The favored Panthers go on the road and face a Buccaneers team that may still be feeling the embarrassment from last season’s Christmas Eve game. The Panthers decided to bring an early Christmas gift to Panthers fans as they obliterated a distraught Buccaneers team 48-16.
But it is a new season, and people should expect this game to be nothing short of competitive football. The Bucs have a new head coach in Greg Schiano, and they have numerous new weapons on offense and on defense like WR Vincent Jackson and rookie S Mark Barron, and even writers for NFL.com believe this is a potential playoff team.
It is for these reasons that Carolina must win this first game.
Of course, the Panthers should try to win because Tampa is a division opponent, but this game is about so much more than a simple rivalry. This game is about establishing dominance and, quite frankly, putting the Bucs in their place.
Carolina is a team on the rise and there is excitement revolving around the team and its star quarterback Cam Newton. If Carolina wants to make sure it stays on the rise, the Panthers will need to defeat Tampa.
A win against Tampa would send a billboard-like sign to the Bucs that, despite all the additions and improvements, we (the Panthers) still own you (the Buccaneers). Normally winning against a team or even a division opponent would not mean so much, but if Carolina can continue its dominance over this team, then the Panthers can end Tampa’s rise before the franchise even leaves the ground.
Aside from stunting the Bucs' growth, the Panthers also need to win because of their first four games. After Tampa, Carolina gets a still dangerous Saints team, the defending Super Bowl champions in the Giants, and the Panthers travel to Atlanta for the impossible task of defeating the hopeful Falcons.
Atlanta is 27-5 at home, during the regular season, since 2008.
All three of these teams are not only playoff hopefuls, but each team has a realistic shot at reaching the Super Bowl.
A win against the Bucs would give Carolina confidence and be a good source to draw from as it prepares for the New Orleans Saints and the rest of its difficult schedule.
The Panthers can set up their entire schedule and force the rest of the NFL to take notice, but it all starts Week 1 in Tampa.