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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
November 2, 2005
Season Ticket
Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
ATL at MIA* DET at MIN* TEN at CLE* PIT at GB* PHI at WAS*
CAR at TB HOU at JAC* Sun 4 PM On Bye: Mon 9 PM
CIN at BAL SD at NYJ SEA at ARI* DAL, STL Updates*

Prediction: Carolina 13, Tampa Bay 17

Finally the NFC South can start to get some separation since Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina are only now starting to play against each other. Both the Panthers and the Buccaneers are 5-2 and the division title fight starts this week. The Panthers won both games against the Buccaneers last year, taking a 21-14 victory in week 12 at home and later winning 37-20 in Tampa Bay.

Carolina Panthers (5-2)
1 20-23 NOR 10 Nov 13 NYJ
2 27-17 NE 11 Nov 20 @CHI
3 24-27 @MIA 12 Nov 27 @BUF
4 32-29 GBP 13 Dec 4 ATL
5 24-20 @ARI 14 Dec 11 TBB
6 21-20 @DET 15 Dec 18 @NOR
7 Open Bye 16 Dec 24 DAL
8 38-13 MIN 17 Jan 1 @ATL
9 Nov 6 @TBB . MON SAT
CAR at TB Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 0 0 200,1
RB DeShaun Foster 40 10 0
RB Stephen Davis 30 10 0
TE Michael Gaines 0 20 0
WR Steve Smith 0 60,1 0
WR Keary Colbert 0 40 0
WR Rod Gardner 0 20 0
WR Ricky Proehl 0 20 0
PK John Kasay 2 FG 1 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Vikings didn't put up much of a fight last week after Culpepper left the game and Steve Smith was productive enough to have beaten them all by himself. The easier part of the schedule is over now and the Panthers face solid defenses for the next six weeks by facing TB, NYJ, CHI, BUF and ATL. Chances are those match-ups won't go nearly as well as the recent month against MIN, DET, ARZ and GB.

Quarterback: Jake Delhomme comes off a season high of 341 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings and he has thrown for at least two scores in each of the last five games. It has been little more than pitch and catch with Steve Smith but Delhomme's about to start his most challenging part of the schedule this Sunday.

Delhomme was very effective against the Buccaneers last year, throwing for 213 yards and two scores in week 12 and later having 214 yards and four touchdowns in week 16 at Tampa Bay.

Running Backs: Stephen Davis has set a team record with nine rushing touchdowns and the season is just now reaching the mid-point. He has never been much for yardage and hasn't exceeded 77 yards in any game this year but he's been the man near the goal line. DeShaun Foster missed a week with a sprained knee but returned against the Vikings to gain 51 yards on 12 carries. Foster has typically been getting about a third of the carries even though he often has the most rushing yardage in a game.

Nick Goings was the starter in both matchups against the Bucs last year and had 106 and 127 rushing yards against them though he never scored.

Wide Receivers: Steve Smith currently leads the NFL in receiving yardage (797), receiving touchdowns (8) and catches (50). At the current rate, he is a lock to top 100 catches for the year - something that no wideout in the NFL did in 2004. Smith has scored in four of the last five games and has five efforts over 100 yards which includes the NFL's best 201 yards in a game last week against the Vikings. Keary Colbert recorded his first touchdown of the year when he had two catches for 32 yards last week but he only has nine catches on the season. The passing attack has been very one dimensional with Smith but it's been an unstoppable one against those soft secondaries for the last month.

Tight Ends: Bit of a development here with the Panthers now opting to use Michael Gaines more in the passing scheme. He had two catches for 67 yards against the Vikings and while Kris Mangum remains the starter, Gaines is more the receiving tight end now. Mike Seidman was inactive last Sunday, yet another sign that the Panthers have taken to using Gaines.

Match Against the Defense: Matching up these teams has to take into account that last week may be one of the more classic trap games every that caught the Buccaneers trying to mail in a win. Had Brian Griese been playing, they probably would have scored on the final drive. The Bucs were likely looking ahead to this critical game (in addition to trying to get Chris Simms up to speed). The rushing game for the Panthers has to go against a defense that has not allowed an opposing runner to gain more than 38 yards as a visitor to Tampa Bay. Stephen Davis is not gaining yards against bad defenses, he won't do any better there but as always there is the chance for the short score. De'Shaun Foster should take the worse brunt of this matchup.

Delhomme went against the Vikings last week and looked incredible. Now he will be on the road against a team that has only allowed two passing scores this entire season back in week three in Green Bay. Otherwise - no one has scored against this secondary. Steve Smith may have gained 201 yards last week, but the Bucs have not allowed any wideout to top 100 yards this entire season. Smith will get plenty of passes but matches against CB Ronde Barber (unless he moves around which he will). That matchup has been one of the worst in the NFL this season and this game is held in Tampa Bay where it will be even worse. Delhomme will have to resort to other receivers than Smith, but the Bucs secondary has been outstanding this year. There are no weaknesses really.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)
1 24-13 @MIN 10 Nov 13 WAS
2 19-3 BUF 11 Nov 20 @ATL
3 17-16 @GBP 12 Nov 27 CHI
4 17-13 DET 13 Dec 4 @NOR
5 12-14 @NYJ 14 Dec 11 @CAR
6 27-13 MIA 15 Dec 17 @NE
7 Open Bye 16 Dec 24 ATL
8 10-15 @SFO 17 Jan 1 NOR
9 Nov 6 CAR . . SAT
TBB Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Chris Simms 0 0 210,1
RB Cadillac Williams 70,1 10 0
RB Michael Pittman 20 20 0
TE Alex Smith 0 20,1 0
WR Joey Galloway 0 80 0
WR Michael Clayton 0 30 0
WR Ike Hilliard 0 20 0
PK Matt Bryant 1 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: Okay, so "oops". The Bucs went to San Francisco and lost to a 1-5 team that had just given up 52 points to the Redskins. Chris Simms could not throw well and neither Carnell Williams nor Michael Pittman could run. It was just "one of those games" that likely happened since the Panthers were bound to be more interested in the matchup this week. The Bucs have lost two road games to the Jets and 49ers, but there is no chance this week will see them under prepared or less than focused.

Quarterback: Chris Simms first start of the year produced 232 yards, but it also was going against the worst secondary in the NFL and was skewed by the one 78-yard touchdown catch by Joey Galloway that was literally about 75 yards after the catch. Sims was sacked five times, intercepted twice and lost a fumble. Back at home this week, Simms needs to have a better game just to keep whispers about Tim Rattay from getting any louder.

The Buccaneers threw well against the Panthers in 2004, with Brian Griese turning in 347 yards and two scores as a visitor and later netting 321 yards and three touchdowns in Tampa Bay.

Running Backs: Carnell Williams returned to the playing field last Sunday but he only had 20 yards on 13 carries. He did not show any real signs of being limited from his ankle and foot injuries, but then again he was often hit before he could even get to the line of scrimmage. Michael Pittman only had five yards on four carries as well. Bad day last week. Williams is going to shoulder the load this week and the Panthers will be a tough match-up for a quick turnaround. Williams big three games this season were against the Vikings, Packers and the visiting Bills.

The Buccaneers were unable to run against the Panthers last season. Pittman was the primary carrier in each and only gained 29 and 41 rushing yards in the two meetings, though he had a career high 134 yards and two scores on receptions in the game at Carolina. He only had 13 receiving yards back at home against the Panthers.

Wide Receivers: Joey Galloway turned a short slant pattern into a 78-yard touchdown against the 49ers and he ended with 149 yards on eight catches. Galloway has scored in four of the last five games and his role in the passing scheme dwarfs the other wideouts. Michael Clayton went against one of the worst secondaries in the league last Sunday but still only had four catches for 30 yards. His sophomore slump continues unabated regardless of how soft the secondary is that the Bucs are facing.

Michael Clayton had four catches for 66 yards and two scores when the Panthers visited last year and Joey Galloway had 98 yards and one touchdown.

Tight Ends: Alex Smith had two catches for 43 yards last week - significant because it was his first game with Simms, but that makes three good games he has had this season and all of them were on the road. Smith has never had more than one catch for seven yards while playing in Tampa Bay this season.

Match Against the Defense: The Panthers have been outstanding against the run this year and held the Bucs well in 2004, but they have not faced any decent running backs yet other than Ronnie Brown who had 132 yards and a score in Miami against them. Williams faces his toughest defensive line yet but he's already a far better runner than what the Bucs had last year when they played the Panthers. Look for moderate numbers here from Cadillac that could have a score. But much of that relies on Williams playing at or near 100% healthy which there is no guarantee will happen.

The Panthers secondary has been the weak link of the defense but Simms is only starting his second game of the year and did not look completely in synch even when facing the 49ers last Sunday. The Panthers have been much easier to pass on when they are on the road, so look for SImms to turn in moderate numbers here. This will be largely a defensive battle with a lower score as all Bucs games have been. There is no truly weaker side here and tight ends have done well scoring against the Panthers too. If Galloway is covered, it appears more likely they would look to Alex Smith this week than go to Clayton who is just being relatively ignored.