For the second time, in as many weeks, the Buccaneers are taking the field facing a win-and-you’re-in scenario. Bucs' fans will be hoping the team's second attempt nets better results than their first.
Tampa Bay must claim victory in order to continue their season and here are some things that could, should, and will play out during the game—
Todd Bowles and Baker Mayfield could be playing for their futures.
The Buccaneers have some fairly large decisions looming in the offseason. None will be any bigger than what the organization plans to do with its two most prominent positions—Head coach and quarterback.
Todd Bowles has spent the better portion of his head coaching tenure with Tampa Bay on the hot seat. While Bowles had a fantastic run as the team's defensive coordinator, fans have never truly embraced him as the team's leading man.
Bowles has had respectable success in his first two years at the helm, but Tampa Bay fans point to Tom Brady and a weak NFC South as defining factors swaying things in Bowles' favor.
Baker Mayfield is the other pea, next to Bowles, sharing a pod. Mayfield's entire professional career has been marred by heavy scrutiny, this season has been no different. Tampa's passer bet on himself, taking a one-year prove-it deal, with a team that was slated go from cream of the crop to bottom of the barrel.
Mayfield has played well this season, both he and the Buccaneers (in large lart due to his play) have exceeded expectations, however, if Mayfield can't get the Buccaneers a win in this game there is a chance that this will be his last game as a true starter in the NFL. At the very least, a loss may force him to remain on the hamster wheel of lower-tier starting quarterbacks, constantly rotating through teams, competing against younger prospects for the right to be on the field. Even having posted very good numbers this season, Baker Mayfield has not appeared to have gained enough traction league-wide to walk into another team's training camp as the unquestioned starter. In Tampa Bay, if he is brought back, Mayfield will have no competition for his job. He will step on the field and be able to play with a team that is trying to build around him and his skill set.
Both Mayfield and Bowles may very well be safe in their jobs regardless of Sunday's outcome, but the two are potentially preparing to have a single game decide their careers, not just in Tampa Bay, but as a head coach and starting quarterback in the NFL.
The Buccaneers should focus on what got them here.
It is very easy to look at Baker Mayfield’s stats over the last month of the season, the weapons the Buccaneers have at the receiver position, and fall in the love with Tampa's passing game. The Buccaneers are very capable of winning games through the air, they have the personelle and they’ve shown that that ability is in their arsenal. As great as their passing game can be, it’s actually Rachaad White— Tampa Bay’s running back, who is engine of their offense.
Rachaad White has 915 yards rushing on the season and six scores. Since Thanksgiving, which encompasses the entirety of Tampa Bay’s four-game win-streak, White put up his best numbers of the season. Starting on November 26th against the Indianapolis Colts, the Bucs have played six games. In four of those six games, Rachaad White has had more than 80 yards rushing and averaged over four yards per carry. Prior to that stretch, White had no games over 80 yards and just two games where he totaled more than 70. The Buccaneers should lean on White this week and moving forward into the playoffs (should they make it). It is Tampa's run game and Rachaad White that open up the field for the rest of team's weapons.
The game will be surprisingly close or it will be a blowout.
There will be no middle ground for Sunday's outcome— Bucs win big or the game turns into a nail-biter. On paper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should walk through the Carolina Panthers. The two teams are franchises heading in polar opposite directions. Even with the records being what they are, the game has the potential to be closer than the team's seasons would indicate. The Buccaneers played the Panthers a few weeks ago and while they did win, the game was decided by just three points. It's undeniable that weather and field conditions did play a role in that outcome, however, even if conditions are pristine the Buccaneers will be playing a divisional opponent.
Divisional games, more so than others, tend to be closer battles. Everything will be out in the open. The Bucs will enter the game needing a win for the postseason and the Panthers will know that.
For Carolina, their motivation will be most likely coming from one of two avenues. Let's just get this long, drawn-out, horrible season over with or let's play spoiler. No matter who's lining up across from them, the Buccaneers' motivation will remain consistent. They are playing for themselves— Tampa needs to win to keep their season alive. The Panthers' motivation is much more flexible and will be the determinant of how the game plays out. If Carolina takes the field enticed to steal a victory from Tampa Bay, the game flow will be vastly different than if Carolina is already thinking about the offseason.
Do you agree with our list? Do you disagree? What are some things you think could, should, and will happen this week?
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