The day after Christmas can be a fun day, if you do it right. You’re still on vacation, after all. But it can also be an anti-climax, or a stress-filled trip to stores you don’t really want to go in to return items you don’t really want.
That brings us to the Carolina Panthers, who would like to return the whole 2021 season if somebody would let them — well, at least everything from October on. Instead, they get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, who are 10-4 and smarting from a 9-0 loss to New Orleans a week ago. Then they get the Bucs — the defending Super Bowl champs, mind you — again in two weeks back in Tampa.
Our Observer panel, which went 4-0 last week by unanimously forecasting Carolina’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, takes on Panthers-Bucs, Part I. On with the picks.
Jonathan Alexander, Panthers beat writer: Tampa Bay is coming off a bad loss to New Orleans where the Bucs were shut out. But they still have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, and the Panthers are struggling to score points. The losing continues. Bucs 27, Panthers 10.
Ellis Williams, Panthers beat writer: Tom Brady re-establishes his MVP status against a reeling Carolina defense, while the Panthers hopelessly experiment with Sam Darnold under center again. Bucs 35, Panthers 13.
Matt Stephens, McClatchy Southeast senior sports editor: The Bucs are hurting, yes, but they’re still better than the Panthers by quite a bit and there’s no way they lose after getting shut out a week ago. Bucs 17, Panthers 10.
Scott Fowler, sports columnist: This pick is nonsensical, but I’m still in the holiday spirit. In what will be Cam Newton’s last game at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers pull off a post-Christmas miracle against a compromised Tampa Bay team without many of its offensive stars. Defense leads the way for Carolina. Panthers 17, Bucs 16.