The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been operating with playoff-level intensity in recent weeks, which has helped them win four in a row and five of their last six. With the Houston Texans coming to town for a Saturday afternoon tilt at Raymond James Stadium in Week 16, the Buccaneers now find themselves in a battle with actual playoff implications.
They're AFC implications, unfortunately, as the 7-7 Buccaneers have been eliminated from the NFC hunt despite their rapid climb back to .500. The Texans have a one-game lead over Tennessee in the AFC South after beating the Titans last Sunday in Nashville, and that has put them in position to clinch the division title with win in Tampa on Saturday.
Though the Bucs have no specific desire to spoil the Texans playoff dreams, they are hungry for a fifth straight win and view their next opponent as a good measuring stick for how much they've improved in the second half of the season. Of course, a recent rash of injuries – including hamstring strains for receivers Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Scotty Miller – will make it harder for the Bucs to continue their recent offensive onslaught and their upward momentum.
Jameis Winston will be tasked with keeping the offense running in high gear without his top receivers, and he's had a hot hand of late as the first player in league history with consecutive 450-yard passing games. He has eight touchdown passes and a touchdown run in that span, too, and the Buccaneers are about to face a Texans' defense that s giving up 266.1 passing yards per game and a cumulative opponent passer rating of 100.8.
The Bucs may need Winston to have another big day because Tampa Bay's offense will be hard-pressed to contain mobile Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has thrown 26 touchdown passes and run for another seven scores. Watson does have his full array of targets available, particularly the dangerous receiving trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. The Buccaneers will try to add to Watson's season total of 39 sacks taken, and if Shaquil Barrett happens to have a hand in any of those sacks on Saturday he will become the team's new single-season record-holder in that category. Here's what you need to know to prepare for the Bucs' Week 16 game as they draw some rare Saturday action and a highly-motivated opponent:
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Houston Texans (9-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)
Saturday, December 21, 1:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618)
Television: NFL Network (also local WMOR-TV Channel 32)
TV Broadcast Team: Rich Eisen (play-by-play), Nate Burleson (analyst), Joe Thomas (analyst), Melissa Stark (sideline)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
You won't want to miss the game live at Raymond James Stadium! Make sure to get your tickets before it's too late.
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The arrival of the Houston Texans as the NFL's 32nd team in 2002 prompted the NFL to change its scheduling format to one that relied on rotating divisional matchups. For the Buccaneers, who play in the opposite conference from the Texans, that means their entire series history with the Texans is made of one date every four years, like clockwork. The Bucs and Texans first met in Tampa in 2003 and that means, 16 years later, it's time for hookup number five, once again at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay won that first contest in '03 when they were the NFL's defending champion, though it happened to be the last of seven victories for the Buccaneers that season. It was also their last win in the series, as the Texans have won the last three.
So Bucs-Texans is a brief history lesson, and not a very competitive one. Every game in the series has been decided by double-digit margins. The expansion Texans were still finding their feet in 2003 when the reigning champs beat them 16-3 to open the series. Running back Thomas Jones had the biggest day of his brief time as a Buccaneer, rushing for 134 yards and the game's only touchdown and Greg Spires sacked backup quarterback Dave Ragone 2.5 times.
Alternately, in 2011, the Texans were on the way to their very first playoff berth while the Buccaneers were limping to a 4-12 finish, and that won ended in Houston's favor, 37-9. Houston scored on the game's first play, an 80-yard Matt Schaub-Jacoby Jones connection and running back Arian Foster did the rest with 186 yards from scrimmage and two scores.
The 2007 meeting in Houston looked as if it had the potential to be tightly-contested, with the 8-4 Buccaneers taking on the 6-7 Texans, but the home team won that one by two touchdowns. The Bucs did go on to the playoffs that year while Houston made it to .500 for the first time in franchise history.
The Buccaneers have been to Houston more than once; their first regular-season game ever, in fact, was in the old Astrodome. But that was against the Houston Oilers, who are now the Tennessee Titans, so that game is technically part of the Bucs-Titans all-time ledger. The Buccaneers played four regular-season games in Houston before the Oilers moved to Nashville and lost them all, so Sunday's trip is, in fact, an opportunity for the franchise's first win in that city.
Also, the Buccaneers and Texans do have an extensive preseason history together. When Houston first joined the league in 2002, the two teams agreed to a nine-year run of preseason games, meeting in the last warm-up game every year through 2010. The teams alternated playing host to those preseason finales, starting with Houston in 2002, so that's five more trips the Buccaneers have made to Texas. Not that it's particularly relevant, but the Buccaneers did win seven of those nine games, including four of five in Houston.
The most recent game was played in Houston in September of 2015. Kyle Brindza drilled a 58-yard field goal for the Buccaneers, who were actually winning by a 9-7 score after a Charles Sims touchdown catch. However, Houston scored the game's final 12 points as its offense racked up 30 first downs and running back Alfred Blue ran for 139 yards and a touchdown.
· Texans punter Bryan Anger held the same job for the Buccaneers from 2016-2018. Anger was released by Tampa Bay last March and later signed on in Houston just before training camp. The Texans actually started the season with incumbent Trevor Daniel in the punting role but released him after two games and brought Anger back.
· Houston cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was a first-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2016. He played in 35 games with 33 starts over three-plus seasons in Tampa but was waived on Nov. 12. The Texans put in a successful waiver claim to get the former University of Florida standout.
· Buccaneers RB Dare Ogunbowale first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Texans in 2017. He spent the first month of his rookie season on Houston's practice squad.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach Bill O'Brien
· Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly
· Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel
· Special Teams Coordinator Brad Seely
KEY 2019 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· OLB Sam Acho (FA)
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (UFA)
· CB Jamel Dean (3rd-round draft pick
· S Mike Edwards (3rd-round draft pick)
· K Matt Gay (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (UFA)
· P Bradley Pinion (UFA)
· DL Ndamukong Suh (UFA)
· LB Devin White (1st-round draft pick)
· S Mike Adams (FA)
· S Jahleel Addae (FA)
· P Bryan Anger (FA)
· T Chris Clark (FA)
· CB Gareon Conley (T-OAK)
· CB Keion Crossen (T-NE)
· TE Darren Fells (FA)
· S Tashaun Gipson (FA)
· CB Vernon Hargreaves (W-TB)
· T Tytus Howard* (1st-round draft pick)
· RB Carlos Hyde (T-KC)
· RB Duke Johnson (T-CLE)
· CB Lonnie Johnson (2nd-round draft pick)
· OLB Jacob Martin (T-SEA)
· QB A.J. McCarron (FA)
· OLB Barkevious Mingo (T-SEA)
· DE Charles Omenihu (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Bradley Roby (UFA)
· G Max Scharping (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Kenny Stills (T-MIA)
· T Laremy Tunsil (T-MIA)
(* On injured reserve.)
ADDITIONAL 2019 CHANGES OF NOTE
· In January, Tampa Bay engineered one of the most significant changes a franchise could make in hiring a new head coach. That man is Bruce Arians, who needed just five years to become the winningest coach in Arizona Cardinals history and who has a history of helping quarterbacks excel. Arians assembled an extremely experienced coaching staff around him, almost all of whom he had worked with in the past.
· One of the coaches Arians brought on was Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who served under him in the same capacity in Arizona in 2013 and 2014 before becoming the Jets' head coach. Bowles' arrival means the Buccaneers have technically switched to a base 3-4 defense, something the team hadn't identified with since 1990.
· Bowles' defense means certain players were redefined as outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. No matter the position designations, Tampa Bay's defense has assumed a more aggressive approach in terms of blitz frequency and variety and press-man coverage.
· Tampa Bay's offense was prolific in 2018 in terms of yards, especially in the passing attack, and most of its starters return for 2019, so one could have reasonably expected another strong season on that side of the ball. Indeed, the Buccaneers are third in the NFL in scoring through 14 weeks with 29.1 points per game, up from 24.8 in 2018.
· The Buccaneers released CB Vernon Hargreaves on December 12, parting ways with their 2016 first-round pick after three-and-a-half seasons. Tampa Bay's secondary is experiencing a youth movement, with six players from the last two drafts figuring prominently in the mix now.
· As one can see in the section above, Houston added an uncommon number of players through trades this year, but they also had one very notable subtraction via the same method. Unable to come to agreement with OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney after placing the franchise tag on him, the Texans eventually traded him to Seattle just before the season. With Clowney gone and J.J. Watt on injured reserve, the Texans' leading sack artist is now Whitney Mercilus, who has 5.5.
· The Texans made some changes to Bill O'Brien's coaching staff over the first month of the offseason, most notably promoting former Tight Ends Coach Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator. Kelly didn't replace anyone, as O'Brien had previously also carried the coordinator title, and in fact the head coach continues to call the plays. The Texans also brought in Carl Smith to coach quarterbacks, replacing Sean Ryan, who is now doing the same thing in Detroit. Smith comes to Houston from Seattle, where he was given a good amount of credit for the development of Russell Wilson.
· O'Brien also added three former Texans players to his coaching staff: Brian Cushing (asst. strength and conditioning), Akeem Dent (defensive assistant) and T.J. Yates (offensive assistant).
· In June, the Texans parted ways with General Manager Brian Gaine, who had been on the job for just 17 months. As of now, the team has not hired a new person to fill that position.
Helping Hands – Scotty Miller is on injured reserve. Mike Evans hasn't played since Week 14 due to a hamstring injury. Chris Godwin also pulled a hamstring to end his 121-yard outing last Sunday. The Bucs won't have any of those three available on Saturday, and that represents 166 catches, 2,690 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns worth of production. To whom will Jameis Winston throw the football? The candidates are interesting. Breshad Perriman had a career day with three touchdowns last Sunday and has been resurgent in the last month but is now the team's number-one option. Second-year player Justin Watson stepped in well for Evans in Week 14 and had his first touchdown. Rookie Ishmael Hyman's three-yard catch last Sunday was the first and only one of his career so far. Just-signed track star Cyril Grayson has never played in a regular-season NFL game. Will those four be able to give Winston open looks or will he have to rely more on the potentially-prolific tight end duo of O.J. Howard and Cam Brate? Will it be a big receiving day for running backs Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber and Dare Ogunbowale, or will the Bucs actually generate useful rushing yards in Week 16? The shape and viability of the Bucs' offense this Saturday is difficult to predict.
Playing Spoiler? As noted above, the Buccaneers have a chance to play spoiler – or at least delayer – in Week 16, a role they will embrace if only to prove themselves against difficult competition. The Texans recognize this and expect a big road challenge on Saturday, with Head Coach Bill O'Brien calling the Buccaneers a "very, very good team" and "extremely explosive." Houston clinches its division with a win in Tampa but a loss could possibly put the Texans back into a precarious position. If the Bucs delay that title-clinching and the Titans win at home over New Orleans – no easy feat, that – both teams would be 9-6 and the Week 17 game between the two in Houston would decide the division champion. At 9-6, the Texans would also have to start worrying about their chances at one of the two Wild Card berths. Buffalo already has 10 wins and Pittsburgh could get to 9-6 with a Week 16 win over the New York Jets. Houston would have a better conference record, but if they lost the division to the Titans that would also mean they finished at 9-7, which Pittsburgh could beat outright. The Buccaneers don't need to know all these details to know that they could be a fly in the ointment for a playoff-caliber team, and that's something to shoot for.
Running the Table – Meanwhile, the Buccaneers do have a goal of their own that doesn't involve the Texans, other than their opportunity to prevent it. Tampa Bay hit the midway point at 2-6, believing they had let a couple games slip away that could have kept them in the playoff hunt. The Bucs started the second half by beating Arizona but then lost at home to the Saints. That left six games on the schedule, and the Buccaneers would have to win all six in order to finish with a winning record in Arians' debut season. It was a worthy goal but seemed a bit unlikely. After all, since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 133 teams have gone 3-7 through their first 10 games (prior to 2019) and only two of them went on to win their last six (the 1994 Giants and the 2005 Dolphins). It's not so far-fetched now, however, as the Bucs have already taken care of the first four games in that six-pack. The Bucs' second-half turnaround will likely already be seen as an encouraging sign, but six straight to close it out would be particularly uplifting. The longest winning streak the Buccaneers have ever had to finish a season was three, in 1982.
Shaq Attack Continues – Mike Evans and Chris Godwin likely won't get to add to their impressive 2019 statistics over the next two weeks; they're next game action could be in the 2020 Pro Bowl in late January. But the Bucs' third Pro Bowler, Shaquil Barrett, is still going strong and he's got two very big targets to keep him fighting to the end. First, Barrett has already tied Warren Sapp's team record of 16.5 sacks in a season, set in 2000, and needs to get just one more (or even a half) to have the record to himself. Barrett is also leading the NFL in sacks with a cushion of 1.5 over Arizona's Chandler Jones heading into the season's penultimate weekend. Barrett's hunt of the record has been methodical; he's had at least a half-sack in 11 of the Bucs' 14 games. He started out hot with nine sacks in September, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Month, but is also finishing strong with a four-game sack streak. If he stays hot for two more weeks – and he'll be facing two offenses that rank 24th and 17th in sacks allowed per pass play – and pads his sack total he could also remain in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Chasing Deshaun – Tampa Bay's defense has been significantly improved over the last month, and in recent weeks they've made some shaky quarterback situations worse for their opponents, particularly in Jacksonville and Detroit. In both cases, the Bucs' smothering of the opposing quarterback – first Jacksonville's Nick Foles and then Detroit's David Blough – helped lead to a big early lead in what looked like it would be a stress-free blowout. However, in both cases – with Gardner Minshew taking over for Foles in Jacksonville – the opposing offense rallied in the second half to make it a nail-biter before the Bucs came back with the finishing blows. And, in both cases, Tampa Bay's defense was really only hurt by plays created by quarterbacks escaping pressure and improvising downfield plays. Blough got 94 of his 260 yards on two such plays on consecutive drives last Sunday. That's a concern in Week 16 because while the Texans definitely do not have a shaky quarterback situation, they do have a passer who can get out of the pocket and make plays, whether by design or necessity. The Buccaneers' pass rush was getting into the backfield throughout most of those Jacksonville and Detroit games – and in Detroit Todd Bowles employed a wide variety of blitzes – but too often a near-sack became an opportunity for the offense. Tampa Bay's defense will need to put the pressure on Watson, too, but they also need to turn more of those near-sacks into actual sacks.
1. Buccaneers WR Breshad Perriman vs. Texans CB Jonathan Joseph
Perriman is close to the last man standing in that banged-up receiving corps noted above. The Buccaneers spent most of the season with Perriman joining 1,000-yard receivers Evans and Godwin as the primary third receiver, and while his production was minimal in the season's first half it has exploded during the Buccaneers' four-game winning streak. In that span, Perriman has caught 14 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 22.4 yards per catch. While he was rarely targeted deep in the early going, he has recently been getting open downfield for Winston at an impressive rate. Perriman has nine catches of over 20 yards in the last four contests. Of course, the problem for Perriman in Sunday's game is that he isn't likely to be playing alongside of either Evans _or_ Godwin, and that makes him the Bucs' top target. As such, he may have to deal quite a bit with Joseph, the Texans' ageless cornerback who leads Houston with 12 passes defensed. The Texans surprised some observers by reworking Joseph's contract to give him a salary bump in August, but that came after a 2018 effort in his age-34 season that was better than his 2017 campaign. Sure enough, Joseph is still going strong at 35 and is credited with being the leader on a defense that played well in recent wins over contenders Indianapolis, New England and Tennessee.
2. Texans RB Carlos Hyde vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David
Houston's offense features the league's eighth-ranked rushing attack, and that's not all because their quarterback has given them 376 yards. Even after trading for Duke Johnson in the offseason, the Texans still listened when the Chiefs called just before the season looking to trade Hyde. Houston had lost their top back, Lamar Miller, to injured reserve just a few days earlier. The move has paid off, giving the Texans offense a big, physical runner who has been able to handle most the ground game workload while Johnson has been more of a pass-catcher. In fact, it's gone so well that Hyde has the first 1,000-yard season of his six-year career, crossing that mark last Sunday with a 104-yard day, and he's also averaging a career-best 4.6 yards per carry. Of course, this week Hyde will run into the NFL's top-ranked rush defense, which is giving up just 73.3 yards on the ground and also ranks second with 3.35 yards allowed per play. That run defense starts with a stout interior line but that frees up David and Devin White to roam the field and shut down running plays before they can get started. In his eighth season, David remains a fast and instinctive defender who can make plays from sideline to sideline and who has always been adept at shooting through gaps and taking down ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage. David has a team-high 104 tackles this season, 55 of them on run plays, and he's logged 10 more tackles for loss. David's 116 career TFLs are tied for the second-most in the NFL since 2012.
3. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus
With J.J. Watt on injured reserve and Jadeveon Clowney now a Seahawk, Mercilus is the Texans' top pass-rushing threat and he has a team-high 5.5 sacks along with 13 quarterback hits. Mercilus will often line up on the strong side of the offensive formation, which means he'll likely get reps against both the Bucs' offensive tackles (and perhaps some tight ends) but there will definitely be time that he is Smith's responsibility. The Buccaneers are hoping Smith returns from the ankle and knee injuries that snapped his career-long streak of 77 straight games started last weekend, and Bruce Arians said that Smith was "close" to being cleared to play in Detroit. Smith's streak highlights his incredible durability and the Buccaneers have always had a lot of confidence in him protecting Jameis Winston's blind side against some of the very best athletes in the NFL. Mercilus doesn't always come after the passer, though; at times he'll drop into zone coverage, as he did early in last week's win over Tennessee on a play near the Texans' goal line. He proved to be in the right place at the right time when Texans safety Justin Reid hit Titans' tight end Anthony Firkser at the point of the ball's arrival, causing a deflection that Mercilus caught and ran 86 yards with to set up the game's first touchdown. Smith is big and light on his feet but he'll have a challenge against Mercilus, who usually rushes from a two-point stance and has an array of good pass-rushing moves.
4. Texans WR Will Fuller vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
Houston's depth chart lists three starting receivers – Fuller, DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills – and indeed all three are on the field for the majority of the game's snaps. That means the Bucs' defense will be running a lot of nickel, with Dean coming on to play on the outside and Sean Murphy-Bunting moving into the slot. The Texans will put any of those three receivers into the slot on occasion, but Fuller will definitely get a lot of snaps on the outside in those three-receiver sets, and at times he will use his top-notch speed to go deep. He has had some huge games this year, including a 217-yard, three-touchdown outing against Atlanta in October and he already has a career-high 659 yards. Of course, Dean is the Bucs' fastest cornerback, maybe their fastest player overall, so he should be able to match deep routes with Fuller when the defense requires it. Dean has only been playing regularly since Week Nine, but he's tied for fifth in the NFL with 16 passes defense, including two more last week in the Bucs' win in Detroit. The additional problem for any cornerback facing Fuller and the other Houston receivers is that Deshaun Watson moves around very well and can extend plays, giving his receivers time to get open. It's a tough challenge for Dean and the rest of the secondary, but that young group has been markedly better of late.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· DL Beau Allen (ankle) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· CB Carlton Davis (ankle) – TUES: NL; WEDS: NL; THURS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· T Demar Dotson (not injury related) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: FP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Mike Evans (hamstring) – TUES: DNP. Placed on injured reserve.
· K Matt Gay (right groin) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· TE Tanner Hudson (concussion) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· C Ryan Jensen (elbow) – TUES: LP; WEDS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
· OLB Anthony Nelson (hamstring) – TUES: FP; WEDS: FP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – TUES: FP; WEDS: FP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Donovan Smith (ankle/knee) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – TUES: NL; WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Jordan Whitehead (hamstring) – TUES: DNP. Placed on injured reserve.
· QB Jameis Winston (right thumb/knee) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
· S Jahleel Addae (achilles) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· TE Darren Fells (hand) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Will Fuller (hamstring) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR DeAndre Hopkins (illness) – TUES: NL; WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· RB Carlos Hyde (ankle) – TUES: LP; WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· RB Taiwan Jones (hamstring) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· OLB Jacob Martin (knee) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· ILB Benardrick McKinney (concussion) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· OLB Brennan Scarlett (achilles/shoulder) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. Game Status: Out.
Cloudy, high of 77, low of 67, 20% chance of rain, 73% humidity, winds out of the ENE at 14 mph.
Head referee: Scott Novak (6 seasons, first as referee)
· Favorite: Texans (-3.0)
· Over/Under: 50.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Matt Gay, 114
Touchdowns: WR Chris Godwin, 9
Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston, 4,573
Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston, 87.9
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 541
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 86
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 1,333
Interceptions: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, 3
Sacks: OLB Shaq Barrett, 16.5
Tackles: LB Lavonte David, 104
Points Scored: K Ka'imi Fairbairn, 87
Touchdowns: QB Deshaun Watson, 8
Passing Yards: QB Deshaun Watson, 3,668
Passer Rating: QB Deshaun Watson, 100.4
Rushing Yards: Carlos Hyde, 1,030
Receptions: WR DeAndre Hopkins, 99
Receiving Yards: WR DeAndre Hopkins, 1,142
Interceptions: S Tashaun Gipson, 3
Sacks: OLB Whitney Mercilus, 5.5
Tackles: LB Zach Cunningham, 128
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 3rd (29.7 ppg)
Total Offense: 3rd (400.1 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (308.8 ypg)
Rushing Offense: t-27th (91.4 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 4th (22.9)
Third-Down Pct.: 13th (41.7%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 21st (7.71%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 8th (64.0%)
Scoring Defense: t-30th (28.4 ppg)
Total Defense: 15th (350.1 ypg)
Passing Defense: 30th (276.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 1st (73.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 17th (20.6)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 5th (34.4%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 24th (6.20%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 16th (58.9%)
Turnover Margin: t-27th (-8)
Scoring Offense: 10th (24.4 ppg)
Total Offense: 7th (375.9 ypg)
Passing Offense: 11th (245.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 7th (130.9 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 5th (22.2)
Third-Down Pct.: 4th (46.1%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 24th (8.58%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-5th (66.0%)
Scoring Defense: 19th (23.6 ppg)
Total Defense: 28th (379.4 ypg)
Passing Defense: 28th (266.1 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 19th (113.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 25th (21.6)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 32nd (48.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 28th (5.42%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 32nd (68.2%)
Turnover Margin: t-17th (-2)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· OLB Shaquil Barrett leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks, which is also tied for the most in a single season in Buccaneers history. If Barrett has a hand in a sack in Week 16 he will break his tie with Warren Sapp's total of 16.5 in 2000.
· Barrett is also tied for the NFL lead with six forced fumbles, and the Buccaneers' single-season record is seven, first set by Wally Chambers in 1979 and later matched by Broderick Thomas in 1991 and Stylez G. White in 2007.
· The Buccaneers beat Indianapolis in Week 14 by a 38-35 margin and then went to Detroit and handed the Lions a 38-17 defeat. If the Buccaneers manage to score at least 35 points against the Texans, it would mark the first time in franchise history that the team put up 35 or more in three straight games.
· The Buccaneers have already tied the team record of 49 touchdowns they set last year, so one more would give the franchise its first-ever 50-touchdown campaign. Tampa Bay has also tied its team single-season record with five defensive touchdowns and thus would set a new standard in 2019 with one more.
· Jameis Winston has a Buccaneers single-season record of 4,573 passing yards this season, the most in the NFL. That has pushed his career total to 19,201 yards, and if he gets at least 223 on Saturday he will pass Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino for the second-most by any player through the first five seasons of his career.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on the importance of Saturday's game for the Buccaneers: "Yes, for us it is a big December game. It's a good measuring stick even without whoever is not playing [due to injuries]. It doesn't matter. It's still going to be a team going to the playoffs. We beat one team that was almost in the playoffs. We went to overtime with a number-one seed in their place. That's the things I think you judge on when you look back, when you get to that rearview mirror, and you start evaluating where we're at next year."
· C Ryan Jensen on treating Saturday's game like a playoff contest: "Yeah, I think we've been playing that way the last four or five weeks, treating everything as a must-win and trying to change the culture around here. Going four in a row, that shows something. Houston's a good football team. They're fighting to win the division and make a playoff run, so this would be a good win for us. I think people in the locker room are starting to get their confidence. You don't win four in a row without doing something right."
· OLB Shaq Barrett on Lavonte David having a Pro Bowl-caliber season but not getting an all-star invite: "He's doing everything and more that you could ask from an inside linebacker. He makes all the big plays, he doesn't miss tackles, he comes down in the run games and pops. He's not just tackling, he's making big hits and the guy's going back and feeling it. He's doing everything you could ask. We appreciate him for sure, a hundred billion percent, on our team."
· WR Justin Watson on moving into a larger role with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin hurt: "I've just got to be me. I'm not going to replace Chris Godwin, I'm not Chris Godwin, I'm not Mike Evans. I'm just going to go out there and be the best Justin Watson I can be. I trust the coaches, I've trusted their decisions the whole season. But I trust myself too and I know when I go out there, there's no drop-off and I'm going to make a play."
· QB Jameis Winston on if he could tell all along that the young players in the Buccaneers' secondary were going to turn their season around: "Absolutely, you could see the talent that they had. It was just the application. It's just like me – I've got to come to work every day and I've got to apply it. No matter if they are young, [Bruce Arians] says it all the time: 'Young [doesn't] matter." It doesn't matter. You've got to go out there and execute and I think they've been doing a great job of doing that, and I think they will continue to do that."
· Arians on Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins: "For a fast guy he's' probably one of the more physical guys in the league. Physically, he's like a Muhsin Muhammad, but he's faster. He's a combination of Muhammad and Steve Smith. He'll beat you up and just take the ball. It's his ball, he's going to take it and Deshaun throws it to him because he knows he's going to catch it."