Carolina Panthers (3-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-0)
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. - TV: NFL Network
*TV announcers: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan
*Keys to the game: The Panthers have led at halftime in all six games this season, which will happen when your defense pitches a first-quarter shutout in every game. It will be difficult for the Bucs to get off to a fast start with rookie RB Mike James replacing injured Doug Martin while going against the league's fourth-ranked run defense. Rookie QB Mike Glennon faces a Carolina secondary that ranks fifth in yards allowed despite being thinned out by injuries. Glennon will take his shots to WR Vincent Jackson, and the Panthers' main focus should be eliminating big plays because Tampa Bay will struggle to engineer length drives. Carolina's offense remains a plodding unit. RB DeAngelo Williams is averaging just 47 rushing yards over his past three games, and the Bucs' run defense enters fifth in the league allowing just 88.8 yards per game despite trailing on a weekly basis. The key for QB Cam Newton is to take what the Bucs' defense gives him and not try to force the issue downfield -- where his lack of consistent accuracy can bite him.
*Matchup to watch - Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn vs. Bucs WR Vincent Jackson: The 6-foot-5 Jackson has a nine-inch height advantage over Munnerlyn and was targeted an astronomical 22 times last week. Jackson has the most receiving touchdowns (four) and the second-most receiving yards (252) and receptions (19) in the league over his last two games. Munnerlyn admits he's at a size disadvantage, but said he's "pretty strong" and vowed to be physical with Jackson.
*Player spotlight - Buccaneers RB Mike James: The sixth-round rookie out of Miami lacks elite straight-line speed, but one defender rarely takes him down. Makes for a very physical matchup against the Panthers' stout front seven.
*Fast facts: The Panthers haven't been above .500 eight weeks into a season since 2008. ... The Bucs are converting just 36.6 percent of their third downs (34 of 93).
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Panthers have allowed more than 15 points just once this season and have given up 10 points or fewer three times. With Tampa Bay's offense 31st in scoring at 14.5 points per game, the Bucs can't generate enough production to hang for four quarters unless the defense and special teams contribute to the scoring cause.
*Our pick: Panthers 23-14
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