Make no mistake folks, this is the first in a long line of big games for one of these two squads. The winner of Sunday's game between the Buccaneers and Raiders will still harbor hopes of a playoff run, while the loser - it may be time to focus their gaze to 2013.
The Raiders are actually in better shape than the Bucs to sustain a loss and still have some hope - as only three teams in the AFC have more than four wins. The NFC is top heavy, with six teams with five or more wins.
So what this boils down to is a must win game for Tampa Bay. Lose this one and it may be time to circle the wagons, do the best you can down the stretch and build momentum for 2013.
A victory would keep the Bucs alive - at least for another week and keep the old mo on the Bucs' side, winning three of four.
It's a world of difference between 3-5 and 4-4.
Series: Oakland leads 6-1 (not including the Super Bowl)
Last Meeting: December 28, 2008 - Oakland defeated Tampa Bay 31-24
What can you say about the Bucs' passing game in the second quarter of this season. As Josh Freeman gets more comfortable with the offense and his receiving core, the Tampa Bay passing game has been the catalyst of the Bucs offensive explosion in recent weeks.
Freeman has averaged 327.1 yds per game and has thrown 10 touchdowns against one 1 interception in the past four ballgames. In that time, Tampa Bay has average 31 pts a game.
Oakland's pass defense comes in at an average 21st in the NFL but have gotten better in their past two games. Part of the improvement is their pass rush, which was non-existent through their first five games but has come to life recently with 7 of their 10 sacks coming in the past three games. Oakland hasn't been very opportunistic in the secondary, ranking 24th in the league with just 5 interceptions.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. Oakland Raiders Run Defense
With teams having more respect for the Bucs' passing attack, it's made things a bit easier for runners Doug Martin, DJ Ware and LeGarrette Blount. Martin has average 153 yards of total offense in the month of October, earning him the Bucs young back NFL rookie of the month honors. On the season, Tampa Bay ranks 15th in the NFL running the ball.
They'll face a Raiders defense that is pretty decent against the run, surrendering just 102.1 yds per game. Oakland has been particularly stingy the last three games, giving up just 67 yds a game on the ground.
Tampa Bay also lost All-Pro guard Carl Nicks for the season to a toe injury. We'll have to see the degree of impact that will have on the Bucs' running game.
Oakland Raiders Passing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
It couldn't have been a worse week for the Bucs in the afterglow of their dominant road victory over the Vikings. First, the Bucs second best corner Eric Wright was reportedly about to join their top corner Aquib Talib in a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs (believed to be Adderall). Then the news of Nicks hit like a ton of bricks. Not to be outdone, the Bucs trading the beleaguered Talib to the New England Patriots.
This is one week the Bucs wouldn't mind forgetting about. Wright is eligible to play this week as the league has not issued a suspension as of yet, but the corner is nursing a sore achilles, meaning Wright might miss the game anyway. That leaves the 31st ranked pass defense with just EJ Biggers, Leonard Johnson and the greatness that is Brandon McDonald (aka torch).
DaQuan Bowers looks to be ready to handle more action and could be a factor in the pass rush.
That won't help the Bucs against Carson Palmer. While Palmer hasn't regained his elite status, he's been playing good football for Oakland this season, completing 60.2% of his passes, throwing for 1941 yds, 9 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. Palmer has two young speedy weapons that could give Tampa Bay fits in Denarius Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey. They've also discovered a competent pass catching tight end in Brandon Myers
Oakland Raiders Rushing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
Darren McFadden is broken. Not injured, mind you - but he is not the same player he was when he terrorized opposing defenses the past few seasons. Averaging just 3.3 yards a carry and only 2 touchdowns, the Raiders' 30th ranked running game has missed his explosiveness. McFadden is coming off just is second 100 yd rushing game of the season, picking up gobs of yardage in garbage time against the Kansas City Chiefs.
If there's one area the Buccaneers have improved the most - it's their run defense. Adrian Peterson became only the second back to rush for 100 yds against the Buccaneers this season and most of that yardage came on a single 64 yd break out that was pure A.P excellence.
The Bucs are ranked 6th in the league at stopping the run thanks to the improved play of MLB Mason Foster and their speedy second round pick Lavonte David.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay's Connor Barth has shown to be one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL. After seeing his franchise record 25 straight field goals streak snapped a few weeks ago, Barth has rebounded back into form, making 13 of 15 with a long of 57. Punter Michael Koenen is having a solid season, averaging 44.5 yards a kick while putting 12 punts inside the opponent's 20 yd line. Tampa Bay's return game is average and Roscoe Parrish is one more bobbled punt return away from the unemployment line. Regus Benn hasn't scared anyone on kick returns yet this season.
At age 34, Sebastian Janokowski continues to be one of the best kickers in the NFL. Nailing 18 of 19 this season, Sea Bass is a threat to score from 55 yds in. Another great player, punter Shane Lechler continues to have the big toe, pounding out punts for a 47.3 yd average. Lechler has only pinned opponents inside their own 20 yd line 6 times this season. Neither Mike Goodson or Phillip Adams have made anyone quake in their boots on returns.
By the Numbers
- Tampa Bay has never won in Oakland, going 0-4 and losing by an average score of 35-13.
- Tampa Bay lost their only appearance in Los Angeles as well.
- Raiders have won 3 of the past 4 at home against the NFC
- Including the Super Bowl, Tampa Bay is 4-24 all time in California.
- Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman has thrown 3 touchdown passes in a team record three consecutive games.
- If the Bucs score 28 points, it will be the first time in franchise history the Bucs have score 28 or more points in four consecutive games.
- Tampa Bay is 5th in the NFL in Red zone defense (TD's allowed), allowing touchdowns in 38% of red zone opportunities.
- Oakland is second worst in the NFL in Redzone offense (TDs scored), scoring touchdowns in just 34.8% of their opportunities.
- Tampa Bay is +7 in giveaway/takeaway ratio. Oakland is +1.
This was a tough one. Knowing how important it is to the season and how well the Bucs have played in recent weeks, I was very much leaning toward the Bucs in this one. Then the past week happened with the Eric Wright news, Carl Nicks' injury and the Aquib Talib trade. While only Nicks' loss really changes the dynamic between the lines (lets face it - whether its Eric Wright and Aquib Talib or EJ Biggers and Leonard Johnson in the secondary, the Bucs aren't going to stop the pass consistently), you have to wonder how much all the turmoil outside of One Buc Palace has been a distraction in preparation for this game.
Tampa Bay hasn't had a good history of playing well in California but at least has had a few extra days to rest up and breakdown film of the Raiders.
This won't be an easy road trip for the Bucs and the game may come down to whether or not the Bucs can slow down Carson Palmer and get enough production from their running game to give Josh and the receiving core a chance to make plays.
Right now, I have to go with Oakland. They're playing well, at home and the Bucs just have too many outside distractions to overcome.
Pick: Oakland 20, Tampa Bay 17