The Carolina Panthers (0-1) will head into Week 2 with a Thursday night divisional matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1).
This isn't necessarily a must-win scenario for Carolina, but it will hold a lot of weight going forward. The Panthers are trying to shake the stink from last season after losing seven of their final eight games. Although they lost 30-27 in their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams -- they had some positives to take away.
With all that being said, it will be difficult from a mental standpoint for this team to endure consecutive home losses at the start of the season. Cam Newton will need to shake the rust off and the defensive line has to play better against the run.
Here are three keys to success for the Panthers.
Spread the ball around
This may seem self-explanatory -- but it wasn't in Week 1. The Panthers played Christian McCaffrey in every single snap of the game and he finished with 209 yards from scrimmage. Granted, it's hard to deny McCaffrey the ball when he's the only one producing, but they didn't even give their backup running backs a single snap in the game.
This goes for pass-catchers as well, because Newton doesn't seem to be mobile right now. Sunday's loss to the Rams was the first time that Newton had negative rushing yards in a game. He also had only one pass that went further than 20 yards, so it made Carolina predictable. The Buccaneers held Jimmy Garoppolo to 166 passing yards and their secondary is capable of neutralizing a predictable pass attack.
D.J. Moore was the only receiver aside from McCaffrey that recorded more than five receptions and Chris Hogan was nonexistent. Carolina will have a healthy Greg Olsen, along with plenty of weapons to work with. Newton will have to spread the ball around and open up the playbook this week.
Win the turnover battle
The turnover battle may be the most important factor in Thursday night's game. Carolina turned the ball over three times against the Rams and Tampa Bay turned it over four times.
Jameis Winston threw three interceptions against the San Fransisco 49ers and the Buccaneers also lost a fumble. Newton threw and interception, had a fumble on a lateral pass and Moore fumbled in the first quarter. There's no question that sloppy play likely led to losses for both teams, and it's worth monitoring on Thursday night.
Moore has a history of fumbling the ball and it typically ends up in a turnover for Carolina. The Panthers' offense isn't clicking on all cylinders, so every possession will be crucial. Winston has thrown double digit interceptions in all four of his NFL seasons and he's on pace for a fifth year.
Donte Jackson, James Bradberry and the secondary will need to capitalize and create turnovers in order to slow Winston and Mike Evans down.
Offensive line slowing down Ndamukong Suh
Similar to last week, the offensive line will have their hands full with an elite defensive tackle. The Panthers managed to slow down Aaron Donald last week, but it was mostly correlated with Newton's quick release of the ball.
Newton had McCaffrey as a security blanket and was able to dump the ball off whenever it was necessary. Regardless, the Rams still ended up sacking Newton three times. The Panthers need to protect their quarterback at all costs, especially because of the fact that he isn't too mobile right now.
Newton is still recovering from a shoulder injury and possibly the mid-foot sprain that he suffered in the preseason. Ndamukong Suh didn't have the most productive game in Week 1 after recording four tackles and a tackle for loss in Week 1, but he'll remain a threat for Newton.
Ron Rivera told reporters that this offensive line is beginning to gel, and Newton will need them to do this quickly.