The 4-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to San Francisco to take on the 6-3 49ers and most expect this one to be one of the least competitive games of the week eleven NFL slate. The Bucs, however, might be in a position to surprise some people.
Here’s the thing about the NFL - any given Sunday a team can win against a better opponent. We literally see it every week of every season. So why can the Bucs win this one?
For starters, last year’s defeat is remembered for Brock Purdy out-performing Tom Brady in his homecoming. What gets lost is how banged up the Bucs were that week. Missing in action were Tristan Wirfs, Shaq Barrett, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Sean Murphy-Bunting while Vita Vea left four snaps into the game and Jamel Dean left a little bit later.
This defense, albeit inconsistent, isn’t filled with second and third stringers this time around. Neither is the offensive line that had a tough day protecting Brady against the 49ers’ pass rush.
Another thing that may play into the Bucs’ favor is that they have nothing to lose. If they drop to 4-6, they are far from out of the race for the NFC South crown - especially with four divisional games, including two against the Carolina Panthers, still to come as well as matchups with the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. They have one of the more favorable remaining schedules with only two teams - including the San Francisco 49ers - sitting above .500 at the moment.
The Bucs can go out and play with their hair on fire while Dave Canales can dump out his entire bag of tricks like a kid seeing his haul after trick-or-treating. They can leave everything out there with reckless abandon and it won’t torpedo this team’s playoff chances.
Finally, there’s the element of the trap game. Now, it’s not an exact science and the 49ers are probably one of the more unlikely teams to fall victim to it, but there’s no denying some players on that team might be looking a little ahead at what’s to come. After the Bucs, the 49ers get division rival Seattle on Thanksgiving in a game that weighs heavily in the NFC West race. Following that, an NFC Championship rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles before facing the Seattle Seahawks again which will be a must win for whichever team loses on Thanksgiving, so both teams will bring their “A” game. It’s not out of the question to think that some guys will get a little ahead of themselves with the “lowly” Bucs coming to town before that gauntlet stretch of games.
Oh, and for those of you that read my Pick Six on Monday, you’re already aware of the odd and inexplicable correlation between the Bucs and Bengals this season - so if that voodoo holds strong, the Bengals’ loss on Thursday is super bad news for the 49ers this week.
All that said, this is going to be far from easy. The Buccaneers have to be perfect - which means not shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. Lavonte David told Jim Rome this week that the Bucs have to be smart because the 49ers are one of the smartest teams in the league and in order to win, you have to be smarter. That hasn’t been Tampa Bay’s strong suit this season.
The Bucs need to put together the offense efficiency they had against the Houston Texans along with the defense we saw against the Titans and Saints in order to give themselves a chance - and honestly, we haven’t seen that level of complete game by the Bucs since 2021.
San Francisco leads the all-time series 19-7, having won four of the last six and holding a 13-3 record at home. The Bucs’ last win in San Francisco was in 2016 with their other two road victories coming in 2010 and 1980.
Mike Evans sits just 263 yards away from his record extending tenth consecutive 1,000 yard season to start his career and averages 71 yards per game in his four career matchups against the 49ers. His best performance came in 2018 when he had six receptions for 116 yards.
According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Bucs are 12-point road underdogs with an over/under of 41.5. The 49ers have won eleven of their last twelve at home while the Bucs have covered in their last four road games and six of their last seven overall have hit the under.
The Buccaneers and 49ers kick off at Levi Stadium Sunday at 4:05 p.m. on FOX. Joe Davis and Daryl Johnston will be on the call.