Welcome to Evaluation Football, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter! Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. The Buccaneers are coming back to get home-field disadvantage against the rolling Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are a beatable team thanks to the occasional inconsistency of Andy Dalton, but they’re going to be eager to win as they’ve got everything to lose coming in against Tampa Bay this Sunday. The game will come down to who wants it more, and I’m not convinced the Buccaneers want anything that badly.
The Bengals are leading arguably the toughest division in football right now. Fortunately for them, they get to come to sunny Tampa to face the last place team in what is currently the weakest division in football. The NFC South looks about like the NFL equivalent of the college football’s Sun Belt Conference. You know the Sun Belt, right? Home to every FBS team you’ve never heard of and Navy. Well, the AFC North is the SEC. They’re leading the AFC North at 7-3-1, but every other AFC north team is 7-4. If the Bengals don’t win this Sunday, it could very well influence their chances of making the playoffs.
Now that the stage is set, upsets happen. There are definitely reasons why the Buccaneers could upset the Bengals this week. The biggest chink in the Cincinnati armor is the same group that the Bucs have providing toilet paper level protection. The Bengals’ offensive line isn’t as bad as Tampa’s, but it just lost starting right tackle Andre Smith to a season-ending arm injury. Smith was placed on IR, and the Bengals quickly signed Jamon Meredith to replace him! Just kidding, Meredith will most likely hang out in a reserve spot. While Cincinnati has decent backup options, this provides an obvious matchup to game plan for and the Bucs’ defensive line to try to exploit.
Severe pressure on Andy Dalton, choking out Cincinnati’s two-pronged rushing attack, and creating turnovers are the only way the Buccaneers even stand a chance. All three of those things can happen of the Bengals’ offensive line fails to hold up consistently. Now comes the problem. While the AFC North leader has issues at offensive line, they certainly don’t have issues on defense or special teams. The Bengals have been comfortably consistent on special teams this season, something the Buccaneers definitely can’t say.
As for defense, the Bengals are one of the more well rounded defenses in the NFL right now. They’ve had their bad moments, but have largely played fairly consistently. Despite ranking in the bottom half of the league in rushing and passing yards allowed, the Bengals have made it count when it mattered. That ability to make crucial stands will be huge if the Bucs continue their red-zone woes. In order for the Buccaneers to even begin to hope for a win, they’ll need to capitalize on their opportunities.
That includes Mike Evans playing lights out and scoring two or more touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cinci has a running game. The Buccaneers don’t have a running game. If neither of those things changes on Sunday, the upset won’t happen. Whether it be Bobby Rainey, Doug Martin, Mike James, Charles Sims, or Josh McCown himself, there has to be a rushing threat for Tampa Bay to make a stand against the Bengals. No matter how good the defense plays, it won’t happen if the offense and Michael Koenan give Cinci outstanding field position time after time.
When it comes down to it, the Bengals have to win this game. They know the Buccaneers have talent, and they’re going to be looking for a strong road win going into a tough set of games to finish the season. They know that they need this win in order to have momentum while trying to make the playoffs. If Mike Evans has the game of his career, any Bucs running back rushes for over sixty-five yards and a touchdown, and the defense absolutely manhandles the Bengals, the upset happens. Sound improbable? It is.
Prediction: Bucs win, 20-19
(Game-winning 50+ yard field goal from Patrick Murray, because why the f- not?)