Need to get ready for the game? Look no further than Bucsblitz.com's "Bucs Primer." Along with a game capsule, the Primer also provides links to all of Bucsblitz.com's coverage leading up to the game. So before the capsule, here's a look at our complete package of stories this week:
BucsBlitz.com's Matthew Postins will update readers throughout Sunday's game on the main page at Bucsblitz.com with a new live blog format.
Also, as a premium subscriber, you can now access Matthew Postins' appearances on the Scot Brantley show on WHBO 1470, the ESPN Radio affiliate in Tampa-St. Petersburg. Postins appears with Brantley, a former Buccaneers linebacker, on Tuesday between 3-6 p.m. to talk about the Bucs. His previous can be found in the audio section at Bucsblitz.com.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tony Boselli
PREDICTION: Panthers 19-16.
SERIES: 15th meeting. Panthers lead series, 8-6. In the last meeting in late September, the Bucs crushed the Panthers 20-7 behind a swarming defensive attack. In that game, the Panthers were held to 236 yards and 13 first downs. The Bucs, led by Michael Pittman's 90 rushing yards, racked up 190 yards on the ground.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers won't do anything exotic offensively. They're trying to get rookie QB Matt Moore some game experience without exposing him to potentially harmful situations. Look for speedy RB DeAngelo Williams to continue to get increased carries over DeShaun Foster. ... The Bucs will give backup QB Luke McCown the majority of the snaps, and he might even start as coach Jon Gruden hasn't hidden his desire to rest many of his key players. To avoid entering the playoffs with a two-game losing streak, McCown has to eliminate the turnovers that have plagued his outings this season -- and do it with a largely skeleton crew.
KEY INJURIES: DE Julius Peppers (knee) and C Justin Hartwig (knee) were placed on Injured Reserve this week. Bucs: CB Brian Kelly (knee) could be held out as a precaution; WR Maurice Stovall (broken arm), a key special teams player, was placed on Injured Reserve.
FAST FACTS: Panthers CB Chris Gamble has three INTs in the past five meetings, and Carolina is 12-3 when he has a pick. ... The Bucs are 5-0 against the NFC South this season.
--QB Matt Moore will start on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has a chance for a decent statistical day if the Bucs play most of their reserves. Moore has done well considering he's an undrafted rookie.
--QB Vinny Testaverde missed practice on Thursday and it's likely he will be the No. 3 quarterback again Sunday.
--OT Jordan Gross returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice with a sprained ankle. He is probable.
--SS Chris Harris did not practice on Thursday. He is listed as doubtful.
--DE Charles Johnson, a rookie, will start in place of Julius Peppers.
--WR Travis Taylor, signed earlier this week, went through practice with the Panthers on Sunday. It's unclear if Taylor will play this week.
--WR Ryne Robinson could see more reps this week at receiver as the Panthers continue to work in some young players.
--DE Greg White was added to the injury report Thursday and was limited with a quad bruise.
--PK Matt Bryant did not practice Thursday due to an illness. He is expected to play Sunday.
--RB Earnest Graham missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury and may not play against the Panthers. He is listed as questionable.
--WR Ike Hilliard missed practice Thursday with a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday's game against the Panthers
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins isn't sure if he wants to play for the Carolina Panthers next season or if it's time to move on.
"I don't know, to be honest," Jenkins said. "Seven years (playing for the Panthers) is a long time but I do like it here. But I have two heads pulling at me. I miss being away from my family and not being able to see my kids grow up (in Maryland). Those things are starting to affect me more than when I first came into the league. When I first came in everything was cool. But my family is not here in Charlotte; my support structure is not here."
He's made it clear that while he "likes" living in Charlotte, he "loves" living in suburban Maryland, not far from where he attended college at the University of Maryland.
It's fairly obvious he'd love to play closer to home -- maybe Baltimore, Philadelphia or Washington.
His two boys live in Maryland.
That's where he spent all last season working out, and where he plans to do the same in the future, regardless of what team he's playing for.
He raves about the waterfront area in Baltimore and the ability to go fishing in the bay. He loves the fact that there are more Broadway-style plays to go see in the D.C. area. When he's there he feels more relaxed and said he simply doesn't get stressed out like when he's in Charlotte.
Still, he's under contract for two more seasons with the Panthers.
"If I have to come back here, that's great. If I have to go somewhere else then that's great," Jenkins said. "That's what I'm saying. I will take it with a grain of salt. Whatever comes, whether it's a situation where I'm here or they decide to let me go, I just have to take it as what it is and keep moving."
This past off-season he saw the bitter side of the business when the Panthers put him on the trading block. Jenkins wound up skipping the team's June workouts altogether, but after the team couldn't trade him he returned to play the entire season for coach John Fox and Marty Hurney, the two men responsible for attempting to trade him.
"For me personally, a lot happened," Jenkins said. "I don't know what it is. I guess it's the story of my life. I have these soap opera moments. Everything is so laced with drama and good times and bad times."
The drama continued earlier this season when he questioned his teammates' heart after a Week 4 loss to Tampa Bay.
He came under criticism for the speaking out, even though he didn't name any players by name and the truth is it probably needed to be said at the time.
One area of improvement the Bucs need to make is in their punt return game.
Against the 49ers last week, Tampa Bay's punt return unit was a disaster waiting to happen.
The Bucs fumbled three punts -- two by cornerback Phillip Buchanon -- and had a penalty for an illegal block on another. Fortunately, all three potential turnovers were averted by a successful instant replay challenge, a penalty against the 49ers and a fumble recovery by Bucs rookie safety Tenard Jackson.
And that doesn't include Buchanon's failure to field a punt that was eventually downed at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line.
"I'm not pleased with our punt return team in any way, shape or form," special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. "I don't think we've done a great job protecting the catcher, I don't think we've done a great job fielding punts. I've obviously done a poor job of communicating what we expect out of everybody out of that unit. So hopefully, we can improve this week as we move towards next week."
Bisaccia said Buchanon will get another chance to return punts Sunday against Carolina. But it's likely that receiver Ike Hilliard and/or Joey Galloway could be called upon in some situations when the Bucs host the Giants in the NFC wildcard playoff game.
"It is a problem," coach Jon Gruden said. "It was a problem in New Orleans, as you remember, in the dome. It's been a problem since we lost our return man (Mark Jones). We made a decision not to let Ike do that, we made a decision not to let Joey do that last week. And there's a good chance those guys won't be back there this week. Mike Spurlock got beat up in the game, which was the seventh receiver we might have lost. If we need to put Derrick Brooks back there, this might be the week he's back there. But we've got to make tremendous strides in securing the ball and creating tremendous field position for the offense. It's a problem at this point."