Who had this one on their pre-season bingo card? Two of the losingest francshises in NFL history fighting it out for the right to go to the NFC Championship next week and the game is being played in Detroit. If you say you did, I’ll call mularkey right now.
A second postseason game, a second regular season rematch for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the chance to get revenge for a loss suffered earlier in the year. Ironically enough, they fell to the Eagles in week four by 14 points. Against the Detroit Lions in week six? Also lost by 14 points.
This is a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers team than the Lions saw earlier in the year. This is a team that has really found their identity on the offensive side of the ball and while the Lions kick-started a streak where the Bucs lost six of seven, that team bounced back and have now won six of seven. In the playoffs, both of these teams are 1-0 and the entire landscape is different.
One thing that’s worth thinking about is the level of experience these teams have in this situation. The Detroit Lions don’t have a whole lot of playoff experience on their roster or coaching staff - and while that didn’t play into last week much, the emotions did. Can the Lions match that level of intensity and emotion two weeks in a row? Maybe, or maybe they come out a little flat and fall behind the 8-ball early on the way the Eagles did.
The Bucs, on the other hand, have not just playoff experience but Super Bowl experience on their roster. No, they don’t have Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski anymore - but the core leadership of this team all hoisted a Lombardi Trophy in the not too distant past. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Tristan Wirfs, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield Jr., Devin White, Vita Vea - the captains of this team know what it takes to win at this stage of the postseason and they all have a very bitter taste in their mouths about the way their last divisional round game went.
So does Baker Mayfield, for that matter. In the divisional round against the Kansas City Chiefs just a few years ago, the Mayfield led Cleveland Browns nearly pulled off the upset if not for some questionable officiating down the stretch. Who knows if it would have been Baker and the Browns that the Bucs would have met up with in Super Bowl LV if they get through that game.
Now, it’s the time for the Bucs to relish the role they’ve played from the start of the off-season - the underdog. That’s the realm where Mayfield thrives and what sparked the resurgence of the roster to finish strong and win their third straight division. This team was written off before the season even started then were declared dead by Thanksgiving. Now they’re one of eight teams still standing.
If the Bucs are going to win this one, they can’t attack Jared Goff the way they went after Jalen Hurts on Monday. Goff has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league against the blitz and under pressure, so Todd Bowles is going to have to figure out a different approach to coax him into mistakes and allow the playmakers on his defense to take advantage.
Offensively, Mike Evans has to get back to being Mike Evans. Over the last month, the Lions have allowed an average of 185.25 yards and a touchdown per game to opposing team’s number one receiver. Justin Jefferson had 141 yards and a touchdown then 192 yards and a touchdown, CeeDee Lamb went for 227 and a touchdown, then last week Puka Nakua went for 181 yards and a touchdown in the wild card round. There are yards and points being given up in bunches by this Lions secondary if the Bucs can get Mayfield enough time in the pocket to take advantage.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buccaneers are 6.5-point road underdogs against the Lions with an over/under of 49.5. The Lions have won seven of their last eight home games while the Bucs have won four straight games as underdogs. The Bucs have also covered the spread in eight of their last nine road games and the Bucs’ last four games have all hit the under.
The Buccaneers travel to Ford Field to take on the Lions Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET. The game will be on NBC and Peacock with Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call.