To kick off NFL Week 2 on Thursday night, the Carolina Panthers will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what should most definitely be a tight contest.  Although both teams got off to a slow start this season, they have spent the past few days preparing for this NFC South game and are ready to put their best players to the test.  At the end of the night, though, the Panthers should have secured their first victory of the season and will hopefully be able to maintain a rhythm going into the next several weeks.

Tonight’s game will be played in Charlotte — home-field advantage always a plus and the Panthers need every little bit of assistance they can get.  Playing on their own turf, the Panthers should be more relaxed and focused against their NFC South rivals.

The Panthers also have also been historically strong with a 23-14 record.  The last two times they met, each scored a victory and the Panthers will be looking for revenge after a 24-17 loss they took in Week 13 last season.

For the Panthers to succeed, quarterback Cam Newton will have to pull out of his slump.  It’s understandable that he is still recovering from an offseason shoulder injury, but it’s time to turn on the juice and prove to the fans that he still has the skills he showed earlier in his career.

When he took the field against the Rams last week, Newton was anything but his former self, ultimately spending most of his time hiding in the pocket.  That’s one of the reasons the Panthers ultimately took the loss against the Rams 30-27.

Newton remains optimistic, though, and he should.  Even injured, he and the rest of the squad gave the Rams a tough time and Newton is ready to get back to it.  He said of his Week 1 performance, “Everything felt great.  A little rusty, just have to get on the same page with everybody. But, all in all, we had our opportunities today, and I think that’s the most frustrating part because you feel that this is your time.”

The Bucs are not only going to be keeping an eye on Newton, but Christian McCaffrey, as well.  The running back is always a target by any defense and with good reason.  He picked up 209 yards – 128 on the ground and 81 in the air – and two touchdowns against the Rams.

When the Panthers and the Bucs met last season, McCaffrey picked up 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns on top of the 14 receptions he sucked in for 133 yards.  The Bucs coaching squad knows they need to keep their eyes on him and head coach Bruce Arians explains, “He’s probably the best dual-back there is in the league right now.  I used to think it was David Johnson, but Christian’s passed him up. As a receiver, he’s a hell of a matchup problem, and as a runner, he’s a great runner. They do a good job of having two backs in the game, and you never know which one’s going anywhere, and they have a lot of speed.”

It takes more than a good offense to win a football game, though, and the Panthers will need to see defensive improvements if they want to take down the Bucs.  The defense gave up 166 yards against the Rams last week, revealing that it couldn’t keep up its stamina for the entire game.  Defensive Coordinator Eric Washington has undoubtedly made some changes to the strategy in order to adapt to Tampa Bay’s offense, and these changes should help the defense keep its energy going longer.

In the end, the Panthers are going to pull off the victory.  It won’t be an easy win, but it will provide some valuable insight that will help the team prepare for later matches this season.