almost identical to those of last season’s unit that ranked second in the NFL. The offense finally gave the defense a lead to play with against New Orleans, showing how critical that is to any team. The Saints are a bad defensive team, no doubt. But the way the Carolina defense shut down Drew Brees & Co. sent a message that this group has adjusted to life without Greg Hardy.

Smith said he would be going with a youth movement the rest of the season. What changes do you expect, and do you believe the Bucs can remain competitive with them?

Yasinskas: I don’t think the changes will be that dramatic. The Bucs already have been going with youth at a lot of positions in recent weeks. There might be a few more tweaks to the lineup, but most of the changes to youth already have been made throughout the course of the season. Smith said the Bucs still will be playing to win, so I’m not expecting major changes.

Running back Jonathan Stewart has had two strong games in a row. Will he be the starter even if DeAngelo Williams is healthy enough to play?

Newton: He should. He’s looked like the better of the two backs all season when both are healthy. He’s rushed for 240 yards on 32 carries the past two games. That’s 7.5 yards a carry. But coach Ron Rivera’s answer to your question has been “we’ll see." When both have been available, Williams has started. Williams (fractured hand) was back at practice on Thursday and taking snaps with the first team, so read into that what you want. Coach Ron Rivera said the team’s all-time leading back probably is a week away from playing. Regardless, if you based it on production, Stewart has looked like the better back.