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Thursday Night Preview: Which NFC South Team Will Avoid Starting 0-2?

We are treated to our second Thursday Night Football game of 2019, and unlike last week's showdown, this week's teams are a bit more lowly ranked. Per our team rankings (based on our nERD metric), the Carolina Panthers clock in 17th, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 23rd.

Both teams will look to rebound after disappointing home losses to start their home season.

Who will come out on top on this matchup? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

Both quarterbacks will need to be far better than they played a week ago, as they left a lot to be desired in the opening contest.

Among the 32 quarterbacks who dropped back 10 or more times in Week 1, these passers each ranked among the bottom five of the league, per our metrics. Looking at Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Jameis Winston was the league's worst passer at -0.65 per drop back in Week 1, and Cam Newton was only marginally better, slotting in fifth-worst with a mark of -0.11. In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- Winston was also the worst amongst that group of 32 gunslingers with a mark of 35.90%, while Cam was 12th-worst at 43.90%.

There may be silver lining for Winston. In looking at Average Intended Air Yards (the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts), he took his chances with the deep ball with a mark of 8.3. Newton, however, relied on a short passing game, recording a lowly mark of 6.3 (seventh-worst).

Running Back Play

At least from this perspective, the Panthers have a clear-cut advantage with stud running back Christian McCaffrey.

A week ago, McCaffrey was up to his usual tricks. He carried the rock 19 times for 128 yards and two scores, and he led Carolina in receiving with an additional 10 catches for 81 yards. From an efficiency perspective, he was also one of the best as his Rushing NEP per carry of 0.43 was fourth-best among tail backs with 10 or more carries. Expect Carolina to rely on CMC yet again.

From a Tampa Bay Buccaneers perspective, Ronald Jones led the way with 13 carries for 75 yards -- and he was pretty efficient with those touches, racking up the 12th-best mark (0.12). Peyton Barber did carry the rock eight times for 33 yards, but neither runner was very effective in the passing game. That role fell to Dare Ogunbowale, who tied for the team lead in targets with six.

Defensive Matchup

While these two teams did struggle mightily in Week 1, their defenses played fairly well overall.

Tampa ranks as the sixth-best defense after one week, and they were strong both against the pass (fourth) and the run (eighth). Carolina ranks as the 15th-best unit, and they were far better against the pass (13th) than they were against the run (26th).

These teams did struggle in getting after the passer last week. Using Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate, the Buccaneers come in slightly better at 22nd (3.3%), while the Panthers were 26th with a mark of 2.5%.

Historical Comparison

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