The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use a drama-free conclusion to the regular season.
They’ll attempt to achieve that when the Carolina Panthers visit for Sunday’s game at Tampa, Fla.
The Buccaneers (12-4) have more to accomplish before heading into the playoffs.
“You play to win. You play to get that second seed, that’s huge,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re not resting anybody. We’re playing to win.”
Tampa Bay could be the NFC’s second, third or fourth seed depending on the final-week outcomes. The Buccaneers must defeat Carolina in order to have a chance for the No. 2 seed behind Green Bay.
The Buccaneers are 6-1 at home for the second-best home mark in the NFL, so securing as many chances as possible to play at Raymond James Stadium in January could be critical.
Last week’s antics involving receiver Antonio Brown are bound to be the topic following the team until another game is played.
The Panthers (5-11), losers of six consecutive games, have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Two weeks ago, the Buccaneers clinched the NFC South divisional title when they defeated the Panthers 32-6 in Charlotte, N.C.
“Those players are getting paid, so they’re going to bring it,” Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. said. “This is going to be a big game for them. It’s also a big game for us. Whatever we did last week or the week before, it doesn’t matter.”
While the Buccaneers are looking to add to their recent history, the Panthers are trying to avoid a negative distinction.
Carolina is one loss away from finishing with the worst record in NFL history for a team that started 3-0. The 2001 Chargers and 2012 Cardinals went from 3-0 to 5-11. The Panthers would be 5-12 if they lose the finale.
Either way, Carolina is guaranteed a last-place division spot for the second time in three years. The Panthers, who have had four straight losing seasons, finished with five wins in each of the past two seasons.
“This team is going to fight for each other,” Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn said. “We’re never going to let each other down.”
Coach Matt Rhule of the Panthers is trying to cast a positive light on some aspects of the season. He said he appreciates the effort displayed by players.
“You get to this point of the season, and you have a team that plays that hard, that means you have a good locker room,” Rhule said. “You have good guys. We have really good guys.”
The Panthers are dealing with some players still on the COVID protocol list, although there are indications that center Sam Tecklenburg and defensive lineman Darryl Johnson could be back on the field.
The offensive line has been in shambles. Darnold was sacked seven times last week by the New Orleans Saints.
In four of the most recent string of defeats, the Panthers have failed to score more than 14 points. At least there has been a bit of intrigue involving the quarterback position.
Sam Darnold returned from injury and became the starter again in last week’s loss at New Orleans. Carolina had gone 0-5 in games started by Cam Newton, who now could be in his final game of his second go-around with the Panthers.
“We’re focused on winning this ballgame,” Darnold said, deflecting projections about the future.
Rhule said he expects Newton could be used in special situations, including in the red zone, for the Tampa Bay game.
–Field Level Media