Panthers at Buccaneers,
"No. It enhances it. I'm not like a banner guy in the NFL anyway. I'm hard to deal with, hard to get along with. That's what my reputation is . . . so it enhances that."
Buccaneers DE Simeon Rice, on whether being suspended for last week's upset loss to the 49ers -- because he showed up an hour late for a team meeting -- hurt his reputation
The NFC South, the only division in the NFL that has sent a team to its conference title game in all three seasons since realignment, always seems overshadowed. That appears to be the case this year, even though three-quarters of the division is 5-2. One problem: None of those 5-2s -- the Panthers, Buccaneers and Falcons -- had tested each other until today.
Of course, maybe league observers are waiting for the Bucs to join the Saints at the bottom of the pack. After a 4-0 start, Tampa Bay is hurting. The offense, hugely reliant on RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams in the first three games, has had little to turn to since the rookie was banged up in Week 4. The loss of merely competent starting QB Brian Griese in the sixth game has only made things worse, as evidenced by an embarrassing 15-10 loss last week at San Francisco. Now they have the Panthers, who are coming off what Coach John Fox called the team's most complete performance of the season, a 38-13 rout of Minnesota.