Biggest storylines for Panthers vs. Buccaneers in Week 16

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As unwatchable of a football product the Carolina Panthers have become, there’s still quite a bit to watch for in closing out this atrocious, but intriguing season.

That starts on Sunday, when the defending Super Bowl champions come to Charlotte in what could be a very strange, yet very captivating setting.

Cam Darnold . . . or is it Sam Newton?

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

It’s the plan so nice, the Panthers are about to use it twice. And by”nice,” we mean “what the heck is going on here?”

Two weeks after receiving not-so-rave reviews for his double-quarterback-dip of Cam Newton and P.J. Walker, head coach Matt Rhule is set on doing it again—this time with a returning Sam Darnold. Rhule, on Tuesday, told reporters Newton will start and have a “major role” with Darnold coming in “at some point.”

The second-year head coach kept the details rather vague, citing some gamesmanship on his part. So what can we expect out of Newton, who’s still trying to find a groove with the offense, and Darnold, who’s set for his first piece of action following a five-week absence?

Is this mindset really in the best interest of winning the game? Or is this just a cleverly disguised ruse to placate the Bank of America Stadium crowd from the seemingly inevitable switch back to Darnold?

Fare-thee-well (again)?

AP Photo/Brian Westerholt

That crowd will certainly not be placated, by the way, if Newton is unceremoniously pulled in what very well could be his last home game as a Panther.

The feel around the league—most recently stemming off a Christmas Eve report from Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports—is that Rhule’s job will be safe going into 2022. And if that’s the case, that could spell the end for Newton (once again) by the hand of Rhule.

Although highly complimentary of Cam’s work ethic and coachability, it’s rather apparent this regime’s preference is to see things out with Darnold. They’ve already invested second and fourth-round picks into him, along with an almost $19 million option for next year, and may not give up so quickly.

Unless Newton can make a firm statement, starting with this outing, or owner David Tepper steps in for No.1 for the No. 2 time, this might be the swan song in Charlotte for the franchise’s greatest player.

Buc'd up

AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio

Regardless of what this game may or may not “possibly” be for Newton, he only has one thought in mind—a win. And, given Tampa’s laundry list of major injuries, there may actually be a chance at that.

The Buccaneers will file in without wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, running back Leonard Fournette, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. They’re, additionally, in a wait-and-see approach on two more receivers in Breshad Perriman and Jaelon Darden, who are both on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

While it’s still likely the 10-4 reigning champs won’t let the struggling 5-9 underdogs get to them, that’s a hefty chunk of their core missing. Plus, we saw the results of this battered crew last week against New Orleans with that embarrassing zero-burger.

Can Tom Brady, without his precious help, be stifled again? Possibly. Because ff there’s any quarterback that can help stop him, maybe it’s Cam—who has led the Panthers to a 2-0 mark when facing a Brady-led squad.

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