Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
The Bucs entered their bye week on a 2-game skid and will be looking to take advantage of their time off by gearing up for the final 4 games of the 2020 season. The hopes of winning the NFC South are very unlikely unless the New Orleans Saints fall entirely on their face by losing their remaining games and Tampa wins out. Now with their sights on clinching a playoff berth as a Wildcard, it starts this Sunday against another playoff contender in the Vikings. Tampa currently sits at #6 seed and Minnesota is the #7 seed. The Arizona Cardinals are also in the playoff hunt among a number of 5-7 teams that could go on a run and hope the chips fall their way to crack into the postseason. A win for the Buccaneers would not only give them the tie-breaker over the Vikings but put them one step closer to clinching a playoff berth. As December football continues, here are my Top 5 things I want to see in Week 14:
1. Can the team score more than 24 points?
Tampa has failed to score over 24 points in their 5 losses. The Chicago Bears were the only team to score less than 24 points and beat the Bucs. In their 7 wins, only the Los Angeles Chargers scored more than 24 points. That seems to be the magical number. Regardless of how they get there, it should be their goal to be the first team to crack 24 points in every game. Minnesota gives up 27.4 PPG, which is the 7th most in the NFL. That sets up well in the Buccaneers’ favor to get on the scoreboard all Sunday afternoon.
2. Will the defense bottle up Dalvin Cook?
Dalvin Cook leads the NFL with 1,564 total scrimmage yards. He is tied with Tyreek Hill with the most touchdowns by a skill position player with 14 on the season. It will be strength vs strength in this matchup as Cook averages 113.6 YPG on the ground, which leads the league, and the Bucs have the best rush defense by only allowing 74.2 YPG. This sets up for Lavonte David and Devin White to be the ones to help get the job done. If they can limit Cook’s impact then it will help lead to a victory on Sunday.
3. Is Tom Brady going to play turnover-less ball?
TB12’s most interceptions in a season is 14, which last happened in 2005. He has 11 interceptions this year and could break his career-high on his current pace. He has had 2+ interceptions in 4 of the 5 losses. One of the reasons why the organization brought Brady in was because of his ability to put the team in a winning position because of the way he protects the ball. If the Bucs want to turn things around and go on a Super Bowl run then they need their franchise quarterback to cut out the turnovers for the remainder of the season.
4. How does the secondary defend Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson?
The Vikings are entering the matchup without their veteran tight end, Kyle Rudolph, who is listed as doubtful, and their up-and-coming tight end, Irv Smith Jr. is also questionable to play. This makes Thielen and Jefferson the only proven healthy options among Minnesota’s passing attack. Tampa will be without Jamel Dean as he has been listed as doubtful for the game. Carlton Davis is looking to rebound after his rough afternoon against Tyreek Hill the last time he was on a field. Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and the rest of the secondary will have their hands full with one of the top receiving tandems in the league.
5. Does a hot-streak start or will the team implode?
After this week’s game, the Buccaneers face the Atlanta Falcons twice with the Detroit Lions in the middle of that series. Personally, I see the final 4 games of the season going two different ways, either the team handles their business, enters Wildcard Weekend peaking at the right time, and rides that momentum on a deep playoff run. Or they lose this weekend, more questions enter about the team, split the series with the Falcons, and either miss out on the playoffs or suffer an early postseason exit. Sunday afternoon will tell us how the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to be remembered.