The Tampa Bay Buccaneers season has become the tale of two teams. The offense is dangerous and full of big-play potential at all times. Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are potent weapons at Josh Freeman’s disposal and have resulted in the Bucs having the fourth highest scoring offense in the NFL this season. The third-ranked team in that category is the Pewter Pirates’ opponent this Sunday. The Denver Broncos have won six consecutive games and are 8-3 on the season.
Peyton Manning hasn’t missed a beat since returning from missing a year due to neck surgery and is an MVP candidate. He has thrown for over 300 yards four times this season and twice for over 290 yards. Defending the big play through the air has been something the Buccaneers secondary has had trouble with this season.
Manning has used receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas as his go-to targets. Thomas already has over 1,000 yards receiving on 61 receptions. Decker has eight touchdowns and 54 catches. The Bucs’ other team, the defense, has been exposed by elite quarterbacks so far this season and with the loss of Eric Wright to a four-game Adderall suspension, the pass defense is even weaker.
The Tampa Bay rush defense has proved to be the opposite of their counterparts behind them. The Bucs still have the top-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing only 81 yards on the ground per game. One prevailing theory as to why this may be is that teams are throwing on Tampa Bay and not even worrying about running the ball.
A deeper look into team stats from the past proves that having a good pass defense doesn’t mean a thing. The New York Giants and New England Patriots each ranked in the bottom five of pass defense in 2011 and each represented their respective conferences in the Super Bowl. In 2009 the New Orleans Saints were ranked 26th in pass defense and won the Super Bowl.
A more important statistic than pass and rush defense is turnovers forced. Tampa Bay, led by Ronde Barber, has forced 22 turnovers this season, earning them the sixth spot in league rankings.
The Broncos placed tailback Willis McGahee on injured reserve, ending his 2012 season. The backfield for Denver will be by committee for the rest of the season with appearances by Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno. Look for Manning to be even more pass-happy than normal. This may play into the Bucs’ favor and if Tampa Bay can force a couple turnovers and create a short field for an offense that can light up the scoreboard.
For Tampa Bay to continue its dream season, the Bucs must beat Manning and the Broncos. Without a victory the Buccaneers will be forced to scoreboard watch and seemingly have to run the table to give themselves any shot at the playoffs. With upcoming road games against division foes New Orleans and Atlanta, Tampa Bay’s game in Denver becomes that much more important this Sunday.
Prediction: Bucs win 35-31
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