This Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. The Bucs defense, which has been on a roll over the past three weeks, faces one of the most prolific passing offenses in the NFL — one crippled by a tendency to turn the ball over, but still.
A few weeks ago, that would have been a real problem for the Bucs defense, which has been incredibly inconsistent this season. A few blowout losses, most notably to the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, as well as a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in which they gave up a whopping 37 points seemed a pretty good indication that the Tampa Bay defense is still lackluster at best.
Instead, the Bucs defense has buckled down. The defense gave up fewer than 20 points in three consecutive games, and allowed just three points against the Seattle Seahawks last week (the Seahawks also scored two points on a safety). That seeming improvement will really be put to the test against the Chargers, but even more so the rest of the season.
The Bucs’ schedule over the final month is absolutely grueling, at least for the defense. The Chargers may have the worst offense they’re going to face this season. Football Outsiders ranks their offense 16th overall, one spot ahead of the Bucs offense.
Next week the Bucs face the New Orleans Saints, the fourth-best offense by Football Outsiders’ metrics, and they also face the Saints in week 15. In between, they take on the Dallas Cowboys — Football Outsiders’ best offense.
There’s only one bit of respite, and even that won’t be a great comfort to the Bucs defense: Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers come to Tampa on New Year’s Day. That offense ranks just 19th, but Newton is never an easy out, especially in the division.
In other words: the Bucs defense is going to face some really tough tests. If the Bucs make it to the playoffs, it won’t have been a coincidence. They’ll have earned it by beating some of the best offenses and best teams in the NFL. Here’s to hoping they’ve improved to the point where they can actually do that.