TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks to pass against the Atlanta Falcons September 25, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The last time these two teams met on Monday Night Football, the Buccaneers dominated for most of the game. They held a 35-14 lead in the fourth quarter with just under five minutes remaining. And then, the world turned upside down as Peyton Manning and company scored 24 unanswered points to give the Colts the lead and the victory in overtime.
With Peyton Manning sidelined, this isn't likely to happen this Monday. But the Bucs won't jump out to a big lead either. They have struggled to get anything going offensively, and Josh Freeman has not looked as sharp as he did last year. The Colts have shut down both Peyton Hillis and Rashard Mendenhall in recent weeks, so they may not struggle to stop Legarrette Blount either. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have looked especially good, and the two pass rushers could single-handedly shut down the Bucs' passing game.
On the other side of the ball the Bucs shouldn't be too troubled, however. Curtis Painter will start his first game as an NFL quarterback and the third-year player hasn't exactly put fear into opposing defenses' hearts. He didn't look too horrible last week when he appeared in relief of Kerry Collins. And, to be fair, the Bucs have had some trouble stopping backup quarterbacks in the recent past. Matt Moore, Chris Redman, Drew Stanton and Charlie Batch have all managed to beat the Bucs in recent years.
But if the effort against the Falcons can be trusted this defense has improved significantly. The defensive line is much better than it was a year ago, while Mason Foster is leading an aggressive linebacking corps. The secondary has shown signs of cracking, and they're tasked with stopping some terrific skill players in Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and others. But overall, the Buccaneer defense should not struggle to stop a weak Indianapolis offense.
Tomorrow we will see how this team handles the national spotlight. Will they crumble or shine? Regardless, the Bucs should win this game. A 24-10 score seems realistic to me, with Gerald McCoy and Legarrette Blount standing out on defense and offense respectively.
What do you think the score will be, and who do you think will shine on both sides of the ball?