All eyes will be on the Buccaneers as they sail into the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears in their first of five primetime matchups this season. There are a multitude of ways to watch the game even though there will be no fans inside Soldier Field. Starting with this game, Thursday Night Football moves to FOX, along with NFL Network and Amazon Prime. There is literally no way you won't be able to watch this game.
A few of the Bucs' more high-profile acquisitions are used to the bright lights, like quarterback Tom Brady, for instance. He's coming off a pretty good week himself as he's gotten more and more acclimated to his new system and team. This will be the first opportunity for the nation to see Brady in a Bucs uniform all together. You'll obviously be watching him, but below are five others you should be looking out for, too.
1. QB Tom Brady
This may just be more out of superstition than anything because I put Brady on this list last week and he went off to the tune of 369 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers. It earned him an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for the first time in his career. Doesn't sound right? He has 31 AFC Player of the Week awards. And yes, that is the NFL record for most such awards.
It was his seventh game with over 300 yards passing and five or more touchdowns, tying Peyton Manning for the second-most in NFL history. With one more passing touchdown against the Bears, he'll tie Brad Johnson for the most through five games in franchise history. Should he throw for more than one, he'll break the Bucs' record. With at least 250 passing yards against the Bears, he'll pass Jameis Winston for the most passing yards through five games in team history, too.
And Brady's track record suggests both of those things are strong possibilities. He's gone a perfect 5-0 against the Chicago Bears in his career, throwing for 1,595 yards, 14 touchdowns and a 109.2 passer rating in those games. He's getting more comfortable with Tampa Bay's offense each week but will have to contend with an improved Bears' defense while being down some of his offensive skill players. How many will be out for the primetime game is yet to be determined. That being said, Brady should have the next two guys on this list at his disposal.
2. TEs Rob Gronkowski / Cameron Brate
Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Chargers ended up coming at a price as tight end O.J. Howard went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. Ouch. The silver lining of the situation is that the Bucs are pretty deep in the tight end room, even with Antony Auclair still recovering from a calf injury.
With the wide receiver corps banged up and the Bucs potentially playing with just two running backs, the tight ends may have to take on a lot of the load. Luckily, that's something both have been used to at various points of their careers. Gronkowski has played the Bears once in his career in 2014 and went, I believe the correct term is, "awf." He had nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
Brate is from outside Chicago and in the only time he's played at Soldier Field in his career, the team didn't do so well. Brate had a touchdown but that was about the only bright spot. He'll be looking to put on a better show for his hometown and prove that all that time spent practicing with Brady this summer has paid off. Honorable Chicagoland natives who you should also keep an eye on are wide receiver Scotty Miller and defensive lineman Pat O'Connor.
3. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Another played who has had success against the Bears is former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul. He's played Chicago four times and has 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, 14 tackles and four tackles for loss in those games. He was also in the division with quarterback Nick Foles while Foles was with the Eagles and Pierre-Paul was with the Giants. Plus, Tampa Bay shut Foles down last season after the Jaguars benched Gardner Minshew halfway through the game. So he's quite familiar with the quarterback the Bucs should be facing – as is the rest of the Bucs' defense.
Even if the Bears decide to deploy Mitch Trubisky at any point, neither of the two quarterbacks are particularly good under pressure. Trubisky is just 4/14 this season when under pressure according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Foles has done a little better, going 9/16 with a touchdown under pressure this season. He takes about 75% of his snaps out of the shotgun, so it'll be up to the Bucs' front seven, including Pierre-Paul, to get through the offensive line quickly.
4. S Antoine Winfield Jr.
There is an opportunity here for the Bucs to get some takeaways. Especially with offense as banged up as it is, it wouldn't hurt if the defense could put some points on the board, too. They've been pretty consistent on the interceptions so far this season and this guy has yet to grab one so I'm calling my shot with him. Winfield has recorded every other stat you could want, especially out of a first year player. He leads all 2020 rookies with three quarterback hits, He has the fifth-most tackles of any rookie this year with 25 and already has 2.0 sacks, which ties for the team lead among defensive backs with safety Jordan Whitehead. It also gives him the same amount of sacks as guys like Seattle's Jamal Adams, for what that's worth.
There have been four Buccaneers that have recorded interceptions so far this year (Carlton Davis already has two), and now I think it's time to add Winfield to the list.
5. ILB Lavonte David
I really wasn't kidding about putting David on this list. He had another excellent game last Sunday against the Chargers that was against just chalked up to Lavonte being Lavonte. He led the team with 11 tackles, his second double-digit tackle performance of the season, and recorded a tackle for loss. He also stopped Los Angeles from gaining a first down on a drive that could have given them the lead back in the fourth quarter.
This week, on a short week, the Bucs are going to have to lean on their defense heavily. As a defensive captain, that transitively applies to David individually. Keeping the Chicago run-game in check will be crucial to shutting the offense down in general. Force Foles (or Trubisky if it comes to that) to beat you through the air. With the play of the secondary as of late, that will be much easier said than done. We just talked about how those guys should be hungry for those takeaways.
With the injuries on offense for the Bucs and the Bears' offensive struggles, this could very well be a defensive game. And I feel pretty good about the Bucs' chances with a guy like David leading the way.