The Panthers split their season series with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. They followed an embarrassing performance at Raymond James Stadium with a thrilling Monday Night Football game in which the Panthers running game totaled over three hundred yards.
There will be some notable changes to the Bucs offense in 2009.
Jeff Garcia is gone, much to the joy of Panthers fans the world over. Garcia had won five of his last six meetings with the Panthers and could usually count on his best games of the season being against Carolina.
Jeff Jagodzinski will be calling the plays in his first year as offensive coordinator.
The Bucs traded their second round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, as well as a fifth round pick in next year's draft, to acquire tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. from the Browns.
Winslow has not been the same since he crashed his motorcycle into a shrub in a parking lot in 2005, but along with Jerramy Stevens, the Bucs will boast one of the most talented and disgruntled tight end pairs in the league.
Panthers fans should immediately feel a shudder up their spine reading the Bucs have not one but two good tight ends.
Talented guard Aaron Sears might not play due to personal problems.
The Bucs also signed Derrick Ward, who put up 215 yards rushing against the Panthers in 2008 in The Meadowlands. Before the head scratch-inducing drafting of Josh Freeman, it seemed Bryon Leftwich had been brought in to run the show after his promising 2008 campaign in Pittsburgh, or at least compete with Luke McCown.
The most notable change to the Bucs defense will be the guy who's not there. Future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks was given his walking papers after a pitiful performance in 2008.
The secondary is still the strength of the team. Future Hall of Famer Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib play in front of Tanard Jackson, arguably the hardest hitting safety in the league.
The Panthers lost a fluky Week Six game in Tampa Bay, and it's almost an exercise in futility to break it down.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw three interceptions, but one was on a desperation heave to Steve Smith, and another bounced off Dante Rosario's hands before finding a defender.
Jason Baker had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown, and Jonathan Stewart fumbled heading into the end zone. The Bucs offense did a good job of playing keep away and the Panthers could never recover.
The second game offers much more useful information as well as providing some reasons to caution. The Panthers did what they always did well against the Buccaneers under Jon Gruden and ran the ball.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart averaged 12.5 yards a carry and gave ESPN a highlight reel performance, including one of the most humiliating stiff arms in the history of organized football.
The Buccaneers didn't go out of their way to address their defensive line. They drafted Defensive Tackle Roy Miller in the third round and Defensive End Brandon Williams in the fourth—both will compete for starting time. However, outside of Gaines Adams and Barrett Ruud, no one really stands out as a threat along the Buccaneers front seven.
The Buccaneers were set up on offense to have a very good year, and I personally believe they would have competed for the division if they'd used the Josh Freeman pick on more of an impact defender. However, they took the least NFL ready QB in the draft after promising Byron Leftwich they wouldn't.
The key to the Panthers beating the Bucs in 2009 will be avoiding defensive meltdowns like those that occurred on Monday Night Football.
I doubt Luke McCown will be able to put 300 yards on anyone, but before that game, I wouldn't have said Jeff Garcia could have either.
That breakdown was caused in part by injuries to the defensive line, and with the depth of the Panthers at defensive tackle this year, if they lose any starters prior to a game with Tampa, Derrick Ward will make whomever is playing quarterback obsolete.
As long as they can avoid turnovers, I don't foresee the Panthers offense having much trouble with the Tampa Bay defense in 2009. The question is whether or not the Panthers defense will be able to hold a lead, and whether it can avoid colossal meltdowns.
I feel that as the Bucs quarterback situation goes this year, so will the team. Panther fans should pay extra special attention to their QB competition for this very reason.