IT’S A BATTLE OF THE BAYS!
This is it. This is where it starts. This is the game where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can get themselves back into the possible Super Bowl contender conversation. This afternoon, in Levi’s Stadium, in San Francisco against one of the better teams in the NFC is where it can happen. The Bucs have struggled this season. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions for Bucs fans. The team has shown flashes of what it could be in certain games, but they haven’t been able to keep anything going consistently. They also haven’t been able to put it all together for a full 60-minutes yet this year. Now they’re at the fork in the road for this season. This is where they decide which direction this season is going to go. They can either get their shit together and play a complete game in all three phases to beat a quality opponent on the road. Or they can continue to play mediocre football and lose another one to fall below .500 yet again. It’s up to them.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (8-4)
After starting 3-4 this season, the San Francisco 49ers have won five straight games including an impressive 33-17 win against the 8-4 Miami Dolphins last week. Jimmy Garoppolo is out, which means rookie quarterback Brock Purdy will be leading the Niners 10th ranked offense averaging 358 total yards and 24 points per game. Their passing offense (11th) averages 234 yards per game, while their rushing offense (14th) averages 124 yards on the ground per game. Christian McCaffrey is now their leading rusher with 307 yards and 2 touchdowns, while averaging 4.1 yards per carry since joining the team in Week 7. He’s also added 33 catches for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns in the passing game. Their leading receiver is Brandon Aiyuk with 56 catches for 698 yards and 6 touchdowns, but they also have two other dangerous downfield weapons in Deebo Samuel (50/569/2) and George Kittle (38/472/4). The addition of McCaffrey to this offense has made them an instant contender and it’s led to a 5-1 record since that trade.
Their defense is even better, ranked 1st in the league allowing just 284 total yards and 16 points per game. Their 12th ranked pass defense is giving up just 208 yards through the air, while their top ranked run defense is allowing just 76 yards on the ground per game. They have allowed just 7 points in the second half of games TOTAL over the last 5 weeks outscoring opponents 73-7 in those games. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw leads the team in tackles (88) with linebacker Fred Warner (83) just behind him. Defensive end Nick Bosa leads the team in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (15) with the next closest player being defensive end Charles Omenihu (4). Linebacker Fred Warner actually leads the team in passes defensed (10) with cornerback Charvarius Ward (9) just behind him. Safety Talanoa Hufanga leads them in interceptions (4).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : TE George Kittle
He’s a key part of the Niners success on offense and one of the best tight ends in the game today. He’s got 38 catches on 58 targets this season for 472 yards and 4 touchdowns while averaging more than 12 yards per catch. He’s one of those players that defenses have to be aware of every time he’s on the field.
DEFENSE : DE Nick Bosa
He’s been an absolute game-wrecker this season leading the team in sacks (14.5), QB pressures (62) and tackles for loss (15). The guy lives in the opponents backfield and wreaks havoc on anyone back there. ProFootballFocus.com has him rated at 89.9 this season, which is one of the highest ratings in the league. He is going to be a tough matchup for both of Tampa Bay’s offensive tackles this afternoon, so they both need to bring their A-game today.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-6)
The Bucs are back to .500 after their thrilling last second win against the Saints last week. Hopefully, they are still riding that high and can build on that by adding a big conference road win today. Tom Brady has continued his up and down season totaling 3,332 yards, 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while completing 66% of his passes. He leads an offense that now ranks 17th averaging 340 total yards and 18 points per game. Their 5th ranked passing offense averages 267 yards in the air, while their bottom ranked run game averages just 73 yards on the ground. Leonard Fournette still leads the team with 511 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, while adding 49 catches for 347 yards and another 3 touchdowns in the passing game. Mike Evans still leads the team with 55 catches for 761 yards, but he only has 3 touchdowns this season which is far below his standard.
Their 8th ranked defense is allowing just 314 total yards and 18 points per game. The 7th ranked pass defense is giving up just 195 yards per game through the air, while the once top five run defense, now 18th ranked is allowing 118 yards per game on the ground. This defense is in the midst of one of the worst turnover droughts in NFL history forcing just 11 through 12 games. That’s the lowest total through 12 games by any team in the franchise’s 47-year history. They’ve also forced just 2 turnovers in the last 8 games. Only one other team in the Super Bowl era has forced less in that kind of span and that’s the Rams in Weeks 3-10 this season. They have to do better. Linebackers Devin White (94) and Lavonte David (90) lead the team in tackles. Defensive tackle Vita Vea still leads the team in sacks (6.5), but they have six other players with 3+ sacks this season. Devin White leads the team in tackles for loss (8) with Vita Vea (7) just behind him, but they also have eight other players with 4+ tackles for loss this season. Cornerback Jamel Dean is tied for the team lead in passes defensed (7) with cornerback Carlton Davis III and Dean is also tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) with safety Mike Edwards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : LT Donovan Smith
He’s having one of the worst seasons of his career and he’s coming off of two straight terrible performances against the Browns and Saints. The way that he responds in this game is extremely important. He could either fold under the pressure OR he could rise to the challenge. He could be matched up with one of the best in the game in Nick Bosa today , so we’ll see what he’s really made of this afternoon.
DEFENSE : LB Lavonte David
He’s going to find himself matched up with either tight end George Kittle or running back Christian McCaffrey a bunch today. That’s not an easy assignment for any defensive player, but if there’s a linebacker in the league that can handle it, it’s David.
1. Donovan Smith vs Nick Bosa
I’ve touched on it already, but I’ll touch on it again and again because it’s a big one. Smith stated in an interview earlier this week that he’s been going through some “personal stuff” this season and that’s why he hasn’t played well. I call bullshit. He’s never been a dominant left tackle. The problem is that he’s always had Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet by his side to help him out up until this season. Now he doesn’t and it’s left him on an island all by himself where he’s been getting owned week in and week out. He needs to stop making excuses and start stepping his game up. What better game to start doing that than this one against one of the most dominant edge rushers in football right now?
2. Lavonte David vs George Kittle
David is better in coverage than Devin White, so he will likely be matched up with Kittle on pass reps. This is one of those best-on-best matchups that’s always fun to watch. Kittle can be a game-breaker if you let him, so whether it’s David or whoever is playing nickel safety this week they need to keep him from breaking out for big plays.
3. Devin White vs Christian McCaffrey
The Bucs always did a pretty good job defending McCaffrey when he was with the Carolina Panthers, so I expect them to continue that trend today. White will probably be given the responsibility of shadowing him wherever he goes and will be a big part of keeping him under control.
Believe it or not, the Bucs don’t have anyone officially “OUT” for this game. At least not yet. They do however have three players listed as “DOUBTFUL” including right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle), safety Mike Edwards (hamstring) and Antoine Winfield Jr (ankle). They also have three players listed as “QUESTIONABLE” in running back Leonard Fournette (foot), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (foot) and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad). One more injury note for this game, linebacker KJ Britt was eligible to return from IR and he has been activated for this game.
San Francisco has three players officially “OUT” for this game in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (foot), defensive back Tarvarius Moore (knee) and defensive lineman Hasaan Ridgeway (pectoral). The only other player listed on their final injury report is defensive end Nick Bosa (hamstring) who is “QUESTIONABLE“, but will likely play.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. STOP McCAFFREY!
The Niners have game-changers all over the place on both sides of the ball and McCaffrey is one of those players on offense. With the exception of a couple games this season, the Bucs defense has been pretty solid at stopping the run. If they can do it today, then they’ll force rookie QB Brock Purdy to win this game with his arm. Purdy is just 22-years old, which is one less year than Tom Brady has been in the league (23 seasons). If the Niners are forced to drop back and pass, then look for Todd Bowles to unleash some of his elaborate blitz schemes to try and confuse the young quarterback into some much needed turnovers.
2. STOP KITTLE!
Like I said before, Kittle is a game-breaker. He can break off big plays at any time if you let him. The Bucs haven’t been great at defending tight ends, but they’ll need to put the clamps on one of the best in the game today to keep that offense from scoring points.
3. STOP BOSA!
I’m not even sure if that’s possible, especially with Donovan Smith and Josh Wells as tackles today. If they can just keep him from killing Tom Brady today that would be great. I hope that the Bucs have a game plan to help block the edges today, whether it’s with extra linemen, tight ends or just the running backs chipping. They’ll have to do something to keep that monster from destroying any hopes of winning this game.
ODDS & ENDS
Bucs +3.5/49ers -3.5 and the Over/Under is 37 points
WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH
WHEN : Sunday, December 11th @ 4:25 pm ET
WHERE : Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, California
TV : FOX
RADIO : 98 Rock / 97.9 FM
Low 50’s at kickoff with a 50% chance of rain and winds from the SW at 11mph
Like I said last week, I’m not giving the Buccaneers more than 17 points again until they can start scoring more than that on a consistent basis. I think this could end up being a similar score as the Saints game, so I’ll go with that. The offense and defense does just enough in this one to keep it close and pull out a HUGE upset on the west coast. Bucs win.
Bucs 17 49ers 16
THE WRAP UP
This is a big game for the Buccaneers. This is where they can show the rest of the league that they belong in the conversation at least with the other NFC playoff teams. Right now, they’re just an underachieving, average team leading the worst division in football who could make the playoffs by default. A loss today would simply solidify that. However, a win today could potentially put them back into that conversation. They started this season as heavy Super Bowl favorites. That talk was over and done with by Week 7 after two straight losses to the Steelers and Panthers. Those talks could start back with a good showing against the Niners. Especially if the Bucs offense can make some noise against San Francisco’s #1 ranked defense.
This is somewhat of a homecoming for Tom Brady. He is from California. He grew up a 49ers fan. He idolized Joe Montana. This is just the second time he’s played in San Francisco as a professional. He wants this win. He wants to play well today. I expect him to be more focused this week than he has been all season. The Bucs need him to be “that guy” today. They need him to be “The GOAT” today. They need him to be the Tom Brady of 2020 and 2021 instead of this 2022 version that we’ve been seeing all season. Sure he’s had flashes of greatness here and there this year, but the consistency hasn’t been there. It hasn’t been there for the entire offense. It really hasn’t been there for this entire team this year. That could all change today. I thought the game-winning drive against the Rams was going to be the turning point for them. It wasn’t. I thought the win over the Seahawks in Germany would be the turning point for them. It wasn’t. Now I’m hoping the game-winning drive against the Saints will be the turning point for this season. We’ll know in about 8 hours if it was or not.
So now that you know everything you need to know about the Bucs Week 14 matchup, there’s only one thing left to say.