Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
Once again we have reentered the conversation about who the Bucs are as a team, are they the Super Bowl-caliber team they have showed at times, or the team with an inconsistent offense that has a defense that allows too many chunk plays in the games they lost? A good sign is that they haven’t lost back-to-back games this year. That trend will be tested against the Chiefs so they will need to come out swinging hard as they have in every matchup following a loss. They have a bye week coming up and carrying a momentum win over the Super Bowl champs into that week off will pay off dividends for December football. Will they prove once again they should be considered a contender or will they stumble into potentially imploding in the final stretch? This Sunday will tell a part of that story, here are this week’s Top 5 things I want to see:
1. Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes
Brady has 2,955 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Mahomes is sitting on 3,035 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in 1 less game. This could be the last time we see these 2 quarterbacks face off against each other unless they meet up again in a Super Bowl. Brady leads the series 2-1, but Mahomes won their last matchup. Kansas City needs to keep winning to keep pace with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. Tampa has fallen 2 games behind the New Orleans Saints so they need to get back into the win column as they still want a shot at the division. Each team needs its star quarterback to deliver and be the reason why they walk away from Sunday with a victory.
2. How does the defense defend Travis Kelce?
Kelce is once again having a great season and finds himself on a hot streak. In the last 3 games, he has 26 receptions, 395 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He even found himself in the passing stats with a completion that went for a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders. Mahomes has plenty of weapons he can spread the ball too, but his tight end is the key part to this offense outside their franchise quarterback. Andy Reid always finds a way to scheme up a way to get him open. How will Todd Bowles attack this situation? With Jamel Dean out, the defense is down an option if he wanted to stick one of his cornerbacks on him. Devin White and Lavonte David could potentially get some opportunities. If they can limit the targets to Kelce, then they can improve their odds of getting off the field.
3. Can they get the backfield going again?
The Bucs struggled to get anything productive from their rushing attack against the Los Angeles Rams after seeing Ronald Jones go for 192 yards in the previous week. Brady benefits when he has a ground game and a reliable back to check down to out of the backfield. Jones has proven he can be the back on the first couple of downs, but they need someone to emerge as a passing threat. Where is LeSean McCoy? Does Ke’Shawn Vaughn get a crack again at that role? If the team wants to get this offense functioning then Bruce Arians and Bryon Leftwich need to find TB12 someone he can trust to dump off to.
4. Who makes a game-changing play, Antoine Winfield Jr. or Tyrann Mathieu?
As a rookie, in 13 games (11 starts), Mathieu had 68 tackles (65 solo), 6 TFL, 1 sack, 3 QB Hits, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions, and 9 pass deflections. Winfield Jr. has started all 11 games in his rookie season thus far, he has 61 tackles (38 solo), 1 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 QB Hits, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, and 4 pass deflections. Mathieu played under Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles during his time with the Arizona Cardinals and as I said in my report on Winfield Jr. in the Blitzalytics Prospect Encyclopedia, he was the perfect fit to fill the Honey Badger role in this Tampa defensive unit. He has played the part in Year 1. This matchup might come down to who can win the turnover battle, I got a feeling one or both of these players will make a mark in that department on Sunday afternoon.
5. How does the team respond if KC jumps out to an early lead?
The Chiefs are the most explosive team in the NFL and they can jump out to a 14-0 lead like it’s nothing. We have seen 2 completely different responses by Tampa against good teams in this situation before. Against the Green Bay Packers, they found themselves down 10-0 after the 1st quarter, then the Bucs went on to score 28 points in the 2nd which led to a 38-10 win. It was completely different a couple of weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints. They found themselves down 14-0 after the 1st quarter, then saw the Saints score 17 more points in the 2nd quarter which led to their dominant 38-3 win over the Buccaneers. If they find themselves in this situation again, do they fold, or come back swinging? Regardless, win or lose, this is a statement game on who the Bucs are as a team.