CIRCLE THE WAGONS; THE BUCS ARE COMING!
It’s Week 14, and the 9-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rolling out the red carpet to welcome the 7-5 Buffalo Bills into Raymond James Stadium. This one is BIG. This one has a “playoff feel” to it. This one is going to tell us how serious the Bucs are about making another run at a Super Bowl.
After losing to the Steelers in Week 1, the Bills won four straight games — including a 38-20 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City. They looked like they were going to be serious contenders this season, then the wheels started coming off. A loss to the Titans, then a 9-6 loss at the Jaguars two weeks later, then a 41-15 loss at home to the Colts two weeks; then the 14-10 loss to the Patriots last week. They haven’t won back-to-back games since Week 5. They’re not looking much like “contenders” anymore, but don’t treat them like “pretenders” either. This team is for real. They have a dangerous offense and one of the best defenses in the league. They can do some damage IF you let them; they can be beaten. It’s been done five times this season by all different types of teams. Four of the five losses came from teams that are in the playoff hunt (Steelers, Titans, Colts, Patriots). That other loss came from the 2-10 Jags; it can be done. So let’s dive into these Bills to see what the Bucs are up against this Sunday.
The Bills are 9th in total offense averaging 376 yards per game, 259 yards passing (8th), and 117 rushing yards (13th) while averaging 28 points per game (5th). Quarterback Josh Allen is in his fourth season and has 3,216 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, completing 66% of his passes. He’s also the Bills’ second-leading rusher with 422 yards. His favorite target is definitely Stefon Diggs, who leads the team with 898 yards and 7 touchdowns, but you can’t forget about Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley either. They also have two pretty decent young running backs in Devin Singletary, who leads the team in rushing yards, and Zack Moss, who leads the team in rushing touchdowns. This team can put up points. They have scored 30+ points in seven of their thirteen games this season. The Bucs defense should be able to make this Bills team one-dimensional by shutting down their run game. Luckily for Tampa, they have Carlton Davis back, and it looks as though they could have Richard Sherman AND Jamel Dean back for this game. It’s a good thing, too, because they’ll need all hands on deck for this Bills passing attack.
Buffalo’s defense is no slouch either. This unit is only giving up 272 total yards (1st) and 16 points per game (2nd). They are 1st in pass defense, giving up just 165 yards through the air. They are 12th in run defense, allowing 107 rushing yards per game — so that could potentially be an area the Bucs can exploit. Two of the NFL’s top five highest single-game rush attempts have come against Buffalo this season: the Colts and Patriots both ran the ball 46 times, gaining 266 and 222 yards, respectively. And the Titans averaged 6.6 yards per carry AND scored four rushing touchdowns against the Bills.
The Bills have only allowed eight receiving touchdowns this season, a league-low, and just three to wide receivers; however, of the 12 games they’ve played, they have only faced one team that was in the top ten of the league in passing and five games have been against backup quarterbacks. When you take those five games out, they’re only 2-5 against starting QB’s this season.
This defense has battled inconsistencies all year. They allowed 34 points to Tennessee and 41 points to the Colts, but they’ve also pitched two shutouts against the Dolphins and Texans and held the Dolphins to 11 in their second meeting, the Jaguars to 9 and the Saints to 6 points: this is telling me that Buffalo’s defense doesn’t handle good offenses very well. So even though they may be ranked high in most defensive statistical categories, it might all be smoke and mirrors.
WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT
The Bucs are starting to get healthy at just the right time. Carlton Davis returned to the secondary last week, and they could get Richard Sherman back this week. Jamel Dean has been in concussion protocol, but it looks like he could be cleared to play in this game. The only Bucs player officially ruled “out” is Jordan Whitehead with his calf injury. Antonio Brown and Mike Edwards are serving the second game of their 3-game suspensions for violating COVID-19 protocols, so it looks like Antoine Winfield Jr. and Andrew Adams will be the starting safeties on Sunday with Ross Cockrell and maybe Richard Sherman serving as backups. Will Gholston and Ryan Jensen are listed as “questionable“, but both practiced on Friday, and both should play.
The Bills have two players officially listed as “out” for this game. Starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and tight end Tommy Sweeney will not play. They also have two players listed as “questionable” including starting fullback Reggie Gilliam and backup defensive end Efe Obada.
Donovan Smith vs Mario Addison
It seems like I have Smith in here every week, but protecting the blindside of the GOAT will have that effect. Addison leads the Bills with 4 sacks this season, which isn’t too impressive, so Smith should be able to handle him without any problems.
Devin White vs. Josh Allen
The Bucs d-line should be able to contain the Bills’ run game, but the responsibility of keeping Josh Allen from running wild could fall on White. He may be called upon to spy on the mobile QB to make sure he doesn’t do too much damage with his legs.
Carlton Davis vs. Stefon Diggs
Diggs is the Bills’ #1 receiver. Davis is the Bucs #1 corner. Usually, Todd Bowles has his corners play sides of the field instead of matching up, but when these two do face up, it should be fun to watch.
Mike Evans vs. Levi Wallace
The Bills supposedly have the best passing defense in the league. The Bucs receiving corps will put that to the test. Wallace leads the Bills with 8 passes defended, but only has 2 interceptions. If he is matched up with Evans, it will be his toughest test of the year.
Tom Brady vs. Jordan Poyer & Micah Hyde
Poyer (5) and Hyde (3) lead the Bills in interceptions from their starting safety positions. It will be on Brady to use his veteran experience to manipulate these guys away from where he’s going with the football. Both of those guys are smart ballhawks, but Brady is the GOAT. It will be a fun chess match to keep an eye on throughout this game.
This Bills team has been up and down all season. Both the offense AND defense have been inconsistent this year, leaving many people wondering if this team is for real or not. They have the talent. Now it’s just a question of whether they can bring it together and win a game versus a quality opponent. The only team they have beaten this season with a winning record is the Chiefs in Week 5 when Kansas City was struggling to “find themselves“. Other than that, they have lost to every “playoff caliber” team they have faced this season.
This is a game where the Bucs and Bills each have the opportunity to prove whether they are real “contenders” or just “pretenders“. The Bucs are 5-0 at home with an average margin of victory of almost 22 points per game. The Bills are 4-2 on the road with wins against the Dolphins (6-7), Jags (2-10), Jets (3-9), and Saints (5-7). This is being billed as a “clash of the titans“, but I’m not sure it will live up to it. Tom Brady is 32-3 in his career against the Bills. I know all of that was with the Patriots, but that does come into play with his confidence going against them and their psyche playing against him. This game, like most of them, will come down to which team takes care of the football better. Both teams are in the top six of the NFL in turnover differential, with Buffalo being +9 and Tampa Bay being +8 in that department. I think the Bucs make fewer mistakes and win in dominant fashion.
SCORE: Bucs 34 Bills 20
Maybe I’m a little biased. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s because I’ll be at the game and don’t want to walk out of Raymond James Stadium a lower for the first time this season. But I do feel like the Bucs are the better team. I feel like the Bucs are playing better football right now. I feel like the Bucs are better coached. And I feel like the Bucs have that Super Bowl hunger back that they were missing earlier this season. This game will be the true test of where they are at as a team.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!