The Buccaneers have a golden opportunity in front of them when they travel to Detroit to take on the Lions in the divisional round. In order for the Bucs to win that game and move on to the NFC championship game though, they will need the player at the most important position in football to step up.
This week’s X-factor is quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Now before we begin, this is not about him needing to play better than he did last week. He was awesome against Philly and his day would have been even better had it not been for seven drops by Tampa Bay receivers.
Mayfield doesn’t have to play better than he did last week, but he needs to be better than he was the first time these two teams met.
Back in week six, the Bucs fell to this Lions team 20-6 in a game where the Bucs offense failed to score a touchdown. In that game, Mayfield went 19/37 for 206 yards, no touchdowns and one interception on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. That stat line is not a great one, but it is also not awful. It isn’t until you turn on the tape that it is clear Mayfield was simply not good enough.
He missed many throws in that game, particularly ones down the field where Detroit’s defense can certainly be beaten. Rookie receiver Trey Palmer repeatedly got past the Lions’ secondary only for the throw to be just off or not thrown at all.
Now that was week six. The Bucs were still trying to find themselves as an offense and Mayfield was still adjusting to a brand new situation. Tampa Bay’s offense is much improved heading into this contest and Mayfield’s recent play has been a big reason for the turnaround.
The Lions run defense is very stout, allowing just 88.8 yards per game on the ground in the regular season, which ranked second best in the entire league. However as good as their run defense has been, they have struggled to defend the pass. They allowed 247.4 yards through the air in the regular season which was the sixth worst in the NFL. Tampa Bay needs to play to their strengths and attack this defense through the air, but it would be pretty difficult to overcome if Mayfield were to struggle like he did in week six.
This game should be a good one between two teams that have not had much long term success in the NFL. I’m not sure many before the season would have had the Bucs facing the Lions for the chance to go to the NFC title game but here we are.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tampa Bay can win this game but in order to do so, they will need their quarterback to step up and make some big throws throughout this one.