It All Begins Again: Buccaneers vs. Ravens Preview

It’s week six, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are finally coming home after a rough three week stretch on the road. While the victory against Pittsburgh was a huge step in the progression of the team, most of what will be remembered about these three road games is the curb stomping at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa’s penalty suicide in New Orleans. The Buccaneers are 1-4 for the season and 0-3 against NFC South opponents. Despite all of this, the team has looked better and better as the games progressed.

Last week was, in the end, a failure. However, the Bucs finally started to look like a team that could get things done on both sides of the ball. After a rough start against tough opponents, the next several weeks could make a huge difference for the Buccaneers’ season. This week, the Bucs come home to face the Baltimore Ravens. Following a bye in week seven, the Bucs get the struggling Vikings at home, the broken Browns on the road, the progressively confusing Falcons at home, and finally, the entirely inconsistent Redskins on the road.

Every single one of those games is a potential win. Those games alone won’t get us into the playoffs, but going to Chicago in week 12 against Lovie’s former team at 6-4 with a five-game winning streak could look very respectable for a team that started the season 1-4. The momentum of entering a bye week on a home win, combined with time for many injured Buccaneers to finish healing, can make a huge impact on the way this season turns out.

All of that starts this week. Any chance at that takes place in Raymond James Stadium this Sunday. I am always hesitant to call anything outside of the last one or two games of the season a “must-win,” but this is easily a “really-need-to-win” for the Buccaneers. A victory against the Ravens is completely within reach, as they’re currently looking quite a bit like the Steelers that couldn’t get it done against the Buccaneers a few weeks ago.

The Ravens haven’t performed well on the road this season. They barely got the job done against Cleveland in week three, but their inconsistency wasn’t enough to finish last Sunday against the Colts that used to call Baltimore home. The Ravens are struggling with injuries on the defensive side of the ball, including yet another huge blow in losing cornerback Asa Jackson to injured reserve following the loss to Indianapolis.

With veteran Terrell Suggs playing hurt as well, the Ravens’ defense has been highlighted by the play of youth such as Courtney Upshaw settling into his third season at only 24 years of age. Most noticeable has been the impressive play of rookie CJ Mosley, who pundits seem to have already deemed the second coming of Ray Rice. Mosley has played well, but he can’t support the defense on his own with so many other commodities missing.

Interim-playcaller Marcus Arroyo will be looking to exploit the holes in the Ravens’ secondary. Mike Glennon’s recent success with Louis Murphy should continue, but the potential return of rookie Mike Evans could help lessen the burden on veteran Vincent Jackson who has struggled while playing hurt. Rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has made little impacts this season, but he has a huge opportunity to disrupt the battered Ravens defense.

Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey will have their hands full against a run defense that even kept the Steelers’ dynamic duo of Blount and Bell at bay in week two, but plenty of injuries have happened since then. The defense needs to be exploited, but the Ravens’ offense is progressively finding their new identity. Joe Flacco is making shorter and shorter passes, which is bad news considering the success that tight ends Jimmy Graham and Heath Miller have had against Tampa Bay.

The good news is that the Ravens have had trouble converting third and fourth downs. If they stay consistent, the Bucs can contain the run. With continued improvement, less penalties, and another epic performance by Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Alterraun Verner, Baltimore will have to leave the Sunshine State with their heads held low. If the Bucs play like they’ve shown themselves capable of, don’t be surprised if Steve Smith Sr. joins the AFC North Crybaby Club of which Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown is the chairman.

Prediction: 23-13, Bucs win