Last December, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers headed to Detroit in Week 15 with a 6-7 record and the knowledge that their final slim playoff hopes had ended when the Lions lost to Minnesota the week before. At that point, the Buccaneers were simply hoping to finish the season strong in Bruce Arians' first year at the helm and they did in fact beat the Lions, 38-17, before dropping their final two games to finish at 7-9.
The Buccaneers return to Detroit a year later with much more to play for and a chance to turn a Lions loss into the reason why they are in the postseason instead of eliminated from it. A win on Saturday at Ford Field would clinch Tampa Bay's first trip to the playoffs since 2007.
Tampa Bay rides a two-game winning streak into Detroit, one that has greatly improved the team's playoff standing. The Lions have lost four of their last five, including two of three since Head Coach Matt Patricia was dismissed and Darrell Bevell took over the helm on an interim basis. Detroit has been eliminated from the playoff race and is dealing with a rash of injuries, particularly on defense, but is led by a quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who won't let his team quit on the season.
It could be another high-scoring affair for the Buccaneers, who are coming off a 31-27 win in Atlanta that required a massive second-half comeback. The Lions have allowed a league-high 31.1 points per game but also have an offense capable of putting up big numbers, including nearly 27 points per game over the last four weeks. Stafford ranks ninth in the NFL in passing yards this season and recently threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns against a very good Bears defense in a 34-30 Lions win. Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians is definitely a Stafford fan and knows that the Bucs' defense will be challenged on Saturday.
"He's one of my all-time favorite guys," said Arians. "He's tough as nails. Like I said the other day, he's one of the few quarterbacks I like going out and watching warm up. Just watching him throw because he's so special. I've always felt like he was one of the top four or five guys in this league for a long time. Like I said, he's tough as nails and his guys know it. They know he's going to suck it up for them."
The Lions do indeed know that after Stafford played most of last Sunday's game despite a painful rib injury, noting afterward that he felt he owed it to his teammates to be on the field. Assuming he can play again Saturday, the veteran quarterback will continue to lean on newly-minted Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson as well as veteran wideout Marvin Jones, who has been a steady producer with number-one receiver Kenny Golladay sidelined for much of the season. The Lions also have dynamic rookie running back D'Andre Swift back in the lineup after he missed several games due to a concussion.
While Stafford was able to grit his way through his injury last week, a number of key defenders for the Lions have been too hurt to play in recent weeks. Detroit did just activate third-round rookie defensive end Julian Okwara from injured reserve so that he could join his brother, Lions sack leader Romeo Okwara on defense. However, linemen Trey Flowers, Da'Shawn Hand, Danny Shelton and Jashon Cornell all currently remain on IR and Everson Griffen was just activated from the COVID list. Shelton did return to practice this week but it's not yet certain if he will play. In addition, the team's original starting cornerback duo of first-round rookie Jeff Okudah and former Falcons standout Desmond Trufant are out for the season with injuries.
All of that has added to a tough season for Detroit's defense, which is giving up just over 400 yards per game and has not effectively stopped either the run (31st in the NFL) or the pass (27th). Big plays have been lacking, as Detroit has just 12 takeaways and 19 sacks.
That said, the Buccaneers have a very significant prize within reach and can't afford to bring anything but their best effort to Ford Field on Saturday. Most pressingly, the Bucs need to figure out how to avoid their seemingly-weekly slow starts on both sides of the ball and play four quarters as effectively as they did the last two in Atlanta. The result of a more complete 60-minute effort could be what Arians calls a "hat and t-shirt game," with the Bucs getting gear to commemorate their return to the playoffs.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) at Detroit Lions (5-9)
- Saturday, December 26, 1:00 p.m. ET
- Ford Field (capacity: 65,000…no fans will be in attendance)
- Detroit, Michigan
- Television: NFL Network
- TV Broadcast Team: Adam Amin (play-by-play), Mark Schlereth (analyst), Lindsay Czarniak (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 have more wins against Detroit than any other team in the league, including their 27th victory in the all-time series last December. That said, the Lions still lead the 44-year head-to-head battle by a 31-27 margin, including a 16-14 lead in games played in the Motor City.
The Bucs cut into that lead with their 38-17 win at Detroit in Week 15 of last season. Tampa Bay ran out to a quick 21-0 lead on three long touchdown passes by Jameis Winston, two to Breshad Perriman and one to Scotty Miller. Detroit rallied behind fill-in quarterback David Blough, eventually pulling to within seven points in the fourth quarter, but Detroit native Sean Murphy-Bunting ended any comeback thoughts with a 70-yard pick-six.
The Bucs have a long history with the Lions because they were fellow NFC Central members from 1977-2001. Then the NFL realigned in 2002 and the five-team NFC Central became the four-team NFC North, with only the Buccaneers departing to start over in the more geographically accurate NFC South. Despite that split, the Buccaneers and Lions still saw each other frequently in the years that followed. In fact, from 2005-17, the two teams met eight times, with the Lions holding a 5-3 edge in that span. That included the two most recent meetings before last year's game, a 24-21 Detroit win in Tampa in 2017 and a 34-17 Lions decision in Detroit in 2014. Tampa Bay's best run in the series spanned that 2002 divisional divorce, with the Bucs winning six of the eight games played between 1999 and 2005.
The Buccaneers and Lions spent most of their shared 25 years in the NFC Central punting the series lead back and forth. The head-to-head record was tied at 5-5 after the first 10 games, 11-11 after the first 22, 15-15 after the first 30, and so on. Detroit did pull away a little bit in the first half of the 1990s by winning five straight, at a time when the great Barry Sanders was often tormenting the Buccaneers, but the aforementioned 1999-2005 run evened things back up a bit.
The most important win for the Buccaneers in the all-time series is one that doesn't count in that series record noted above. It was the 1997 Wild Card game, which happened to be the last game ever played at Tampa/Houlihan's Stadium, with the Bucs moving into the brand-new Raymond James Stadium the next year. Tampa Bay broke a 15-year playoff drought that season by going 10-6 and winning a wild card berth, in a season in which, incredibly, four teams from the "Black and Blue Division" made the playoffs. The Bucs and Lions had split during the regular season but the playoff game in Tampa on December 28 was all Tampa Bay in a 20-10 final that wasn't that close. RB Warrick Dunn and FB Mike Alstott combined for 140 rushing yards and Alstott's 31-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Bucs a 20-0 lead that was enough to send them to the next round of the playoffs at the home of yet another NFC Central team, the Green Bay Packers.
Even though that's the only time Tampa Bay and Detroit have met in the postseason, it wasn't the first time they played what was essentially an elimination game. The Buccaneers visited Detroit in the final week of the 1981 regular season, with each team owning an 8-7 record. The winner would take the NFC Central crown and a playoff berth; the loser would be eliminated. The Buccaneers won, 20-17, keyed by an 84-yard Kevin House touchdown catch and a 21-yard fumble return by DT David Logan after a sack by DE Lee Roy Selmon.
The situation was very similar a year later when the Bucs and Lions matched up in Tampa in the penultimate week of the regular season. Due to a players' strike that shaved seven games out of the middle of the season, the Bucs and Lions were each 3-4 with two games to go. Tampa Bay rallied from a 21-6 deficit to win 23-21, then won again the next weekend against Chicago to sneak into the playoffs. This time, however, the Lions also won their last game and made the playoffs, too, at 4-5.
- DL Ndamukong Suh was the second-overall pick in the 2010 draft, chosen by the Lions. He played his first five seasons in Detroit, racking up 36.0 sacks, four Pro Bowl selections and three first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors. Suh has played the past two seasons for the Buccaneers.
- Buccaneers DL Patrick O'Connor was a seventh-round draft pick by the Lions in 2017. He had a brief stint on Detroit's practice squad to start his rookie season but later that year ended up on the same crew with the Buccaneers.
- In that same draft, the Lions selected DL Jeremiah Ledbetter in the sixth round. Ledbetter made the roster as a rookie and played in all 16 games for Detroit but was waived at the beginning of 2018. The Buccaneers signed him to their practice squad in December of 2018.
- S Andrew Adams is in his second stint with the Buccaneers, and in between he spent time in Detroit. After playing in Tampa in 2018, Adams signed with the Lions in March of 2019. After the Lions waived him in the final cuts that year, Adams came back to the Buccaneers and has been on the team for the past two seasons.
- Tampa Bay Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote played 13 seasons in the NFL, including one with the Lions. Foote started all 14 games in which he appeared for Detroit in 2009, recording 99 tackles and two sacks.
- Buccaneers Assistant Coach Tom Moore has spent more than four decades coaching in the NFL, and unsurprisingly that included a stint in Detroit. From 1994-96 he served as the Lions' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Wayne Fontes' staff, working with the likes of Barry Sanders, Herman Moore and Scott Mitchell. The Lions made the playoffs in two of his three seasons with the team.
- John Spytek is in his fifth season as Tampa Bay's director of player personnel. His first job in the NFL was as an operations intern with the Lions in 2004.
- Detroit Linebackers Coach Ty McKenzie played three games at linebacker for the Buccaneers in 2010.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- 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
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- QB Tom Brady (UFA)
- WR Antonio Brown (FA)
- RB Leonard Fournette (FA)
- TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE)
- T Joe Haeg (UFA)
- WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick)
- RB LeSean McCoy (FA)
- DT Steve McLendon (T-NYJ)
- K Ryan Succop (FA)
- RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick)
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (2nd-round draft pick)
- T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)
- WR Quintez Cephus (5th-round draft pick)
- LB Jamie Collins (UFA)
- QB Chase Daniel (UFA)
- S Duron Harmon (T-NE)
- G Jonah Jackson (3rd-round draft pick)
- CB Jeff Okudah (1st-round draft pick…currently on IR)
- DE Julian Okwara (3rd-round draft pick)
- RB Adrian Peterson (FA)
- WR Mohamed Sanu (FA)
- DT Danny Shelton (UFA…currently on IR)
- C Logan Sternberg (4th-round draft pick)
- RB D'Andre Swift (2nd-round draft pick)
- CB Desmond Trufant (FA…currently on IR)
- T Halapoulivaati Vaitai (UFA)
- DT Nick Williams (UFA)
ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
- Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown.
- Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three.
- The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.
- The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett will play on the tag's one-year contract this fall.
- The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense.
- The Lions do not currently have a special teams coordinator. The man in that role, Brayden Coombs, was fired on Monday after he apparently called for a fake punt on Sunday against Tennessee without consulting with Bevell or the rest of the Lions' coaching staff. Coombs was in his first season in that role, replacing John Bonamego.
- The Lions made a number of changes to their coaching staff after the 2019 season, including the hiring of Coombs. Most notably, Cory Undlin is in his first season as the defensive coordinator after Paul Pasqualoni retired at the end of last season. It is the first NFL coordinator job for Undlin, who had spent the previous five seasons as the Eagles' defensive backs coach. In addition, the Lions' staff has new coaches in 2020 for their defensive backs (Steve Gregory, promoted from defensive assistant), linebackers (Ty McKenzie), tight ends (Ben Johnson, promoted from quality control coach) and offensive line (Hank Fraley, promoted from assistant offensive line coach).
- Detroit moved on from one of its most prominent defensive players in the offseason, trading cornerback Darius Slay to the Eagles for third and fifth-round picks in the 2020 draft. The Lions already had the third-overall pick in that draft and used it on a direct replacement for Slay in Ohio State star Jeff Okudah. The Lions also signed former Falcons standout cornerback Desmond Trufant after he was released by Atlanta, but Trufant is currently on injured reserve, as is Okudah.
- The Lions signed punter Jack Fox, a 2019 undrafted free agent signee by Kansas City, to their practice squad last December. That proved to be a very good move. The Lions let incumbent punter Sam Martin walk in free agency and turned the job over to Fox, who has been so good he was just named to the NFC's Pro Bowl roster this week. Fox ranks third in the NFL in gross punting average (49.3) and second in net average (45.3).
Playing for January – The simplest and first step for the Buccaneers in their quest to get a playoff spot locked up as soon as possible was noted above: Win in Detroit and Tampa Bay is in. But that's far from the only goal the Bucs can chase over the final two weeks of the regular season. Depending upon what happens in the Christmas Day game between Minnesota and New Orleans, the Bucs could head into their Saturday game knowing they have a chance to pull within striking distance of their first NFC South title since 2007. Tampa Bay has quietly closed the gap on New Orleans and if the Vikings and Buccaneers both win in Week 16 the Bucs and Saints will have identical 10-5 records. Of course, while those hypothetical record would be identical they wouldn't exactly be equal, because the Saints' win ledger includes two against Tampa Bay. That's an iron-clad head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Bucs would still need to beat Atlanta in Week 17 and have the Saints lose at Carolina to take the division crown. Moving up from the sixth to the fifth seed is a more attainable goal for Tampa Bay because it doesn't necessitate any outside help. If the Bucs can beat the Lions they will head into the final week of the regular season knowing that another win over Atlanta would secure that fifth seed.
A Full 60 – It's the story that won't go away: No matter how much attention they pay to it and emphasis they put on it in practice, the Buccaneers simply can't seem to avoid slow starts in the second half of this season. That problem reared its head in a nearly critical way in Week 15 when the Bucs were outgained by a 261-60 yard margin in the first half by Atlanta, going into halftime down by a 17-0 score. As the Buccaneers learned in narrow losses to AFC top seed Kansas City and likely NFC playoff squad Los Angeles, such starts can doom them against stronger teams. Tampa Bay's shaky openings have usually begun with a single missed opportunity, whether it was an overthrown third-down pass to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski in Week 14 or an unsuccessful tackle attempt on a third-down dump-off to Todd Gurley last weekend. Said Arians after Sunday's game: "My comments to the team after the game [were], 'If we can play 30 minutes like that, why can't we play 60?' It's frustrating. We lost to the Chiefs and the Rams by three, both of those games spotting them [points] and playing this way. It's not going to happen. You're not going to beat those good teams playing this way. We've got to play better in the first half than we played today." The Buccaneers are right to believe they won't be able to win in that manner in the playoffs. They're not in the playoffs yet, but it would be a big confidence boost if the team can solve that problem before getting to January, and that could start on Saturday in Detroit.
The Biggest Takeaway – Two weeks ago, the Buccaneers technically won the turnover battle against Minnesota when Jason Pierre-Paul came up with fourth-down strip-sack and a fumble recovery on the Vikings' final play of the game. A sack would have been enough to get the ball back for the Bucs' offense, but the play counted as a takeaway, the only one by either team in the game. Notably, the Buccaneers are now 7-0 in games in which they win the turnover-ratio battle. Last Sunday, neither team committed a turnover in the Bucs' comeback win at Atlanta. On one hand, the Buccaneers' offense deserves praise for having two straight giveaway-free games. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay defense is used to creating more turnovers and may need to get back to that to continue winning. Even with a total of just five takeaways in the last five games, Todd Bowles' defense still ranks fourth in the NFL with 49 turnovers created since the start of the 2019 season. The Buccaneers have scored 85 points off of turnovers this season, fourth-most in the NFL. Each of the first six teams on that list, and eight of the top 10, are currently in playoff position. After a, yes, slow start in Atlanta last Sunday, the Bucs' defense thoroughly clamped down in the second half, ending four of the Falcons' six possessions without a first down. That's the work of a very good defense, and the Bucs' remain a the sixth spot in the NFL's defensive rankings. To truly be an elite defense that can make a difference in the playoffs, however, the Buccaneers know they need to get back to causing turnovers.
A Cavalcade of Stars – The Buccaneers played their last game without running back Ronald Jones, who is currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list. They will likely have to do so again on Saturday in Detroit. It is obviously not a good thing to be without the NFL's eighth-leading rusher but Tampa Bay spent the offseason and part of the regular season adding to its arsenal of weapons, to the point that they can survive the absence of one or two. Against Atlanta, Leonard Fournette stepped in for Jones and scored two touchdowns before icing the game with a tough third-down run near the end of the fourth quarter. That protected a lead the Buccaneers got when midseason addition Antonio Brown scored his first touchdown for the team on a 46-yard go route. That combined with unsurprising production from the likes of Mike Evans (110 yards), Chris Godwin (54 yards and a touchdown), Cam Brate (54 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (three catches for 29 yards) to put the Bucs over 400 yards and 30 points on the afternoon. So who will make the big plays on Saturday in Detroit. Any of the above? Scotty Miller, who had a huge touchdown in the Week 14 win over Minnesota? LeSean McCoy, who made several big plays in that same contest? Said Offensive Coordinator of the Bucs' delayed but impressive offensive output in Atlanta: "It was just getting the right stuff called and getting the right players the football. And it wasn't just Tom. When you have Mike, you have Chris, you have Gronk…when you have these guys you're able to make plays uniquely. I just think we can do thinks uniquely that just probably us and a very few teams can do. We have really good football players outside. When they're in position and you give them opportunities they consistently make plays. It's good to have guys like this."
Final Journey – Travel hasn't been particularly fun for NFL teams this year due to strict COVID-19 regulations and practices. That has been true for the Buccaneers, who even had to endure a six-hour delay before their flight to Charlotte in Week 10. However, the Bucs have certainly enjoyed their results on the road this season. Tampa Bay has quietly gotten to the verge of matching their best single-season road record ever. At 5-2, they need one more win in Detroit to equal the 6-2 mark the 2002 Bucs team put up on their path all the way to the Lombardi Trophy presentation platform. The Bucs haven't lost away from home since Week Five and have won four straight road contests. There are a number of other teams in the NFL this season that have a 5-2 record in road games so far, but the only club with a better mark is the 13-1 Chiefs, who finished a perfect 8-0 with their victory in New Orleans last weekend. Given that the Buccaneers are likely to end up with a Wild Card spot if they make the playoffs, they will have to open their postseason run on the road and possibly play multiple times away from home. One more regular-season road victory would further boost the Bucs' confidence that they can win away from home in the playoffs.
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.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- QB Tom Brady (not injury related) – TUES: NL; WEDS: DNP
- CB Carlton Davis (groin) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP
- S Antoine Winfield (shoulder) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: LP
- LB Jamie Collins (neck) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP
- OL Tyrell Crosby (ankle) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP
- T Taylor Decker (groin) – TUES: LP; WEDS: DNP
- CB Mike Ford (foot) – TUES: LP; WEDS: FP
- WR Kenny Golladay (hip) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP
- De Julian Okwara (knee) – TUES: NL; WEDS: FP
- K Matt Prater (back) – TUES: NL; WEDS: DNP
- C Frank Ragnow (throat) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP
- CB Darryl Roberts (hip) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP
- QB Matthew Stafford (rib, right thumb) – TUES: LP; WEDS: LP
- T Halapoulivaati Vaitai (concussion) – TUES: DNP; WEDS: LP
Domed stadium. Outside: Mostly cloudy, light rain or snow, high of 36, low of 33, 33% chance of rain, 65% humidity, winds out of the S at 8 mph.
Head referee: Scott Novak (7 seasons, 2 as referee)
- Favorite: Buccaneers (-9.0)
- Over/Under: 54.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
- Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 117
- Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 11
- Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 3,886
- Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 97.5
- Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 900
- Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 57
- Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 779
- Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
- Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 9.5
- Tackles: ILB Devin White, 130
- Points Scored: K Matt Prater, 95
- Touchdowns: RB D'Andre Swift, 9
- Passing Yards: QB Matthew Stafford, 3,774
- Passer Rating: QB Matthew Stafford, 95.3
- Rushing Yards: RB Adrian Peterson, 531
- Receptions: WR Marvin Jones, 65
- Receiving Yards: WR Marvin Jones, 779
- Interceptions: S Duran Harmon, 2
- Sacks: DE Romeo Okwara, 8.0
- Tackles: LB Jamie Collins, 101
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
- Scoring Offense: 7th (28.6 ppg)
- Total Offense: 17th (362.3 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 6th (268.4 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 29th (93.9 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: 18th (21.9)
- Third-Down Pct.: 13th (42.9%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 3rd (3.50%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 6th (69.8%)
- Scoring Defense: 12th (22.9 ppg)
- Total Defense: 6th (333.1 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 25th (255.3 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 1st (77.8 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 6th (20.1)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 15th (40.9%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 8th (7.93%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 19th (63.0%)
- Turnover Margin: t-8th (+5)
- Scoring Offense: 19th (23.9 ppg)
- Total Offense: 19th (357.1 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 7th (264.5 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 30th (92.6 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: 11th (22.6)
- Third-Down Pct.: 14th (42.4%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 22nd (7.12%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: t-10th (64.7%)
- Scoring Defense: 32nd (31.1 ppg)
- Total Defense: 30th (401.4 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 27th (264.1 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 29th (137.1 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 32nd (25.3)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 28th (48.8%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 28th (4.00%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 31st (73.2%)
- Turnover Margin: t-23rd (-5)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Tom Brady is scheduled to play in his 300th regular-season game on Saturday, which will tie former kicker John Kasay for the 10th most in league history. Brady is third all-time in games played among players who did not serve as a place-kicker at any point in their careers, behind only Jerry Rice (303) and Brett Favre (302).
- WR Mike Evans has 11 touchdown receptions in 2020 , which is only one shy of his own team record in that category, which he set at 12 as a rookie in 2014 and then matched in 2016. Evans also needs just two more touchdowns of any kind to tie the team record of 13 that James Wilder set in 1984.
- In addition, Evans can join a select group of NFL receiving stars with one more touchdown on Saturday. With 8,039 yards and 59 TD catches in his career, Evans just needs that additional score to join Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe as the only players in league history to amass at least 8,000 receiving yards and 60 TD catches through their first seven seasons.
- CB Carlton Davis has a team-high four interceptions this season. If he gets one more he'll be the first Buccaneer with a five-interception season since Lavonte David in 2013.
- TE Cameron Brate hauled in his 29th career touchdown pass in the Bucs' Week 10 win over Carolina, putting him in fourth place on the Bucs' all-time list in that category. Two more would pull him even with the man in third place, former WR Kevin House, who had 31 scoring grabs as a Buccaneer.
- QB Tom Brady has 32 touchdown passes in 2020, the second-highest single-season total in team history. Brady needs two more to break Jameis Winston's team record of 33, set just last year.
- Jason Pierre-Paul has 9.5 sacks on the season and fellow OLB Shaquil Barrett has 8.0, as does ILB Devin White. If Pierre-Paul can get one more and Barrett or White two more they will become the first pair of Buccaneers teammates to both hit double digits in that category since Warren Sapp and Marcus Jones in 2000.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on the challenges of preparing for a game on Saturday while also allowing players and coaches to celebrate the holidays with their families: "There is so much to do – as coaches, especially. Those of us that have older daughters [ask them], 'Hey, can you get mom something and send it to me? Because I haven't gotten her anything yet.' We talked to the guys about trying to get their shopping done early and having as much time with their families as we possibly can. I tried to schedule the schedules so we're out of the building at least by 1 [p.m.] on Thursday and we don't come back until 2:30 or 3 [p.m.] on Friday – at least 24 to 28 hours with their family on Christmas."
- Wide receiver Chris Godwin on the Bucs' latest comeback win: "Honestly, it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You never want to be in a game where you're down 17 points at halftime and now your back is against the wall. I'm very proud of the way we all fought as a team. It felt like we were all clicking in the second half and really started to put it together. I think the goal now is to be able to put together four quarters of football because I don't know if we've done that yet this year. We've had our growing pains, but I like that we're being resilient, we're fighting and we're staying together. It's only up from here."
- Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul on what the Bucs need to improve on as they close in on a playoff berth: "I think the most [important] thing that we have to get right is starting fast on the defensive part of the ball. As a matter of fact, the whole team. Basically, we have to start fast. We've been starting slow for the past couple of weeks and then last week – as you can tell – we started slow and had everybody worrying. I feel like as long as we can start fast as a group, and we don't have to wait to push it and step on the pedal, we'll be fine. I just think being football players we get self-awareness that we're slacking a little bit. I just feel like we [need to] come out and go hard from the very first beginning to the last. Even myself."
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles on what he thinks of the Bucs' total of 14 interceptions: "I think we can get a lot more. For me, anything up over 20 is pretty good, so we're a little short there. We've dropped a few, we've knocked some down [and] we've given away some opportunities. We've got two games to go and we're chirping and chiming at it. It'll get better – they come in bunches."
- QB Tom Brady on how he thinks the season has gone: "I think the season will be what we make of it. Our season is not over yet. We've got a lot of football ahead. We've got, obviously, a hugely important game this week and then one more game in the regular season. We're going to have to play our way into the playoffs. It means we've got to win games. This is the one that matters the most because it's the next one. If we [win] it, we do get in, so it's hugely important. Every season presents different challenges. Every season has different things that challenge you in different ways. This one has been a challenge I think for everybody around the world. We're managing with it, we're managing it [and] we're dealing with it as best we can. I think we're trying to make improvements – trying to make them on a daily basis. I'm very excited about this weekend's game and seeing what we do on the day after Christmas."