The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the 2021 NFC South title in hand and, with two games left in the regular season, have a realistic ceiling of the second-overall seed in the conference. That's a worthwhile goal because, while every division winner starts the playoffs at home, the second seed is guaranteed a second postseason game at home if it can win the first one.
In other words, the 11-4 Buccaneers – who do have some player health concerns to balance over the next two weeks – have plenty of motivation remaining for those last two games, beginning this Sunday on the road against the New York Jets. A victory in Week 17 would allow Tampa Bay to match its single-season record with 12 wins and, depending upon results for the Rams and Cowboys, could jump them immediately to that coveted second seed.
"We expect to take them on like any other team, regardless of their record or regardless of whether they want to play hard or not," said cornerback Carlton Davis. "We're going to play them like we play every other team, prepare for them like we prepare for every other team. There's a lot on the line as far as seeding goes, so we understand that this is an important game, and every game from here on out is an important game for us."
Davis should (and surely does) expect another significant challenge on Sunday because there is every reason to believe the 4-11 Jets remain highly motivated, as well. That certainly seemed evident in Week 15, when they overcame the placement of 20 players on the COVID list, including seven starters, to beat the Jaguars, 26-21. The Jets also played that game without their head coach, as Robert Saleh was sequestered in a nearby hotel room due to his own positive COVID test. Saleh is in his first year at the team's helm, and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson is new to the job as well, and both are surely driven to finish their debut seasons in New York on a strong note. After spending the second-overall pick on Wilson this past April, the Jets also don't need to be tempted to jockey for draft position in order to find a new franchise quarterback.
Both teams are also, not by choice, using the end of the regular season to find out which players down on the depth chart, or even on the practice squad, can help them win games. New York made 33 transactions in the week leading up to their win over the Jaguars and even played some players they had only signed that week. The Buccaneers bounced back from a disheartening loss to the Saints in Week 15 that was doubly painful due to the losses of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Leonard Fournette, Lavonte David and Patrick O'Connor and won handily at Carolina with big contributions from the likes of Cyril Grayson and Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
And now the issue the Jets deal with last week with Saleh separated from the team has been visited on the Buccaneers, as well. Head Coach Bruce Arians isolated himself on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19 and may not be available to trod the sideline on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. At the moment, and potentially through the weekend, head coaching duties have fallen to Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin, which allows coordinators Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich to remain focused on their primary jobs.
"Missing B.A. is not a problem, alright, because all the coaches know what to do," said Goodwin. "My job is just to be here [and] manage everything until B.A. makes his return."
Goodwin stressed that his main duties on game day involve situational decisions, such as calling timeouts and choosing whether or not to go for it on fourth down. He also said he would lean on Bowles, a former NFL head coach, for help in such cases and that Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen would be a good resource for him in terms of timeouts and other clock issues.
Arians could actually return to the team before Sunday's game if he is asymptomatic and produces a negative test. If he does not, NFL rules prohibit him from contacting his coaches or being involved in coaching decisions remotely during the game. Still, he's sure to have plenty of input throughout the week.
"At the end of the day, B.A.'s part of this," said Goodwin. "This is B.A.'s show, this is B.A.'s team and this is a players' team, so we're just here as figureheads just to make sure we get through Sunday and get a victory if B.A. doesn't make it back."
If the Buccaneers can do that, with or without Arians in the building, they will have a much better chance of playing for something meaningful again in Week 18.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) at New York Jets (4-11)
Sunday, January 2, 1:00 p.m. ET
MetLife Stadium (capacity: 82,500)
East Rutherford, New Jersey
TV Broadcast Team: Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Jen Hale (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers could accomplish something they have never done in the franchise's 46-season history: Beat the New York Jets on the road.
Tampa Bay has won in the Meadowlands before; in fact, they did so just last season against the New York Giants and they got their first-ever road win against a New York team, also the Giants, in 1997. But they've tried seven previous times to get a W on the Jets' turf and have come up empty. The only team the Buccaneers have played more often on the road without getting a win is the Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers (0-8).
Overall, the Jets have a 10-2 lead in the head-to-head series with the Buccaneers, though Tampa Bay owns the most recently victory, a 15-10 thriller in 2017 at Raymond James Stadium. Patrick Murray hit all three of his field goals and Charles Sims caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to build a 15-3 lead and the Bucs recovered the onside kickoff with 27 seconds left after a 38-yard Robby Anderson touchdown.
New York's most recent win in the series came on their field in 2013 and was also a low-scoring, tight affair. The Bucs went to the Meadowlands for their season opener and ran out to a 14-5 lead on touchdowns from Mike Williams and Doug Martin. The Jets stormed back, however, and the lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter on two field goals by the Jets' Nick Folk and one by the Bucs' Rian Lindell. Folk's second field goal, a 48-yarder, was made possible by a controversial unnecessary roughness call on Lavonte David, who was deemed to have hit quarterback Geno Smith out of bounds after a 10-yard scramble. Without those 15 extra yards, the Jets likely would have had to settle for a last-play Hail Mary attempt.
The Buccaneers and Jets haven't met each other in back-to-back seasons since 1990-91 and thus haven't had much reason to build up any enmity. However, the series did briefly get contentious in the mid-'80s.
Tampa Bay's final game of the 1984 season was at home against the Jets and ended in the first victory in the series for the Buccaneers. The 41-21 decision didn't mean much to the bottom line for a 6-10 Tampa Bay team, but the Bucs were chasing something else, as James Wilder was closing in on the NFL's single-season record for yards from scrimmage. In that pursuit, Head Coach John McKay tried an onside kick late in the fourth quarter to steal another possession. When that failed, the Buccaneers' defense stepped aside and let Johnny Hector score a touchdown so that the offense could get the ball back. In the end, it didn't work; Wilder got zero yards on three carries and it was actually the Rams' Eric Dickerson who broke the record that year.
Suffice it to say, the Jets were not pleased. When the Buccaneers went on the road to play New York again in 1985, the Jets got their revenge with a non-stop barrage of scoring. The final tally was 62-28, which remains the most points the Buccaneers have ever allowed in a single game.
· Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles was the Jets' head coach from 2015-18. Bowles also began his NFL coaching career with the Jets in 2000, serving as the defensive backs coach on Al Groh's staff.
· During Bowles' four seasons as the Jets' head coach, Kacy Rodgers served as the team's defensive coordinator. Rodgers is now in his third season as Tampa Bay's defensive line coach. During that same time, Buccaneers Inside Linebackers Coach Mike Caldwell coached the same position on Bowles' staff and was also the assistant head coach. Mike Atkins, currently Tampa Bay's defensive quality control coach, held the same job on Bowles' staff from 2016-18.
· Ron Middleton, currently New York's tight ends coach, held the same position for the Buccaneers on Jon Gruden's staff from 2004-06, also serving as the assistant special teams coach.
· Jets Senior Defensive Assistant/Cornerbacks Coach Tony Oden was the defensive backs coach on Greg Schiano's staff in Tampa in 2013.
· The Buccaneers got defensive lineman Steve McLendon from the Jets in a midseason trade in 2020. McLendon played four-plus seasons in New York, starting 59 of 65 games and recording 144 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
· After a breakout season with the Buccaneers in 2019, wide receiver Breshad Perriman signed with the New York Jets in 2020. Perriman caught 30 passes for 505 yards and three touchdowns for the Jets, then left for Detroit and then Chicago before rejoining the Buccaneers this November.
· Newly-signed Bucs running back Le'Veon Bell played for the Jets in 2019-20, recording 1,363 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in 17 appearances.
· Buccaneers Assistant Coach Tom Moore was an offensive consultant for the Jets in 2011.
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
· New York:
· Head Coach Robert Saleh
· Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur
· Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich
· Special Teams Coordinator Brant Boyer
KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· S Andrew Adams (FA)
· RB Le'Veon Bell (FA)
· RB Giovani Bernard (FA)
· LB K.J. Britt (5th-round draft pick)
· WR Jaelon Darden (4th-round draft pick)
· CB Pierre Desir (FA)
· CB Dee Delaney (FA)
· OL Robert Hainsey (3rd-round draft pick)
· CB Richard Sherman (FA)
· QB Kyle Trask (2nd-round draft pick)
· OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (1st-round draft pick)
· RB Michael Carter (2nd-round draft pick)
· CB Michael Carter (5th-round draft pick)
· WR Keelan Cole (UFA)
· RB Tevin Coleman (UFA)
· DE Vinny Curry (UFA – currently on injured reserve)
· WR Corey Davis (UFA – currently on injured reserve)
· LB Jarrad Davis (UFA)
· G Dan Feeney (UFA)
· CB Justin Hardee (UFA)
· CB Brandin Echols (6th-round draft pick)
· T Joe Flacco (T-PHI)
· S Lamarcus Joyner (FA – currently on injured reserve)
· TE Tyler Kroft (UFA)
· DL Carl Lawson (UFA – currently on injured reserve)
· DL Jonathan Marshall (6th-round draft pick)
· WR Elijah Moore (2nd-round draft pick – currently on injured reserve)
· T Morgan Moses (FA)
· S Sharrod Neasman (FA)
· DL Sheldon Rankins (UFA)
· S Elijah Riley (FA)
· G Elijah Vera-Tucker (1st-round draft pick)
· QB Zach Wilson (1st-round draft pick)
ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE
· While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
· Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
· After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
· The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
· Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.
· The Jets made a move at the top in January, parting ways with Head Coach Adam Gase after two years and replacing him with former San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh. It's the first head coaching job for the well-respected Saleh, who helped the 49ers get to the Super Bowl in 2019 and was on the coaching staff for the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks in 2014. One of nine candidates the Jets interviewed, Saleh is the first Muslim American head coach in league history. In their introduction of their new coach, the Jets described him as "a collaborative leader" with "passion and knowledge of the game."
· Mike LaFleur, previously the 49ers' passing game coordinator, followed Saleh to New York to take on offensive coordinator duties. Saleh pulled Jeff Ulbrich from the Atlanta Falcons' staff to serve as defensive coordinator; Ulbrich's six previous years as an NFL coach were all with the Falcons but he also has strong 49ers ties, having played linebacker for San Francisco from 2000-09.
· After bringing in a new leader, the Jets also made a couple very dramatic moves at the game's most important position. First, in early April, they traded incumbent starting quarterback Sam Darnold to the Panthers for three draft picks, most prominently a 2022 second-rounder, just three years after the franchise made Darnold the third-overall selection in the 2018 draft. That cleared the way for New York to take another potential franchise quarterback with the second-overall pick and they landed on BYU's Zach Wilson. During the season, with Wilson temporarily sidelined by a knee injury, the Jets also brought quarterback Joe Flacco back in a trade with Philadelphia. Flacco had played the 2020 season with the Jets, starting four games.
COVID Comes Calling – The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is almost certain to have an effect on both team's lineups for Sunday's game, and potentially a significant one. That was certainly the case for the Jets last week, after 20 players, including quite a few starters, landed on the COVID list and were unavailable against the Jets. In New York's case, the news this week may very well be good, as they'll have a very reasonable shot of getting back such starters as safety Ashtyn Davis, linebacker Jarrad Davis, guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, cornerback Bryce Hall, tight end Tyler Kroft, wide receiver Elijah Moore, guard Elijah Vera-Tucker and defensive linemen Quinnen Williams. The Buccaneers' COVID issues are a little more tenuous, beginning with the availability of Head Coach Bruce Arians. As of Wednesday, the Bucs had five players on the COVID list including two, starting cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who were added to that list on Tuesday. With the new rule shortening the minimum time on that list to five days, everyone currently out for the Bucs could be back, but there is no guarantee any of them. When asked if the new rule gives the Bucs a chance at keeping the lineup mostly intact in Week 17, interim Head Coach Harold Goodwin said: "Yeah, I hope so. I hope so. With that rule of five days we have a couple guys that may make that window. Whether they'll be game-ready, I don't know. That's up to them and their body and how they feel about the game plan. Hopefully, if the rules allow we'll try to get everybody back that we can, but we have plenty of guys that we can win games with if those guys don't make it back."
Jones, Fields and Now Wilson – There were five quarterbacks taken among the first 15 picks of this year's draft, four of whom became starters in Week One or shortly thereafter, and the Buccaneers have already faced both of them. Tampa Bay beat Mac Jones and the New England Patriots in Week Four, 19-17, though Jones was able to throw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, with one pick. The Bucs' defense had a more emphatic answer for Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields three weeks later, holding him to 184 yards and no touchdowns and intercepting him three times in a 38-3 rout. Now the Bucs will get a shot at the second pick in the draft, BYU product Zach Wilson, who has a 3-8 record as a starter this season. The question is, how aggressively will the Buccaneers go after Wilson? Will they try to turn up the heat with a high number of blitzes. The answer to that second question is almost certainly some form of "yes," because Todd Bowles remains the defensive coordinator. Overall, the Buccaneers have blitzed on 38.0% of opposing pass plays this season, the second-highest rate in the league behind Miami's 39.0%. Tampa Bay also happened to blitz Jones at a 47.8% rate and Fields at a 41.7% clip. Then there's the fact that Wilson has completed just 44.2% of his passes against five or more rushers, and has a compiled a passer rating of 61.0 against the blitz. Of course, the Bucs may want to think twice about getting too aggressive with Wilson after he showed last week that he can take off and pick up big yardage on the run. His 91 rushing yards in the win over Jacksonville included a 52-yard touchdown jaunt down the right sideline.
Brady's New Weapons – Tom Brady has thrown his last pass to Chris Godwin this season and he will not make another handoff to Leonard Fournette until the postseason, at the earliest. Mike Evans missed the Bucs last game and is currently dealing with both a hamstring strain and a positive COVID test. Still, the Buccaneers put up 32 points and nearly 400 yards on the NFL's second-ranked defense in Charlotte last Sunday. Brady and the Bucs found success getting the ball to the likes of Cyril Grayson, Ronald Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn, and it certainly helped that Antonio Brown returned from an eight-game absence to step into the role of leading receiver. Now Breshad Perriman is off the COVID list and could also be back in the mix this week. Can the Buccaneers continue to thrive on offense without their three most productive players, or was their Week 16 performance a peak that can't be maintained. Brady has a history of wringing success out of whatever cast is around him, but it's no coincidence that his numbers spiked when he joined forces with the likes of Evans and Godwin for the past two seasons. The Buccaneers won't be getting Godwin back, so it's important to figure out who Brady can trust on a week-to-week basis even when Evans and Fournette rejoin the offense.
End Zone Becomes Restricted Zone – Fortunately for the Buccaneers, it looks like the offense won't necessarily have to keep scoring 30 points a game in order for the team to find a way to win. That's because the defense, finally blessed with some better health in the secondary (the two new COVID cases notwithstanding), appears to be hitting its stride just in time. The Bucs lost to the Saints in Week 15 but allowed only 212 yards and three field goals, then followed that up with a win in Charlotte in which they surrendered just 273 yards and two field goals. That marked the third time in team history and the first time since early in 2003 that the Buccaneers have held consecutive opponents without a touchdown. The 2003 team did that in the first two games of the year after the 2002 had closed the regular season with a 15-0 win over Chicago, so that was technically a three-game streak. The current defense could match that team record and do something no other defense in franchise history – including the legendary 2002 squad has done: Keep three straight opponents out of the end zone in a single season. Of course, the Bucs don't need a defensive stop that big in order to have a good showing in New York, but another stifling effort against the Jets would make it easier to like the Bucs' chances in the postseason.
Braving the Conditions – The Bucs went north to the Carolinas for a late December game but found very pleasant conditions on a mild Charlotte afternoon with temperatures in the 70s. They aren't likely to have the same luck in East Rutherford, N.J. this weekend. In fact, the Buccaneers haven't had to play in cold weather very often in recent years. They've had just one regular-season game with a kickoff temperature below 40 degrees in the last 10 seasons combined. (It was 29 degrees to kick off the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field last winter.) The current forecast for Sunday in East Rutherford calls for a high of 54 degrees but the temperature will probably be dropping throughout the game and there is also the chance of some pretty strong winds. Even if it doesn't get terribly cold in the afternoon, those gusting winds could make passing and kicking a lot more adventurous.
1. Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Jets S Ashtyn Davis
When Rob Gronkowski returned from missing most of six games, it was an instant upgrade for the Buccaneers' offense. The veteran tight end caught 22 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns over the next four games and was targeted at least eight times by Tom Brady in each of those contests. The Bucs won all four of those games, scoring at least 30 points in each contest and averaging 418.5 yards of offense. Over the last two games, however, Gronkowski has caught just three total passes for 52 yards while 10 other balls thrown in his direction have fallen incomplete. With the playoffs looming, Chris Godwin done for the year and the status of Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette up in the air, Brady surely wants to reestablish the very productive connection he has had with Gronkowski through most of the past two seasons. When Gronkowski is at the top of his game he is a matchup nightmare for any defender due to his size and ball skills. The Jets lost both of their starting safeties to injured reserve earlier in the year, leaving those two jobs to some combination of Ashtyn Davis, Elijah Riley and Sharrod Neasman at the moment. Davis, a third-round pick in 2020, has been on the field the most, playing nearly 100% of the defensive snaps since Week Seven (with the exception of last week, when he was on the COVID list) and amassing 57 tackles, three forced fumbles and a team-leading two interceptions. Davis's most recent interception, against Miami in Week 15, came while he was in coverage on the Dolphins' standout tight end, Mike Gesicki. Thirty-four of his 57 tackles have come against pass-catchers, and the 6-1, 202-pound Davis has the size and will to at least compete with the hulking Gronkowski for the ball.
2. Jets T George Fant vs. Buccaneers OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
Tampa Bay lost its most productive pass-rusher, Shaquil Barrett, to a knee injury last Sunday; Barrett will miss at least the final two regular-season games, ending his third Buccaneer campaign with exactly 10.0 sacks. In addition, edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul was finally driven to sit out a game last weekend due to his lingering and painful shoulder injury, so at the moment the Buccaneers' most dangerous weapon coming off the edge is the rookie first-rounder, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Tryon-Shoyinka did not get in on the Bucs' seven-sack party against Carolina but did register one quarterback hit, and he has at least one QB hit in five of the last seven games. The former Washington standout most recently registered a sack and two tackles for loss in the Bucs' Week 15 loss to the Saints and is now up to 4.0 sacks on the season to tie for fourth on the team. Tryon-Shoyinka has a well-developed set of pass-rush moves, enough power to bull-rush blockers and, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, an average get-off of 0.93 seconds after the snap. Barrett more often rushed off the right end of the Bucs' front line, and if Tryon-Shoyinka steps into that role he'll be matched up with George Fant. The sixth-year lineman started the season as New York's right tackle, the position he manned for them in 2020, but he moved over to the left side when 2020 first-rounder Mekhi Becton suffered a knee injury in the season opener. Between Seattle and New York Fant has started 52 games, and he may be playing his best ball in 2021. Through the first three-quarters of the season he was credited with allowing just one sack and had given up two or fewer pressures in 11 of his first 12 starts.
3. Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones vs. Jets LB C.J. Mosley
The Bucs' first effort to keep the ground game in gear in the absence of lead back Leonard Fournette went quite well. Ronald Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn combined for 135 of the team's 159 rushing yards in the win over Carolina in Week 16, with Vaughn's 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter the top highlight. It was Jones that got the bulk of the running back snaps and opportunities, though, with 20 runs and three targets to seven and one for Vaughn. (Newcomer Le'Veon Bell also got two handoffs when the Bucs brought in reserves late in the fourth quarter.) Jones produced 81 total yards and a touchdown and looked quite capable of stepping up in a big way while Fournette is out. Now Jones and company get a matchup with the NFL's 30th-ranked rush defense, which is allowing 141.3 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. However, Jones will want to steer clear of Mosley, the Jets' tackling machine in the middle of the field. After playing in just two games in his first two seasons in New York, the high-priced free agent acquisition has turned in the type of monster season he routinely had in Baltimore. Mosley leads the Jets and is fifth in the league with 142 tackles, with 86 of those coming on running plays. According to Next Gen State, he has 78 "stops" on the season, which are tackles that produce a successful play for the defense (such as a third-down tackle short of the line to gain).
4. Jets KR Braxton Berrios vs. Buccaneers CB Rashard Robinson
Braxton Berrios is the reigning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after he helped the Jets beat the Jags with three kickoff returns for 138 yards, including a 102-yard touchdown, and one punt return for 12 yards. Berrios showed off his speed and acceleration on the touchdown, zipping between blocks to break free down the right sideline without being touched, and he's been doing that all season, leading the NFL with a kickoff return average of 30.5 yards per attempt. He has also averaged a robust 13.4 yards per punt return. Berrios could easily make the Bucs pay if they wind up with any cracks in their punt and kickoff coverage, and high winds are anticipated during Sunday's game Tampa Bay may not be able to count on blasting every kickoff far enough to get a touchback. For that reason, it's very helpful that cornerback Rashard Robinson returned from a six-game stay on injured reserve last week. The Buccaneers put Robinson right back in the gunner position and he made a noticeable impact, routinely beating the rest of the players downfield to quickly turn the return man off his preferred route. The best way to keep Berrios from darting through any exposed cracks in coverage is to get to him before he even gets started, and Robinson is the Bucs' best bet to do just that.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Mike Evans (hamstring) – WEDS, THURS: On reserve/COVID-19 list; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· S Mike Edwards (elbow) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL. FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Breshad Perriman (not injury related) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP. FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· P Bradley Pinion (right hip) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.
· CB Richard Sherman (Achilles) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP. FRI: LP. Game Status: Doubtful.
· ILB Grant Stuard (elbow) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL. FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP. FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Justin Watson (quadriceps) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL. FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Jamison Crowder (calf) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful.
· LB C.J. Mosley (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Sheldon Rankins (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Elijah Riley (concussion) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
Cloudy with occasional showers, high of 54, low of 24, 50% chance of rain in the afternoon, 76% humidity, winds out of the WNW at 15-25 mph with possible higher gusts.
Head referee: Alex Kemp (8th season, 4th as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-13.0)
· Over/Under: 45.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 112
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 11
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,580
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 100.2
Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 812
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 98
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 1,103
Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 3
Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 10.0
Tackles: LB Devin White, 122
Points Scored: K Matt Ammendola*, 53
Touchdowns: WR Elijah Moore, 6
Passing Yards: QB Zach Wilson, 2,013
Passer Rating: QB Mike White, 75.1
Rushing Yards: RB Michael Carter, 566
Receptions: WR Jamison Crowder, 50
Receiving Yards: WR Elijah Moore, 538
Interceptions: S Ashtyn Davis, 2
Sacks: DL Quinnen Williams, 6.0
Tackles: CB C.J. Mosley, 142
(* Ammendola is currently on the Jets' practice squad.)
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 2nd (29.5 ppg)
Total Offense: 2nd (401.7 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (300.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 25th (101.7 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 2nd (23.8)
Third-Down Pct.: 2nd (46.7%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (3.27%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 3rd (64.5%)
Scoring Defense: 9th (20.8 ppg)
Total Defense: 10th (329.6 ypg)
Passing Defense: 21st (242.1 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 3rd (87.5 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 16th (20.3)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 11th (38.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 10th (7.28%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 7th (51.0%)
Turnover Margin: 7th (+8)
Scoring Offense: 27th (18.4 ppg)
Total Offense: 21st (318.7 ypg)
Passing Offense: 18th (220.8 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 26th (97.9 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-25th (18.9)
Third-Down Pct.: 24th (37.4%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 24th (7.82%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 27th (53.2%)
Scoring Defense: 32nd (29.9 ppg)
Total Defense: 32nd (391.3 ypg)
Passing Defense: 28th (250.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: t-30th (141.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 31st (23.3)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 27th (43.2%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 18th (6.52%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 19th (59.7%)
Turnover Margin: t-30th (-13)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· Tom Brady needs one more touchdown passes to move past Vinny Testaverde (77) and into third place on the Bucs' all-time list. If he happened to throw four touchdown passes on Sunday he would also move past Josh Freeman (80) for second place. Those four TDs would also give him 41 on the season, which would break his own franchise single-season record of 40, set last year. By the way, Brady has already had six games with four or more touchdown passes this season.
· Brady threw for 232 yards against the Panthers in Week 16, pushing his two-season total as a Buccaneer to 9,213 yards. He has already climbed to eighth place on the team's all-time passing yardage chart and would jump up one more spot, passing Steve DeBerg (9,439) with 227 more on Sunday in the Meadowlands.
· Tight end Cameron Brate caught his 32nd career touchdown pass last Sunday in Charlotte, moving him past Kevin House into third place on the team's all-time list in that category. Two more touchdown receptions would pull Brate even with Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles (34) for second place.
· As a team, the Buccaneers have scored 55 touchdowns this season. The franchise record is 59, set just last year, so the 2021 crew needs five more to top what it accomplished in 2020 and set a new team standard.
· The Buccaneers improved their record to 11-4 with last Sunday's road victory over the Panthers. With another victory in Week 17 at New York, the 2021 Bucs would tie the 2002 Super Bowl XXXVII-winning squad for the most single-season wins in franchise history.
· Interim Head Coach Harold Goodwin on the game management part of serving as head coach in Bruce Arians' absence: "Yeah, B.A.'s been around a long time so he has a good feel for that kind of stuff. I think Todd [Bowles] does as well since he's been a head coach. For me, going for it, obviously Todd would be somebody I'd listen to, or Clyde Christensen is somebody I lean towards as far as when to take timeouts and things of that nature. But yeah, unless you get that experience, unless you've been in that position with that whistle around your neck and that hat on your head and you're the boss, you don't know what it feels like, when to make that call and when not to. So it's a learning experience for everybody and just a curve that comes with being in that position."
· Cornerback Carlton Davis on if it feels like the defense is peaking down the stretch: "Yeah, I definitely feel it coming upon us. It's the style of defense that we want to play. We want to be that defense that stands out, that doesn't give up touchdowns, that is stout in the red zone and that just gives teams problems regardless of who we have injured or not. That's the brand that Coach [Todd] Bowles preaches to us and it's a great time to get that rolling and just continue on this streak that we've got."
· Guard Alex Cappa on how important the final two games of the regular season are for the Buccaneers: "To be honest, I don't really look at it like that. I just look that we're doing our best to win every single game and this game is no different. No matter what the game means, we're all working as hard as we can and doing what we can to win the game."
· Tight end Cameron Brate on the offense operating without Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette: "Obviously those guys are irreplaceable – no one guy is going to fill in for Chris, or Mike or Leonard. It's definitely a group effort, but yeah, it definitely presents a challenge not having those reps, really those game reps are kind of the key. Missing out on some of those, I mean those three out, that's probably 70 percent of our targets. Definitely as a collective we're going to have to figure out how to replace them. Hopefully we will get Mike and Lenny back pretty soon here. It's just going to be about guys stepping up. Cyril [Grayson] did a great job on Sunday and we've got a bunch of really good receivers whose numbers are going to get called at some point down the stretch here. It is key to get these reps in practice and these last couple games get everybody on the same page heading into the playoffs."
· Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn on if his production in last Sunday's win helped build his confidence: "It meant a lot to me just with a lot of things I've been through this past year or two. It's been a slow start for me. But that big play when we needed it and then stepping out into a big role for the team and for myself. Now, we just have to keep stacking the chips."