KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
PREDICTION: Buccaneers 28-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers managed just seven points against the Bucs earlier this season and have been horrible on offense all season. It's hard to imagine that changing with their top three running backs likely out and Jimmy Clausen in at quarterback.
Defensively, the Panthers will look to contain Josh Freeman in the pocket. He killed Carolina with his feet in the first game and continually kept drives alive with backbreaking third-down conversions -- most of them went to TE Kellen Winslow, but the Buccaneers have since developed an outstanding tandem of outside rookie receivers.
FAST FACTS: The Bucs won the first meeting this season, 20-7. ... The Panthers placed four players on injured reserve this week. ... Tampa Bay has just six sacks, on pace to challenge the NFL-record low of 10 in a season (2008 Kansas City Chiefs).
INSIDE THE CAMPS
After missing more than a month with a quadriceps injury, Bucs center Jeff Faine may have to compete to get his starting job back.
Faine participated in a full practice Thursday without incident. But coach Raheem Morris said he's undecided whether Faine would start against the Panthers on Sunday.
In fact, the Bucs may stick with Jeremy Zuttah at center and rookie Ted Larsen at left guard.
"It's a battle, you'd have to say, because Larsen has played so well," Morris said. "If Faine comes back in, Zuttah has played really well at center. It's going to be a battle for Faine. After awhile, those two guys are competing and doing a pretty good job. Faine is one of our leaders and one of our captains. He's got to go out there and play better than them right now and he's got to get out there when he can.
"Zuttah can easily move to left guard. We've seen him do it all last year and he'll have no choice but to be better than he was last year just based on experience and what he's been able to do the last two weeks. We look forward to the competition. It's a really good problem that you have two guys that can go out there and let your offense function at center and also at guard and to have that depth we have there is a good thing."
The biggest concern with Faine might be his conditioning since he has not played in a month. If Faine does play, Zuttah could move to left guard.
"The real result I'm waiting for is to see how it feels tomorrow," Faine said of his injury. "Yesterday, I did the whole practice, too. But today was a live practice. Today I came back and felt good, so hopefully, I'll feel the same way tomorrow."
However, Faine admitted he is not in tip top game shape.
"At the end of the day, there's nothing like a game," Faine said. "Luckily, I'm coming back when it's a little bit cooler than it was at the beginning of the season. It's something I'm going to have to fight through. I definitely was working a lot on cardio, but there's nothing like playing in a game."
Like many NFL defensive players, middle linebacker Jon Beason has concerns about the NFL's crackdown on illegal hits.
Beason, who was fined $10,000 this week for his illegal hit last Sunday on New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston, thinks if the league continues to along this track, it might get out of hand.
"They are enforcing it right now and they are stern about how they're handling it," Beason said. "Everything that is ticky-tack, they are going to fine guys for.
"That will get to the point where guys are going to lay there on purpose and (pretend to be hurt to) get 15 yards, then pop back up and get back in the game. I mean, why not? You're trying to win games."
Colston was not Beason's responsibility on the play in question. Beason was covering a different Saints receiver but when he turned his body he saw Colston coming across the middle just a few feet from him. Beason took him down, but officials ruled it an illegal hit and penalized the Panthers 15 yards.
"I turned and literally he was on me," Beason said. "As soon as I turned he was on me. As soon as I turned he was right there. I didn't leave my feet and I didn't lead with my helmet. They threw the flag so they have to fine me. I just stood my ground. He protected himself. What can you do?"
Beason can appeal it for one, and that's something he plans to do, although he knows it may be several weeks before he hears anything.
Beason wasn't happy with his play Sunday, saying he made too many mental mistakes.
He also said he came into the game with a chip on his shoulder because after comments made about him on a local radio station last week.
"They said I'm having a down year," Beason said. "I heard someone on the radio saying I was the biggest disappointment on the team, so I was a little chippy. Anytime you do that you lose focus. Some plays I wish I could have back. The effort was there."
Beason's numbers are down, but largely because he was asked to change positions out of need.
--LB Quincy Black has an ankle sprain he suffered last week at Atlanta. He did not practice Thursday. Rookie LB Dekoda Watson could start at on the strong side.
--FB Earnest Graham has a hamstring injury and did not practice this week. Rookie Erik Lorig could start at fullback vs. the Panthers.
--DE Kyle Moore has a shoulder injury and did not practice Thursday.
--DT Ryan Sims has a knee injury that forced him to miss last week's game against the Falcons. He did not practice Thursday and could be inactive again.
--WR Sammie Stroughter has a foot injury and was limited in practice Thursday.
--RB DeAngelo Williams did not practice Thursday and will not play in Sunday's game.
--RB Jonathan Stewart did not practice Thursday and will not play in Sunday's game.
--RB Tyrell Sutton did not practice Thursday and will not play in Sunday's game.
--RB Mike Goodson will start this week at running back for the Panthers. It will be his first NFL start.
--DE Greg Hardy has a concussion and will likely sit out this week against the Bucs.
--WLB Nic Harris will make his first NFL start for the Panthers this week against Tampa Bay.