CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On paper, Thursday night's game against Tampa Bay looks like a trap for the Carolina Panthers.
The Buccaneers are 0-6 and in a state of disarray with the release of their franchise quarterback a few weeks ago and the loss of their star running back a few days ago. They now have a rookie quarterback and a coach under fire.
The Panthers (3-3) have won two straight games and three of their last four, and have a chance to go above .500 for the first time since 2008. Quarterback Cam Newton is playing at a level higher than at any time in his career, and coach Ron Rivera has the entire team buying into his system.
But only a month ago the Panthers were in a spot similar to where the Bucs are -- 0-2 with their coach's future in question. So if any team knows how dangerous a game like this can be, it's Carolina.
Here's what the Panthers must do to avoid being trapped:
Vote for Pedro: Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has been dubbed "Napoleon Dynamite'' for his likeness to the lead character in the 2004 movie. The Panthers hope to treat him more like Napoleon Bonaparte and make this his Waterloo. Not considered a mobile quarterback, Glennon seems like the perfect target for a defensive front that doesn't rely on a lot of blitz packages for pressure. Against non-mobile quarterbacks the Panthers are 3-1 with 16 sacks, and would have been 4-0 had the offense not self-destructed at Arizona.
Can Cam continue? Newton is on the hottest two-game streak of the season for NFL quarterbacks, with consecutive passer ratings of 143.4 and 136.3. He has only eight incomplete passes during this run, and has been more efficient than at any time in his career at taking what the defense gives him. He'll be facing a defense that ranks No. 5 against the run and No. 13 overall despite major breakdowns last week against Atlanta. Newton's success has been against defenses ranked 25th or worse. Despite Tampa's record, this will be his biggest test since the opener against Seattle, when Carolina scored only seven points.
Give and take: The Panthers have forced at least two turnovers in five straight games and have forced three three times. They began Sunday's win over St. Louis with a pick-six. They are tied for sixth in the NFL in turnover ratio at plus-5. The offense, except for a four-turnover performance against Arizona in Carolina's only loss in the last four games, has done a solid job at protecting the ball. The Panthers have had no turnovers in the past two games. Teams that win the turnover battle and play solid defense typically are in a position to win. That's what Carolina does.