It’s now December in the NFL. That means that seasons can be made or broken in this singular month. The Buccaneers leave home to play the first of their final two road games of the year. They’ll travel to Ford Field, the same location where the Chicago Bears (that defeated the Bucs in week twelve) were handed a tough division loss. The Buccaneers enter at 2-10, and at this point Lovie Smith and company are looking mainly to salvage dignity. The Detroit Lions control their playoff destiny at 8-4, and a win on Sunday will be critical for them.
Lovie Smith said this week, “It’s not a football season to me without having to deal with Calvin Johnson.” This focuses on the side of the ball the Buccaneers may actually be able to deal with. The Buccaneers defense played well against the Bengals despite being without both Lavonte David and Major Wright. Wright was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and looks to be ready to return from a shoulder injury. David is still nursing a hamstring injury, but was a limited participant in practice Wednesday.
If the defense continues to play at the level they did last week and has David and Wright back on top of that, the Lions could be in for quite the headache. While Calvin Johnson will a huge threat, he may not be the biggest receiving threat to worry about. Since Johnson missed most of October due to injury, the Lions’ current leading receiver is Golden Tate (formerly of the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks). If at any point the Bucs secondary gets too worried about Calvin Johnson, Tate will be poised to strike.
The defensive front will have to get pressure on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in order to assist that, but defending the run will be critical. The Lions rushing attack is headed by running back Joique Bell. Contrary to the dual-threat presented by the Bengals in Week 13, the Bucs need only focus on Bell. Bell had 91 rushing yards against Chicago and managed two touchdowns on the ground. Containing Bell, especially in the redzone, will be critical to a defensive success for the Buccaneers.
If the Bucs special teams plays like it did last week, it won’t have any issues. It may even be bolstered by the reacquisition of returner Solomon Patton. With that under control, it all comes down to offense. I have no problem believing that the Buccaneers could hold the Detroit Lions to only 10 points. However, it’d be a bit much to expect them to also score two touchdowns along the way. The offense will have to show up in Detroit, and it starts at the woeful offensive line.
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith was a full participant on Wednesday and appears to be returning from the illness that kept him out of the game against the Bengals. While this will hopefully keep Garrett Gilkey off the field, a significant improvement, it’ll take more for the line to hold. Most importantly, they can’t continue to lose more yards via penalties than the team gains in rushing yards. Josh McCown has had some bad moments, but a hair of protection could do wonders in allowing him to effectively utilize his weapons.
It’s unclear whether the Buccaneers will have a tight end back or if Cameron Brate will continue on, but either way production has to happen. On the offensive, Charles Sims showed some of his potential as a passing threat. If Josh McCown can be offered more than a half a second to throw the ball, Mike Evans might return to the record-breaking rookie performances he’s popped off in the recent past. Evans has shown he can make a difference as a run blocker, but no one else seems to have proved as much.
The Buccaneers will have to produce on the ground to have a chance to upset the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately for the offensive line that most of this offensive potential rides on, they’ll be going up against a stout Lions defense led by veteran Ndamukong Suh. The Lions have their own rookie standout in defensive end Ziggy Ansah who forced nine quarterback hurries against Chicago in Week 13. It’s an extremely tall order for a line setting such a low bar.
Believe it or not, “Any Given Sunday” still applies this week in Detroit. With their best defensive performance of the year and something that doesn’t consist of three turnovers from the offense, the Bucs have the ability to upset the Detroit Lions. They also have the ability to penalize themselves into the number one overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Only time will tell.
Prediction: 14-10, Bucs win
(TDs by Mike Evans and the Bucs Defense)