With the Detroit Lions’ playoff chances on life support, Sunday can’t be viewed as anything other than a must-win for Jim Caldwell and the team. A loss would not only dash playoff hopes for good, but it would light a fire under Caldwell’s seat and send a message to the rest of the team that there is nothing to play for in the final three games of the season.
Luckily for Caldwell and Co., they’re traveling to Tampa for a matchup against a Buccaneers team that has lost seven of their past nine games.
But is this team as bad as their record? What happened to all of those preseason expectations? Let’s take a closer look at the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Notable free agent additions: WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Notable free agent departures: S Bradley McDougald, QB Mike Glennon, WR Vincent Jackson, WR Russell Shepard
Key draft picks:
- TE O.J. Howard (Round 1)
- S Justin Evans (Round 2)
- WR Chris Godwin (Round 3)
2017 season results (4-8)
Week 2 - vs. Bears - Won, 29-7
Week 3 - at Vikings - Lost, 17-34
Week 4 - vs. Giants - Won, 25-23
Week 5 - vs. Patriots - Lost, 14-19
Week 6 - at Cardinals - Lost, 33-38
Week 7 - at Bills - Lost, 27-30
Week 8 - vs. Panthers - Lost, 3-17
Week 9 - at Saints - Lost, 10-30
Week 10 - vs. Jets - Won, 15-10
Week 11 - at Dolphins - Won, 30-20
Week 12 - at Falcons - Lost, 20-34
Week 13 - at Packers - Lost, 20-26 (OT)
Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:
The Buccaneers don’t do anything particularly well. Here are their unit rankings according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistic:
Pass offense: 12th
Run offense: 26th
Pass defense: 31st
Run defense: 22nd
Where the Lions are most vulnerable—stopping the run and running the ball—the Buccaneers don’t appear to be equipped to exploit those weaknesses. And the Lions’ biggest strength—their pass offense—just so happens to be the Buccaneers’ biggest vulnerability.
Tampa is allowing 7.9 yards per attempt (second-worst), a passer rating of 96.1 (10th-worst), and the third-most pass plays of 40+ yards (10).
The Lions, on the other hand, have been the king of the deep ball this year. Thanks to outstanding play from Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay, the Lions now lead the league in 40-yard passing plays 12.
Right now the biggest concern for the Lions is protecting Matthew Stafford. Travis Swanson, Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang have been dealing with injuries, and could all potentially miss this game. So why is this in the optimistic section? The Buccaneers have a league-low 17 sacks on the season.
Also, there’s the impressive record Jim Caldwell has against bad teams since joining the Lions.
Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic:
Detroit has played down to its competition in just about every game this year. The Browns, the Bears, the Ravens and even the Cardinals all took it to the Lions for the majority of the game.
The Bucs may only average 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, but the Lions have allowed an average of 165.0 rushing yards per game over the past four weeks for 5.0 yards per carry.
Then there’s O.J. Howard. The rookie tight end is starting to become a real deep threat for Tampa and has pulled in seven receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown in the past three games (averaging 17.3 yards per reception). The Lions defense has had an awful time trying to defend tight ends as of late, so this could be a big mismatch.
The Lions’ morale is probably at its low point, their quarterback’s status is unknown, and playoffs are a long shot. We haven’t seen it yet, but if there’s any chance that we see the team give up, this could be the week—especially if they get off to yet another slow start.
There’s really no reason the Lions should lose this game. This is the best matchup they’ve seen in quite some time—maybe all year. Detroit’s weaknesses line up nicely with Tampa’s vulnerabilities, and the Lions should be able to dominate the worst defense they’ve faced all year... presuming that Stafford’s hand is fine.