The Bucs and Bears play on Sunday in London - a unique experience, except the Bucs already went through it in 2009. The venue doesn't matter much, though, as the best team will usually win. So which team will win on Sunday?
If you had asked me that question two weeks ago, I would have said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Today, I'm not so sure. Not because I think the Bucs have gotten worse or the Bears have gotten that much better, but because the Chicago Bears finally addressed the biggest problem on their team: pass protection.
Until last week, the Chicago Bears ran seven-step drop passes over and over again behind the worst offensive line in the NFL, while refusing to keep in extra blockers. Predictably, that led to lots of sacks and quarterback hits. Worse yet, it also emphasized Jay Cutler's worst trait as a quarterback: he throws off his back foot when under pressure, negating his incredible arm strength. Predictably, that leads to interceptions
And then last week rolled around, and suddenly the Bears started passing out of three-step drops. They started to keep in extra blockers on longer pass plays. They largely negated the Minnesota Vikings' pass rush through their scheme, while still having probably the worst offensive line in the league.
If the Bucs want to win, they need to remedy that problem. They need to figure out a way to get to Jay Cutler, or take advantage of the fact that the Bears are keeping in more players or running shorter pass plays. That means a big burden is going to fall on a Bucs secondary that hasn't been playing well this season. The return of Tanard Jackson seemed to spark them last week, though, so that may be the case again against the Bears.
And, of course, they need to stop Matt Forte from running all over them, which no team so far has really been able to do. Fortunately the Bucs seem to have fixed their run defense, which has put in very strong showings throughout the year. Except against the Vikings and 49ers.
On offense, the Bucs don't really have much to fear. The Chicago Bears has a reputation of being a fierce one, but it has fallen off this year. The Chicago defense is ranked just 22nd by Football Outsiders. Both their run defense and their pass defense are slightly below average, and they aren't outstanding at anything right now. The Bucs need to do what they did last week: feed Earnest Graham and have Josh Freeman work the middle of the field.
I'm going to predict a minor victory for the Bucs. 21-17. On defense, I expect Adrian Clayborn to really make an impact against J'Marcus Webb, while I can see this being a game Earnest Graham dominates on the ground.
So, who do you think will win, and what will be the final score?