We are in mid-January, and the Detroit Lions are still playing football. The Lions made the playoffs this season and got their first playoff victory since 1991 last week against the Los Angeles Rams. Despite wanting to enjoy the playoff victory for a longer period of time, it’s time for Detroit to turn their attention to its next opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Detroit has already taken on Tampa Bay earlier this season, as the Lions went on the road and defeated the Bucs 20-6. The roles are reversed this week as Tampa Bay travels to Detroit to play the Lions in an NFC divisional game at Ford Field. Both teams will be different heading into the rematch as they have gotten healthier, and things have changed since they saw each other in Week 6.
2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2023 season (9-8)
Week 1: Win against Minnesota Vikings 20-17
Week 2: Win against Chicago Bears 27-17
Week 3: Loss against Philadelphia Eagles 25-11
Week 4: Win against New Orleans Saints 26-9
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Loss against Detroit Lions 20-6
Week 7: Loss against Atlanta Falcons 16-13
Week 8: Loss against Buffalo Bills 24-18
Week 9: Loss against Houston Texans 39-37
Week 10: Win against Tennessee Titans 20-6
Week 11: Loss against San Francisco 49ers 27-14
Week 12: Loss against Indianapolis Colts 27-20
Week 13: Win against Carolina Panthers 21-18
Week 14: Win against Atlanta Falcons 29-25
Week 15: Win against Green Bay Packers 34-20
Week 16: Win against Jacksonville Jaguars 30-12
Week 17: Loss against New Orleans Saints 23-13
Week 18: Win against Carolina Panthers 9-0
NFC Wild Card: Win against Philadelphia Eagles 32-9
- 20th in points scored, 7th in points allowed
- 18th in DVOA
- 20th in offensive DVOA (16th in pass DVOA, 28th in run DVOA)
- 14th in defensive DVOA (14th pass DVOA, 8th in run DVOA)
- 18th in special teams
While the NFC South is laughed at as the worst division in football right now, it wasn’t an easy job for the Bucs to win the division. The Bucs started the season 3-1 entering the bye week, but the post-bye blues struck this team hard. They won one out of their next six games, falling to 4-7 and still in the race to win the division. With a favorable schedule to close out the season, the Bucs took advantage of it and finished the year 5-1, clinching the division title with a 9-0 win over the Panthers in Week 18.
In the playoffs, the Bucs hosted the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles. While quarterback Baker Mayfield was banged up and still playing, the Eagles had their injury woes to deal with. The Bucs took the lead early on and never let go of it, dominating the Eagles in front of their home crowd, winning 32-9. It was a collective effort from the entire team, as all three phases played well.
Entering the playoffs for the Bucs, revenge has been on their mind. Earlier this season, the Bucs lost to the Eagles 25-11, and they got their revenge on Monday. Now facing Detroit, another team they lost to in the regular season, Tampa Bay is looking to get their revenge against them.
Bucs linebacker Shaq Barrett told reporters he was “looking forward“ to playing the Lions on Sunday, with another chance for the team to redeem themselves for what happened earlier this season. “I know playoff football hasn’t been there (Detroit) for a long time, and it’s finally back, and they beat us early in the year, so it’s another step in our revenge tour, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Key players ruled out: C Ryan Jensen (IR), WR Russell Gage (IR)
Key players to monitor: QB Baker Mayfield (ankle/ribs), LB K.J. Britt (calf), DL Mike Greene (calf)
The injury list for Tampa Bay heading into the divisional round is manageable. With Jensen and Gage already out for the year, the team is used to them not being on the field. Mayfield and Britt played in the win last week against the Eagles, and unless something flares up in practice, I expect them to play this week.
The only new addition is defensive lineman Mike Greene, who was on IR in early December and has yet to return. He was activated on December 27th, starting his three-week window to return. This week is the deadline for him to return, and it will be up to Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles to determine if he should return or take the rest of the season off. Green has played in 10 games this season, starting two of them, and has six tackles.
Biggest strength: Wide receivers
The hits keep coming for the Detroit Lion’s secondary. Now, they have to take on another dynamic duo of wide receivers; this week, it’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The good news for the secondary of Detroit is they have seen these guys before, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically slow them down.
The top threat for the passing offense continues to be Evans, as he led the Bucs this season in receiving yards with 1,255 and touchdowns with 13. He’s a mismatch nightmare for opposing cornerbacks with his six-foot-five frame and power at the point of attack. In the first game, though, Evans was limited to just four catches for 49 yards on 10 targets as the Lion’s secondary was able to slow him down.
The wide receiver who led the team against the Lions, though, was Godwin, who finished the season with 1,024 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Lions, he had six catches for 77 yards on seven targets. Godwin is another receiver Detroit needs to be wary about as he is a good possession catch wide receiver who can make some nice grabs.
While Godwin and Evans are the main two targets for this passing game, you can’t forget about the other sneaky wide receiver on the roster. Rookie Trey Palmer has started to grow this season, finishing the regular season with 39 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 56-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles on Monday night.
Biggest weakness: Rushing Attack
What an excellent opportunity for the Lion’s defense to strike this week. The Lions have the second-best run defense in the NFL, allowing just 1,509 rushing yards and third-best yards per carry allowed in 3.7. They go up against the worst rush offense in the NFL as Tampa Bay finished with 1,509 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry, both last in the NFL. They also are tied for fourth least rushing touchdowns in the league with eight. While part of that is on the offensive line, who haven’t been stellar this season, it doesn’t help when the talent behind the line is average.
Running Back Rachaad White is the lone back in Tampa Bay that can make this game close on the ground. He leads the team in rushing yards with 990 and six touchdowns, but he only averages 3.6 yards per carry. White isn’t a bad running back, but he is the only running back that can do damage on this team. Behind him is Chase Edmonds, who only has 176 yards to his name, so if White goes down, there isn’t much help behind him.
Key matchup: Lions offensive line vs Bucs defensive line
The Lion’s key matchup isn’t with the secondary for the first time in a long time. While it is a concern for this game, the biggest battle will be in the trenches. Detroit is known for rushing the football, as they finished the season fifth in the NFL in rushing yards with 2,311, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, also fifth in the NFL, and tied for first in rushing touchdowns with 27.
The Lions’ rushing attack will have its work cut out for them as they take on the fifth-best run defense in the NFL in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is tied for fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per carry allowed with 3.8, and they only allowed 11 rushing touchdowns this season. In this game, while Detroit tries to run their bread and butter on Tampa Bay, they might hit a brick wall. This game is where the Lions’ offensive line has to take advantage of its strong ground attack because if Detroit can run on Tampa Bay, that opens up the offense and makes the Lions’ offense deadly.
In the first matchup, the Lions didn’t have rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the game due to injury, and fellow running back David Montgomery left the game with a rib injury. The offensive line wasn’t at full strength either, as the Lions were down left guard Jonah Jackson. Detroit had 40 rushing yards on 22 attempts, with a measly 1.8 yards per carry. Tampa Bay forced the Lions to air it out, and they did just that as quarterback Jared Goff threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns.
So with Gibbs, Montgomery, and Jackson all back in the lineup healthy, the running game for Detroit will take a step forward in this matchup, and it will be a more challenging task for the Bucs defense than it was back in October. The Lions won’t be upset if they have to pass the ball heavily, as it worked last time, but this team wants to pound the rock, so if Detroit can do that with ease, that will determine how they play this game.
Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 6