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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jaguars-Buccaneers: Top Storylines & Key Matchups in Week 16

The Bucs and Jags have had opposite streaks over the past three weeks but are both leading their respective divisions, and Jacksonville will bring a turnover-happy defense and a wide array of pass-catchers to Tampa in Week 16


There are NFL playoff pushes happening all throughout the state of Florida. With three weeks left in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins are all in possession of top-four spots in their respective conference standings and are all masters of their own fate. The 7-7 Buccaneers are tied for first in the NFC South and currently slotted as the four seed in the NFC field. In the AFC, the 8-6 Jaguars lead the South by a tiebreaker and the 10-4 Dolphins have a two-game lead in the East.

This weekend, two of those three playoff chases will intersect as the Jaguars come to Tampa to play the Buccaneers on Sunday, December 24. They are two teams that have gone in opposite direction over the last three weeks but also two teams that could catch fire at any moment. Tampa Bay has won three in a row to move from the fringes of their division race to the driver's seat, while the Jaguars have dropped three in a row, all to prime AFC contenders, after an 8-3 start. Jacksonville also has a potential quarterback concern, as starter Trevor Lawrence is currently in the concussion protocol.

The Bucs are trying to follow up their best game of the season with another full-team effort after beat the Green Bay Packers, 34-20, at Lambeau Field. That provided the Buccaneers with an important conference win and a chance to keep pace in the division. This weekend's game against the Jaguars is the least important of the Bucs' final three in terms of potential postseason tiebreakers, but right now it is their most important game, as quarterback Baker Mayfield sees it.

"I'll be honest, December games are all important," said Mayfield after the win in Green Bay. "This one was very important, but this one won't matter unless we hit the reset button and move on to next week. It can't be more special than any other. It is the most important one now, but enjoy it, and then we will move onto next week. That is the mentality we have to have as a unit."

Mayfield, who had his best game so far as a Buc in Green Bay, started urging his team to adopt a playoff mentality three weeks ago, and the Buccaneers have responded. They made the plays they needed at the end for a comeback win in Atlanta, then kept the pedal to the floor in the fourth quarter in Green Bay to pull away. Earlier in the season, the Buccaneers had lost those close games in crunch game due to a bad mistake or a play that wasn't made. That pendulum has swung of late and now the Bucs know what they have to do to finish off wins.

"Sense of urgency," said Mayfield. "There is no room for error at this point. We talked about doing the little things right. You don't have to do anything too special if you do the little things right."

Obviously, the Jaguars will arrive at Raymond James Stadium with a very serious sense of urgency of their own on the heels of their unexpected losing streak. They are a formidable opponent, with a top-10 scoring offense, a turnover-happy defense, highly productive players at multiple positions and a respected coaching staff. Tampa Bay's defense will have to worry about running back Travis Etienne in and out of the backfield, prolific pass-catching tight end Evan Engram and, if he is cleared, a rising-star quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. The Bucs offense will need to contain stud edge rusher Josh Allen and try to protect the football against a defense that is tied for the league lead with 25 takeaways.

The Bucs seem to have built up some momentum midway through their playoff stretch run, but Head Coach Todd Bowles knows that only lasts as long as the wins are coming.

"I would say it's more urgency, and momentum is coming with winning," he said. "The urgency is there. We know we have to win out to get to the playoffs; that's been our mindset since we played Carolina; that's our mindset this week, as well, against a good Jacksonville team."

Here are four storylines and four head-to-head matchups to keep in mind as the Buccaneers take on the Jaguars and try to extend their winning streak to four games.


Streaking Down the Stretch – The Buccaneers don't actually have to win all of their remaining games to make the playoffs, or even to win the division, but that's the only certain path, which is why Bowles and his crew have chosen to assume that as their reality. They have been clinging to that notion since a Week 12 loss at Indianapolis dropped them to 4-7 after a very encouraging 3-1 start to the season. Now that the Buccaneers have gotten hot again – and are arguably playing significantly better than they did in that first month, particularly on offense – they have reason to believe they can run the table. While the Bucs take on a dangerous Jacksonville team this week, the Saints have to head to Los Angeles to face the Rams, one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Bucs are currently the four seed in the NFC because of their head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the Saints, but they would feel much better with an actual lead in the division standings. Getting one up on New Orleans would put the Saints into desperation mode as they come to Tampa for a rematch the following weekend. The Buccaneers also would be in possession of a Wild Card spot with their current record and tiebreaker figures if they weren't slotted in as the NFC South leader. That race is going to be extremely tight over the next three weeks, as there are six teams with either 7-7 or 6-8 records. The Bucs need to stay hot.

A Complete Offensive Effort – Dave Canales, in his first season as the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator, is relentlessly optimistic, so he surely believed this day would come. He had spoken about his desire to see all parts of the Bucs' offense start to produce at the same time, with top wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both getting heavily involved in the passing game and the Rachaad White-led ground game also producing at a high level. It happened in Week 15 in Green Bay. Chris Godwin caught 10 passes for 155 yards, Mike Evans added five grabs for 57 yards and his 11th touchdown of the season. White had 139 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown and the Bucs only missed out on their fourth straight 100-yard rushing performance when Baker Mayfield lost two yards on a pair of game-ending kneel downs. Baker Mayfield actually got more than those three involved, as tight end Cade Otton had two catches for 50 yards, wide receiver David Moore had 68 yards and a touchdown and tight end Ko Kieft scored his first touchdown of the season. This is the blueprint, but one great game doesn't mean the Buccaneers' offense has turned the corner for sure. Jacksonville's defense has struggled in some areas but, as noted above, can rush the passer and can keep the Jaguars in games with key turnovers. The Buccaneers are focused on winning their third straight division title, but if they subsequently want to make some noise in the playoffs they need to show that their offensive explosion in Green Bay is the start of something lasting and not an exception.

How Will the Jags Attack? – Of course, the most important storyline for this week game from a two-team perspective is the status of Trevor Lawrence. The third-year quarterback and first-overall pick from the 2021 draft, sustained a concussion late in last Sunday's loss to Baltimore and began this week in the concussion protocol. It is possible that Lawrence will clear all the steps in that protocol over the course of the week and start against the Buccaneers on Sunday, and it's worth noting that he has yet to miss a start in his career. The Jaguars signed quarterback E.J. Perry to their practice squad on Tuesday, indicating there is at least some concern that additional depth will be needed on Sunday. If Lawrence can't play, the Jaguars would turn to seventh-year pro C.J. Beathard, who has thrown 14 passes this season and completed 12 of them for 77 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Beathard started 12 games over four seasons in San Francisco, compiling a 2-10 record as a starter and an 18-14 TD-INT ratio. Whoever is distributing the football will have a strong supporting cast of skill-position players, even with wide receiver Christian Kirk on injured reserve. Tight end Evan Engram has 88 catches and three touchdowns and wide receiver Calvin Ridley has started to produce like he did when he was a rising star in Atlanta. Running back Travis Etienne has racked up 1,248 yards from scrimmage, making him one of the NFL's most productive backs.

The Edge of Pressure – The Buccaneers' defense has produced 40 sacks this season, which is good enough to have them in a tie for 11th in the league in that category. The Bucs' sacks per pass play rate, however, ranks only 18th, and they have gotten to a respectable number by getting everyone involved. Eight different Buccaneer defenders have recorded at least 3.0 sacks so far this season, but none are over 5.5, and the top edge rusher is rookie Yaya Diaby, with 5.0. The Buccaneers have multiple good off-ball blitzers, such as safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and linebacker Lavonte David, but would also like to get pressure on the quarterback at times without sending extra rushers or dialing up exotic rush packages. Diaby has been impressive in his rookie campaign and Barrett has been one of the league's best edge rushers since he arrived in Tampa in 2019. The Bucs will hope for more production from those two down the stretch, as well as from rotational rushers Anthony Nelson, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Markees Watts.


  1. Jaguars TE Evan Engram vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David

Engram's 88 receptions are second among all NFL tight ends this season, three behind the 91 that Minnesota's T.J. Hockenson has racked up. Engram is also the Jaguars leader in that department and has been picking up the slack with Christian Kirk out, catching 24 passes and scoring three touchdowns over the past three weeks. The 6-3, 240-pound Engram isn't the most effective blocking tight end in the NFL but he runs like a wide receiver, has reliable hands and can add on yards after the catch. The Jaguars like to set him up detached from the line and get the ball into his hands quickly; heading into Week 15 he had the most targets (83), receptions (70) and yards (539) on "quick passes" this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Fortunately, the Buccaneers possess one of the best coverage linebackers of the last decade. David won't always be in coverage (or in his area in a zone) on Engram's routes, but when he is that will be a good matchup. Since Next Gen began tracking data in 2016, David has accumulated an expected points added (EPA) total of -25.5 when he is the targeted defender. That's the sixth best mark among linebackers in that period. Now in his 12th season, the 33-year-old is playing like he's still in his mid-20s, filling up his stat line with 105 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, five passes defensed and one forced fumble.

  1. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Jaguars OLB Josh Allen

These two may see each other again in the Pro Bowl. Allen is likely headed there for the first time since his 10.5-sack campaign as a rookie in 2019, as he is currently tied for fifth in the NFL with 13.5 QB takedowns. He did not make the Pro Bowl last season after dipping to 7.0 sacks, but that didn't properly capture how well he played. According to Next Gen Stats he had career highs in QB pressures (77), hurries (49) and QB hits (21). He's simply finishing more of those plays with sacks this year and already has four multi-sack games, indicating that he is capable of taking over a game and throwing an offense into chaos. Allen possesses elite speed and explosiveness at the snap and has a well-developed arsenal of pass-rush moves. He more commonly rushes from the left end of the O-Line, which means he'll face a stiff challenge this week against Wirfs, the Bucs' standout left tackle. Wirfs has been dominant in a new position for most of the season, though he did uncharacteristically struggled a bit in Weeks 11 and 12 because he was hampered by an ankle injury. With time to recover, Wirfs returned to his usual form, allowing only one pressure in each of the next two games. He is incredibly athletic for his season and is quick enough to handle even the fastest edge rushers.

  1. Jaguars T Anton Harrison vs. Buccaneers OLB Yaya Diaby

After losing Jawaan Taylor to the Chiefs in free agency this offseason, the Jaguars reloaded at right tackle by using their first-round pick, number 27 overall, on Oklahoma's Anton Harrison. Jacksonville has not hesitated to throw Harrison into the fire as a rookie – not only has he started 14 games this season but he's often been left on an island. According to Next Gen Stats, he's been left in one-on-one situations with a pass-rusher on 84.9% of his pass block snaps this season, which is the highest percentage for any right tackle in the NFL. And his 6.6% pressure rate allowed on such plays is third best in the league. Harrison has good size and length and makes up for perhaps less than elite athletic talents by being a heady technician. Diaby has also carved out a major role as a rookie after being drafted in the third round, as he has worked his way up to starter status and now generally plays the most snaps among the team's outside linebackers. Diaby is second on the team with 5.0 sacks and has recorded at least one sack or quarterback hit in five of the last eight games. Diaby is also a plus defender against the run.

  1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Jaguars CB Darious Williams

Evans is wrapping up yet another incredible season, as he continues to put up big numbers in his 10th NFL season. He remains one of the league's most dangerous deep threat and is the player Mayfield usually turns to when he wants to air it out. Evans has been the target on 51.0% of all the passes Mayfield has thrown more than 20 yards in the air this season, and his 353 yards on such plays is fourth in the league. After his five-catch, 57-yard, one-touchdown performance in Green Bay, Evans is up to a team-leading 1,077 receiving yards and is averaging a robust 16.3 yards per catch. He continues to have deceptive speed with his long strides but through the years he has added an innate sense of how to subtly adjust his routes to affect defenders and create bigger windows for Mayfield to throw into. Evans' 11 touchdown catches rank second in the NFL behind Miami's Tyreek Hill. Williams, who rose from undrafted free agent to highly-coveted free agent over several standout seasons with the Rams, is having a very productive second season in Jacksonville. He leads the Jaguars and is tied for fourth in the NFL with four interceptions and is second in the league with 19 passes defensed. According to Next Gen Stats, he has been particularly effective in zone coverage, where he has allowed -4.6 completions over expected and -22.0 EPA this season.

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