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3 things to watch for in Panthers-Buccaneers in London

A week after NFL action touched down in London for the first time in 2019, the Panthers and host Buccaneers will square off in England in the initial early offering of the year.

Christian McCaffrey and Carolina (3-2) will toe the line with Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay (2-3) in a key NFC South showdown that kicks off from Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on the NFL Network at 9:30 a.m. ET to lead off an elongated Sunday of football from one side of the pond to the other.

Though it's only Week 6, the teams will collide in the first rematch of the 2019 season and the second NFL game played at Hotspur Stadium, as the first saw the Raiders down the Bears on the Sunday prior.

Much has changed since first the teams met in Week 2's 20-14 Tampa Bay victory.

It was a turning point for the Panthers, as it was their last game with Cam Newton under center. The longtime face of the franchise will not make the trip to London and continues his road back from a foot injury. In Newton's absence, Kyle Allen has stepped up and led Carolina to three straight victories, having emphatically ended their troublesome skid to start the season.

In Tampa Bay, losses and victories have alternated throughout the campaign, with the Bucs having followed their win over the Panthers with a collapse against the Giants, a high-scoring upset of the Rams and then a skid in New Orleans against the first-place Saints.

This is a crucial game for both teams, but it's arguable that this is a more pivotal point in the season for the Buccaneers, who are technically the home team, but are in the midst of a long stretch away from Tampa Bay that began with a Week 4 trip to Los Angeles and extends past the upcoming bye week all the way until a Week 10 return to Raymond James Stadium to welcome the Cardinals.

The resplendence in cleats that is CMC

If you're a Panthers fan or a fortunate fantasy owner, you're already on board and drinking in the stellar season Christian McCaffrey is crafting. Plain and simple, if you're a fan of football, you should be taking in the wonderment that is McCaffrey.

A bit of a bum back after taking a bump on a touchdown flip into the end zone in a Week 5 loss to the Jaguars slowed McCaffrey in practice this week, but it's hard not to expect to see something special when CMC is on the field.

Heading into Sunday's game, McCaffrey has churned out 866 scrimmage yards, the most by anyone since Hall of Famer Jim Brown's 988 since 1963. McCaffrey's 105 rushes, 136 touches, 587 rushing yards and 117.4 yards rushing per game are all also tops in the league. His 31 catches are the best among NFC running backs.

Numbers don't tell the whole tale, though, as McCaffrey has turned in a slew of highlight-reel plays.

However, it was the Bucs who bottled him up better than anyone over the first five weeks, containing him to 16 carries for 37 yards and two catches for 16 yards in Week 2. It's true to Tampa Bay form thus far, as the Bucs are third in rushing yards allowed (56 yards per game), and first against scrimmage yards allowed by running backs (91.6).

Nobody's slowed CMC like the Bucs. Will they do it again?

Jameis and the mercurial Bucs receiving corps

Through the ups and downs, Bucs first-year coach Bruce Arians is going to stick by quarterback Jameis Winston. Since a three-interception season debut against the 49ers, Winston has thrown just two picks over the past four weeks and since Week 1 is third in the NFL with a 111.6 QB rating (trailing Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson -- and two spots ahead of new Panthers starter Kyle Allen's 107.4).

Winston's production has been buoyed by the leading receiving duo in the land, as wideouts Chris Godwin (33 catches, 511 yards, league-high six touchdowns) and Mike Evans (18 catches, 368 yards, four TDs) have combined for an NFL-high 879 receiving yards.

However, Evans is coming off a zero-catch performance against the Saints -- just the second time in his career he's been shut out, both by New Orleans. Of Evans' four scores, three came in a monster eight-catch, 190-yard showing in Week 3. In Week 4, he had four catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. Other than those two weeks, he's been largely held in check.

Godwin's 511 yards receiving and five touchdowns make him the first wideout to reach each of those statistical marks in the first five weeks since 2007, when the great Randy Moss did so. Though not as noticeable as Evans, Godwin has tallied three 100-yard games, but in two others has been held to a combined 93 yards on six catches.

So the question lingers in London as to whether the dynamic duo will turn in big performances or be held in check by Carolina's fourth-ranked passing defense?

Don't forget the defensive standouts in this one

Offense obviously moves the needle, but the Panthers and Buccaneers each boast defensive dynamos as the NFL's leader in sacks and tackles will be in Europe on Sunday on opposing defenses.

Consistent as he is outstanding, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the NFL with 56 tackles.

In contrast, Shaquil Barrett's league-leading nine sacks through five games are double the amount he registered in any of his previous full seasons during his five-year tenure in Denver.

Another contrast is that Barrett is standing out for Tampa Bay, which has just 11 sacks as a team with the rest of the squad combining for only two.

Tampa's tough against the run, but overall has struggled as it's 26th in total defense, 29th in scoring and at the bottom of the league in passing.

Kuechly's usual Pacman-like performance of gobbling up tackles has come as part of a defense brimming with contributors that also includes Shaq Thompson (49 tackles; No. 6 in NFL), Mario Addison (6.5 sacks; third in NFL) and rookie Brian Burns (nine QB hits; leads NFL).

The biggest names in London on Sunday will be on the offensive side of the ball, but there's plenty of high-production defenders poised to make an international impact.

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