Win and you're in. That's what the Buccaneers are facing as they travel to Detroit to take on the Lions. Win the game and they are guaranteed a postseason berth. That's it. They 'control their own destiny' as is said so commonly in sports. And it's the best position you could be in, besides of course winning the division.
Which the Bucs have a slight chance of doing still…
Anyway, the Lions have been struggling this season but that doesn't mean Tampa Bay is taking them lightly. As Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles put it on Wednesday, "Well, if you look at them that way, they're going to be very dangerous. We're not looking past this game at all. Obviously if you saw the Jets [versus] the Rams and the Steelers [versus] the Bengals, you know better. If you don't show up on Sunday, you're going to get your butt kicked regardless of who you're playing in this league. We know they have a lot of talent on that team and we've got to worry about us and take care of us. We're taking that approach this week, we're going to try to shore up and we're going to play a good football game."
The Lions are the last of the Bucs' NFC North opponents. They're 2-1 this season against their former division-mates and can improve to 3-1 with a win on Saturday. Yes, Saturday. Due to the holiday, we get Saturday NFL football, people.
Read on for how to watch the matchup along with some key facts about the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) vs. Detroit Lions (5-9)
All-time record: Detroit lead the all-time series 31-27
Road record: 14-16
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith)
1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Lions CB Amani Oruwariye
Last year, Evans missed the Bucs' late-season trip to Detroit, as well as the two contests after that, due to a hamstring injury suffered the week before. That kept him from building on a big season that had already earned him a Pro Bowl berth. Evans wasn't selected for the Pro Bowl this year but he surely prefers the opportunity to play actual games down the stretch and hopefully well into January. This time he can continue to pursue some impressive milestones, including his seventh straight 1,000-yard season and the Buccaneers' touchdown record, though he surely is more focused on pursuing the playoffs. Evans is coming off his first 100-yard game since Week Four and appears to be in good health for the stretch run after battling through injuries earlier in the season. Evans did well against Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell and now he's likely to see a lot of Oruwariye, the Lions' second-year cornerback. A fifth-round draft pick in 2019, Oruwariye saw a lot of action in the second half of his rookie season, which helped prepare him for a big role in 2020. Oruwariye has started 13 games this season and he is essentially the Lions' default top corner with Jeff Okudah and Desmond Trufant on injured reserve and corners Mike Ford and Darryl Roberts also battling injuries. Okudah (6-2, 205) does have the size most cornerbacks lack to match up against the 6-5 Evans. Oruwariye is not only tall but long-limbed and physical and good in press-man coverage, all of which he will need when matched up with Evans, who routinely wins physical battles with defensive backs. The Lions' young corner has three interceptions and 10 passes defensed in his two seasons so far and he is good at defending the type of jump-ball and tight-corner routes Evans excels at in the end zone.
2. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson vs. Buccaneers ILB Lavonte David
Hockenson was the eighth-overall pick in the 2019 draft and he opened his career with a 131-yard outing but his rookie season was marred by a variety of injuries, including a broken leg that end that campaign and led to a lot of offseason work to get back to full health. That proved to be only a minor delay in his rise to elite status at the tight end position, as earlier this week he was selected for his first Pro Bowl. Hockenson leads all NFC tight ends with 675 receiving yards and is second with six touchdowns and he's also second on the team with 60 receptions. The 6-5, 247-pound Hockenson is big and athletic, like Bucs' tight end Rob Gronkowski, and like Gronkowski he is an excellent blocker. That may occasionally be a challenge for David around the line of scrimmage, but the Buccaneers are most interested in David helping the Bucs' defense limit Hockenson in the passing game. Obviously, David isn't the only Buccaneer defender who will draw some coverage responsibilities on the Lions' big tight end, especially when the defense is playing zone. But David will surely get some one-on-one moments with Hockenson and he's up to the challenge. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, David was the second-best coverage linebacker in the NFL in 2019, and this year he has six passes defensed and an interception. The perennially-underrated David – he will not be joining Hockenson in the virtual 2021 Pro Bowl – has 12 interceptions and 51 passes defensed in his career.
3. Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette vs. Lions LB Jamie Collins
Ronald Jones remained on the reserve/COVID-19 list to start the week and is considered unlikely to be cleared by Saturday's game, particularly considering he hasn't practiced since having pins inserted into his fractured finger. That means Fournette should be back in the lead role in the Bucs' rushing attack against Detroit after he ran for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta. In addition to the two times he bulled through the line to get into the end zone, Fournette added some other tough runs but the Buccaneers leaned heavily towards the passing attack against the Falcons. Things could be different on Saturday given that the banged-up Lions defense is allowing nearly 140 rushing yards per game. Collins may be the Lions' best bet to slow Fournette and the Bucs' other running backs down. He not only leads Detroit with 101 tackles but his 71 stops on run plays are far and away the most by any Lions defender. Collins is an athletic and versatile defender who has been used in a variety of ways throughout his career but has mostly been deployed in the box between the tackles in his first year in Detroit. If the Lions' makeshift line can hold its blocks up front and keep Buccaneer blockers off Collins, he can effectively find the right gap and fill it quickly to eliminate Fournette's running lane. Collins is also a good blitzer up the middle, and that's another place where he and Fournette may come into contact. The Buccaneers' big back is good in pass protection and had some key blocks for Tom Brady during the Bucs' big comeback last week.
4. Lions C Frank Ragnow or Joe Dahl vs. Buccaneers NT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Like Hockenson, Ragnow just learned that he has been chosen for his first Pro Bowl. He couldn't exactly scream about it, though, because the "fractured throat" he sustained two weeks ago against Green Bay led to a vocal cord injury that has him on strict orders not to speak. Ragnow has been to a specialist and will find out Thursday if he can return to action this week or not after missing one game. His return would be a boon for a Lions front line that is dealing with injuries to four of its usual five starters, including Ragnow. Ragnow's Pro Bowl selection was well deserved as he has had a superb season in his third year in the league. According to Pro Football Focus via MLive's Ben Raven, Ragnow has not allowed a sack all year and has only given up nine QB pressures on 871 snaps. If Ragnow can't play on Saturday, he would likely be replaced by veteran Joe Dahl, who played the pivot last Sunday against Tennessee. Dahl, who started for the Lions at left guard last year, may not be as formidable of a blocker as Ragnow. In terms of the battle for Ragnow or Dahl with Nunez-Roches, the Buccaneers' nose tackle, it's most critical in terms of the Lions trying to get their running game going with rookie D'Andre Swift. The best testament to how well Nunez-Roches has helped clog up the middle for the Buccaneers this season along with Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston is that Tampa Bay's rush defense ranked first in the NFL when Vita Vea was lost for the season in Week Five and it still ranks first nine weeks later. Nunez-Roches has started every game since Vea went down, and while he only has two quarterback pressures he has been invaluable as a run-stopper. Since he usually lines up on the nose, "Nacho" will spend a good part of the afternoon locking up with Ragnow or Dahl.
Uniform Combination: White jersey, pewter pants, black socks
Watch on TV:
- Saturday, December 26, 2020
- Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
- Location: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
- Television Network: NFL Network & WTSP (locally)
- Broadcast Crew: Adam Amin (play by play), Mark Schlereth (color), Lindsay Czarniak (reporter)
Watch on Mobile:
The stream is available through Yahoo Sports, the Buccaneers Official App and online at Buccaneers.com.
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*Please check local listings to confirm availability. Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.
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