Jeff Faine may return to the line this week.
For the first half of the season the Bucs have been a surprise team for the rest of the NFL. Now they sit 5-3, have confidence, and are beginning to look like a young team with plenty of promise. While much has been made about the 5 wins coming against weaker opponents, it means that they are winning the games they should win, which is what you should ask of the team at this point. This weekend’s game against the Panthers should be another one of those wins. The Bucs need to beat the Panthers Sunday, and have a chance to make a statement to the rest of the league that this team is getting better and is not just getting fortunate.
I’m not talking about a statement like the much publicized “We are the best team in the conference” quip by Raheem Morris. Instead, this is their chance to physically show how the offense has improved by sustaining drives and putting up points against an inferior opponent. A good balance on offense with solid games by Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount would go a long way for the rest of the season. In addition, the offensive line should get Jeff Faine and Jeremy Trueblood back, and this will give them a good chance to get back to form (although this also means the return of the dumb penalties in Trueblood’s case).
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers are clearly wounded on offense, are starting a rookie at quarterback, and are acquiring running backs off the street. This creates opportunity for the defense to create sacks and turnovers, and to potentially control the game. The Bucs had multiple sacks in the first contest against Carolina, and I expect them to repeat that feat here. Overall, the Bucs are just better than the Panthers, and should dominate the game.
I am well aware of the fact that any team can win on any given Sunday in the NFL, but if the Bucs want to be taken seriously by the better teams in the NFL and by the media, they need to make a statement in this game. One of the more underrated aspects of football is the mental aspect of knowing you can win the game. Statement games show the rest of the league that you can compete and starts to put doubt in the opponent’s mind on if they can beat you. It also creates confidence in the locker room that you can play with anybody. These two factors are a big reason winning is contagious.