Cam Newton enjoys facing the Buccaneers. The only thing is, this might not be the same Panthers quarterback who has thrown for 29 touchdowns against Tampa Bay.
Newton was so-so in the opening loss to the Rams, and his minus-2 yards rushing were a career low. He did go 25 for 38 for 239 yards, but had no touchdowns and one interception. Had it not been for the yeoman effort of running back Christian McCaffrey (128 yards rushing, two scores; 10 receptions for 81 yards), a 30-27 defeat would have been a rout.
Still, the Panthers, tied for No. 17 in the AP Pro 32, are 5½-point favorites over No. 31 Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
Coming off shoulder problems, Newton threw only one pass beyond 20 yards, hardly his usual mode of operation. But he insists he's healthy.
"You are only asking me because of my shoulder," Newton said of all the check-downs against the Rams. "How about this, talk to the defensive coordinator for Tampa and ask if they don't think I can throw the ball over 20 yards and see how far that gets you?"
The Buccaneers didn't get very far at home vs. the 49ers, falling by 14 points. They had even more problems in the passing game as Jameis Winston threw two pick-6s against a San Francisco defense that didn't even know what a takeaway was last season.
"Learn from what you did, get it corrected," new Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "And you get it corrected, the wins will start happening."
Not this week.
KNOCKOUT POOL: The Seahawks squeezed by Cincinnati, and so did Pro Picks. Is there anyone out there who is not picking NEW ENGLAND this week at Miami?
No. 1 New England (minus 14) at No. 32 Miami
We repeat, is there anyone out there who is not picking New England this week? AP Pro32 has this one right: top vs. bottom.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 40-13
No. 13 Chicago (minus 1 1-2) at No. 24 Denver
Broncos coach Vic Fangio finds some extra motivation against former employer.
UPSET SPECIAL: BRONCOS, 17-16
No. 3 New Orleans (plus 3) at No. 4 Los Angeles Rams
Saints don't need any extra motivation after officiating debacle in last season's NFC championship game.
No. 20 San Francisco (plus 1) at No. 23 Cincinnati
Bengals might be better than we thought.
No. 2 Kansas City (minus 7½) at No. 19 Oakland
Raiders might be better than we thought and will keep it close.
No. 16 Buffalo (plus 2) at No. 29 New York Giants
Bills seem like host in Meadowlands with second straight game there, this time a loss.
No. 6 Dallas (minus 3½) at No. 26 Washington
Cowboys go 2-0 in division, Redskins go 0-2.
No. 17 (tie) Indianapolis (plus 4) at No. 12 Tennessee
AFC South looks ultra-competitive once again.
No. 21 (tie) Cleveland (pick-em) at No. 27 New York Jets, Monday night
Were high hopes for both clubs a mirage?
No. 30 Arizona (plus 12) at No. 8 Baltimore
A couple of exciting Heisman Trophy QBs on display. Lamar beats Kyler.
No. 9 Los Angeles Chargers (minus 2 1-2) at No. 28 Detroit
Beginning to wonder about Matt Patricia's defensive acumen in Detroit.
No. 25 Jacksonville (plus 7 1-2) at No. 14 Houston
Beginning to wonder about Doug Marrone's security in Jacksonville.
No. 10 Seattle (plus 3 1-2) at No. 15 Pittsburgh
Steelers can't be that bad, can they?
No. 7 Minnesota (plus 3) at No. 11 Green Bay
Barring a tie, one of these teams will have nice jump-start to NFC North title.
No. 5 Philadelphia (minus 2) at No. 21 (tie) Atlanta
Eagles and Falcons seem to fly into each other every year.
Last Week: Against spread (11-4-1). Straight up (11-4-1)
Season Totals: Against spread (11-4-1). Straight up: (11-9-4-1)
Best Bet: 1-0 against spread, 1-0 straight up
Upset special: 1-0 against spread, 1-0 straight up