Bucs glad Panthers won't rest their stars in Week 17 matchup

TAMPA, Fla. -- Thanks to a season-high three-game losing streak, the playoffs are out of the picture. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one game remaining this weekend, on the road against the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers, who started the season 14-0 before losing Sunday in Atlanta, still have not locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, so they won't be resting players. Tampa Bay is happy about that. The Bucs want to see how they measure up against the three-time NFC South champions.

"We know what's happened the last three games," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said Monday. "But we have one more opportunity. As much as anything, we wanted to finish up at home the right way. It didn't happen. We get a chance to finish up the season in the right way against one of the best football teams in football right now. Like I said last week, [Carolina is] a division opponent we need to find a way to beat."

The Bucs lost 37-23 to the Panthers in Week 4 to drop to 1-3. Tampa Bay then reeled off five wins in the next eight and was on the cusp of its first playoff berth since 2007. Three losses later, it's time to make vacation and travel plans. But the Buccaneers still have some business to take care of.

"Wen you're competing it's about pride," Smith said. "It would have been a little bit of a downer if they weren't playing to win and weren't going to play with their best players out there. We want to see what we can do against one of the best in the league.

"Right now that's about the only way you can get the bad taste out your mouth is to play well," Smith continued. "It's similar to how Atlanta did this past week. They had some disappointments and they played well so they're feeling pretty good about where they are right now. We have an opportunity to do that this week. I think it's great they're playing all of their guys."

Safety Keith Tandy agreed with his coach.

"You never want to go in a game and win it and have that thought they had their backups in," Tandy said. "Now they have lot to play for to have home-field advantage for the playoffs, so we'll get their best shot. "