The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should clinch NFC South this weekend, but don’t bet on it

The Bucs have struggled so mightily on offense that getting swept by Carolina is a genuine concern.

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click to enlarge A Week 17 return is unlikely for Ryan Jensen, but the boost in morale his presence at practice provides is nice. - Photo via Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo via Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A Week 17 return is unlikely for Ryan Jensen, but the boost in morale his presence at practice provides is nice.
The Bucs continue their quest to defend Tampa Bay’s NFC South title this weekend by facing the Carolina Panthers for the second time this season.

The Panthers took the Bucs down earlier this year in a 21-3 Week 7 matchup that featured PJ Walker out dueling Tom Brady, and leaving the Bucs’ offense looking as pitiful as it has all year.

Can the Bucs turn things around against the Panthers, despite Carolina coming off a huge 37-23 victory over the Lions last week that featured NFC Player of the Week D’Onta Foreman running for 165 yards and “backup” running back Chuba Hubbard running for 125?

It’s possible, and I think that will be what ends up happening when Carolina lands at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday for a 1 p.m. game where the Bucs (hopefully) earn a 17-13 victory over the Panthers. But then again, the Bucs have struggled so mightily this year on the offensive side of the ball that it’s a genuine concern that Tampa Bay could get swept by Carolina. The Panthers may be a very average-to-below average team in pretty much every facet of the game except on the ground, but they don’t turn the ball over.

They also don’t force any turnovers, accounting for the team’s middle-of-the-road ranking as far as turnover differential, but if the Bucs can’t get any takeaways defensively and this offense continues their trend of giving away the ball at least a couple times a game (Brady alone threw a pair of interceptions against the Cardinals in the OT victory Sunday night), then the Bucs could still be a win away from clinching the division after Sunday.
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The offense still only managed a single touchdown against Arizona Sunday night, the eights time this season it’s failed to put more than a touchdown on the board. Defensively there’s a bit of a concern, as Vita Vea is questionable for Sunday’s game with a calf injury. Tampa Bay’s whole secondary showed up on the injury report as well.

Even with all of the potential injuries, I genuinely think the Bucs can pull this one out; Tristan Wirfs is still planning on playing Sunday, Donovan Smith might be returning (he was a limited participant Wednesday at practice), and even Ryan Jensen was spotted at practice in his quest to get off the IR list (a Week 17 return is unlikely, but the boost in morale his presence provides is nice).

The Bucs aren’t going to make any noise in the playoffs, as they’ll likely face either the Cowboys or the Eagles (most likely Dallas), but they can still beat the Panthers and win this sorry ass division.

Right?
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