This has been said ad nauseam, but it’s worth repeating: If the Bucs win in Detroit, they are playoff bound for the first time since the 2007 season.
So, will they do it?
- All-time series: The Lions lead, 31-28.
- Longest win streak: Detroit won five in a row from 1994-1996.
- Largest margin of victory: Tampa Bay was crushed, 38-7, back in 1992.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs currently boast the league’s 17th-best offense (6th passing, 29th rushing) and the sixth-best defense (25th passing, 6th rushing). The Lions are 19th in total offense (9th passing, 30th rushing) and 30th in total defense (27th passing, 30th rushing).
What To Watch For
- COVID-19 contingency plan: Both teams have been affected by the Coronavirus, but the Lions are certainly in worse shape. The Bucs will be without Ronald Jones II, but the Lions will be without interim head coach/offensive coordinator and playcaller Darrell Bevell and four of their top defensive assistants. Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan will call the plays on offense while wide receivers coach Robert Prince will serve as the interim head coach in Bevell’s stead. This certainly sets up in Tampa Bay’s favor, but the unknown is never a good thing in the NFL.
- Tampa Bay’s passing attack: This seems basic, but Tom Brady and co. should light it up on Saturday. There are advantages to be had at all three levels of the Lions defense. There is no pass rush, there is poor linebacker play, and there are questions all around the secondary. It would be a big surprise if the Bucs can’t get anything done through the air this week.
- Marvin Jones Jr. vs. Tampa Bay’s secondary: I would just say, “vs. Carlton Davis III”, but we don’t know Davis’ status right now. If Davis doesn’t go, then it will likely be a combination of Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, and Ross Cockrell on Jones. Dean played well in his return last week, but SMB has been on the struggle bus. Nevertheless, someone has to contain Jones this week and it will be imperative they do so.
- T.J. Hockenson: Tampa Bay still can’t defend tight ends for whatever reason. Whether it be lapses in coverage, athletic mismatches, or whatever, the big guys always seem to find a way. Hayden Hurst was able to get into the end zone in Week 15 and Irv Smith Jr. made play after play in Week 14. Hockenson is fresh off a Pro Bowl nod, so don’t be surprised if he makes some noise on Saturday.
- The rise of Antoine Winfield Jr.: The rookie safety has made plays all year, but he’s made two crucial plays in two weeks that have really helped Tampa Bay win its games. Rookies are usually hitting the “rookie wall” at this point, but AWjr seems to be on the rise. He’ll be needed over these last two weeks, that’s for sure.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: This week is exactly why the Bucs brought in Brady. It’s time to secure a playoff berth.
- RB Leonard Fournette: It’s his show for the second straight week. Detroit can’t stop the run, so it’s a big opportunity for Fournette. Can he silence the doubters for at least a week?
- WR Antonio Brown: We saw the Brady-Brown connection at its peak against the Falcons and they should hook up for a couple of big plays this week.
- OLB Shaquil Barrett: The Lions may be without their starting tackles, which will bode well for Barrett. He should be able to increase his sack total during this game.
- MLB Devin White: How can he not be here after last week’s performance? He has his issues in coverage, but overall, White is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker who can blow up a play at any point in time.
- CB Sean Murphy-Bunting: If Carlton Davis III doesn’t go, then SMB will be relied on to play outside full-time. He has to play better. Bruce Arians even spoke about it earlier in the week. SMB played well in Detroit last year, so hopefully he finds his groove this week.
- QB Matthew Stafford: He probably shouldn’t be playing in this game, but nothing is going to keep him from playing if he can. The Bucs have to be on point when defending arguably the most underrated quarterback in the NFL.
- WR Marvin Jones Jr.: Sure, Kenny Golladay is out, but that doesn’t mean the Lions don’t have weapons in the receiving corps. Jones Jr. is a decent option and the Bucs will have to make sure he doesn’t get loose.
- TE T.J. Hockenson: For whatever reason, Tampa Bay hasn’t figured out how to defend tight ends over the last two years. Hockenson is a big, athletic tight end and he’s a mismatch for any team in the NFL. He’ll be a focal point of the offense this week.
- DE Romeo Okwara: It’s really hard to find brights spots on the Lions defense, but Okwara is one. He has 8.0 sacks on the year, so the Bucs need to make sure that he stays away from Brady as much as possible.
- OLB Jamie Collins: The veteran linebacker didn’t practice all week, but he’s listed as questionable so there’s a chance he could play. It’s a big deal whether he’s on or off the field.
- CB Mike Ford: He may not be a headline-grabber, but Ford currently has the best coverage grade on the team and it’s not even close.
The main scenario is also the most obvious one: If the Bucs win, then they are in the playoffs.
But Tampa Bay can still get in even if they lose. If the Bucs somehow manage to blow this game then they can still get into the postseason if the Bears lose to the Jaguars. While that’s not likely, anything is possible with Mitchell Trubisky at the helm.
Tampa Bay no longer has a shot at the division title since New Orleans beat Minneosta on Friday evening, but the Bucs can still improve their playoff seeding. If the Bucs win this weekend and the Seahawks lose/Rams win, then the Bucs would jump to the No. 5 seed based off common opponent tiebreaker with the Seahawks. Week 17’s tiebreaker (if the Hawks lose) will either come down to the conference record tiebreaker or common opponents.
If the Rams lose (and the Bucs win, of course), then the Bucs would jump to the No. 5 seed just based off the better record. The Rams would be 9-6 at that point while the Bucs would be 10-5. Tampa Bay would just need to avoid losing to Atlanta in Week 17 and it would lock up the fifth playoff spot.
Therefore, the games you really want to play attention to are the Bears-Jags and the Rams-Seahawks. Those two games will have the greatest impact on the Bucs’ playoff run pending the result of the Bucs-Lions matchup.
Can you feel it, folks? The Bucs are literally on the verge of officially making the playoffs.
Tampa Bay hasn’t controlled its destiny like this in a decade. The Bucs don’t need any outside help to get into the big dance. They just need to win. The last time this scenario existed at this point in the season was yep, you guessed it — the infamous 2010 matchup against the Detroit Lions.
But these are obviously two different teams and the Lions are currently in a position that’s never occurred in NFL history. It’s one thing to be down a ton of players coming into a game, but to be down to your interim-interim head coach and missing top coaching assistants is certainly new territory.
I wouldn’t expect a scare like we saw in Atlanta last week. I think this team knows what is at stake and it knows the opportunity at hand. Combine that with Brady at the helm and it’s almost like the Bucs can’t fail.
Get ready to party. The Bucs will be 10-5 and playoff-bound after this game.