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Buccaneers 2016 season preview: Taking on the division winners

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Going through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2016 season, game by game. Today: week five at the Carolina Panthers.

Bucs all-time record vs. Panthers: 11-23

Want to know whether the Bucs can win the division? Watch this game. Last year, the Panthers destroyed the Bucs. Twice. The year before, the Panthers won two closer games. In fact, Carolina has won the last six games against the Buccaneers. That’s a pretty disastrous run for Tampa Bay.

Breaking that run won’t be easy, but there’s some good news: the Panthers aren’t quite as good as last year’s record and playoff run suggested. After all, the Denver Broncos destroyed them in the Super Bowl, and that was with weirdly mediocre Peyton Manning at the helm.

Carolina is good, but it has deficiencies. Its offense is Cam Newton: without him, they can’t produce much. If he has an off-day, they can’t do much. Stop Cam Newton and you stop the Carolina offense. Yes, that’s a lot easier said than done, but the Bucs do have the speedy linebackers and disruptive pass-rushers to do it, in theory.

As for the other side of the ball, the Panthers have lost some talent on defense and have made it clear that they really don’t care about their secondary. Jameis Winston should be able to ruthlessly take advantage of that, as long as the offensive line can hold up. And it should, really: the Panthers defensive line isn’t as talented as their record suggests.

Still, beating Carolina isn’t exactly likely, especially in Charlotte. The Bucs can win, but they need some luck, and they need their young players to take the next step, especially Jameis Winston. If that happens, this game is winnable. If it doesn’t, we may see a beatdown just like the ones we saw last year.