Greg Schiano is fighting for his life as an NFL coach. A win tomorrow would almost certainly guarantee his return in 2014. Beating the dominant San Francisco 49ers would guarantee a 5-11 record or better, and it would mean that the Bucs would at least have beaten one very good team. Even if they were to lose their last two games, Schiano could make a solid argument that he should return in 2014.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are waiting to finally secure a playoff spot. The division is almost certainly out of reach, but they can jump ahead of the Panthers in seed order and they have yet to fully secure their playoff spot. This should be a tough game between two teams that have a lot to play for. So how do these teams match up?
Buccaneers running game vs. 49ers run defense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to have to win this battle if they're going to win this game. They can't afford to become a pass-first team against San Francisco's defense, which is stellar against the pass but just average against the run. Unfortunately, the Bucs have struggled to consistently run the ball in recent weeks even against the middling Buffalo Bills last week, one 80-yard run being the only real positive in that game.
Still, the 49ers have not managed many games in which they forced teams to abandon the run by virtue of the score differential, and they've allowed over 80 rushing yards in each of their past six games. That's about as good of a matchup the Bucs are going to get the remainder of this year, and trying to run on San Francisco should be relatively doable. The question is simply whether Jamon Meredith and Davin Joseph can get some kind of movement against San Francisco's front seven. That is going to be easier said than done, however.
49ers running game vs. Buccaneers run defense
One year ago, this would have been a matchup between one of the NFL's best running games and one of its best run defenses. This year, we can say no such thing. The Bucs still have a pretty good run defense despite a few games where they lost all ability to tackle opposing running backs, but San Francisco's running game is just middling at this point.
The Bucs' run defense isn't quite the shutdown unit it was last year, but it has had some outstanding games -- alternated with some terrible ones. The worst outing probably came two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers, as the Panthers used every trick in the book and a very varied repertoire of runs to pound the Bucs into submission. The 49ers have some of the talent and play design to do similar things, but they haven't been very successful this year. Part of that is due to an injured and under-performing offensive line, one that should struggle against Gerald McCoy and company.
Buccaneers passing game vs. 49ers pass defense
Is Mike Glennon or isn't he the answer at quarterback? Many, many debates rage and the answer is simply that we don't know. We do know this, though: Glennon has struggled the past two games and is facing a very, very tough pass defense that hasn't allowed 300 yards passing since week one. A simple point of fact is that the Bucs' passing game is not very good right now, and the 49ers' pass defense is.
That doesn't mean the Bucs have no hopes of succeeding on Sunday. A few big plays can be enough to do damage against any defense, as we saw last week against the Bills. Since Glennon has learned to throw his deep balls between the thick white lines, Vincent Jackson has come down with a lot of contested catches. Producing a few of those could be enough to take home the win tomorrow.
49ers passing vs. Buccaneers pass defense
This should be the interesting part of tomorrow's matchup: strength against strength, especially so with Michael Crabtree ready to play. Much has been made of Colin Kaepernick's failings this year, and yet their passing offense is still ranked sixth in the NFL per Football Outsiders' numbers.
The Bucs are no slouches, though, especially in recent weeks as they've managed to resurrect a faltering pass rush and coverage busts have become a little less frequent. While it's still anyone's guess how the Bucs will play on any given Sunday, they've been consistent in one thing: producing turnovers. They lead the league in turnovers and interceptions forced, and have failed to produce any in only one game this season.
That should help the Bucs stop a 49ers offense that has produced 18 turnovers this year, although they've thrown only 8 interceptions. Hopefully Dashon Goldson's advice will help Kaepernick throw a few more tomorrow.
Final score prediction: 49ers 23, Buccaneers 17