The Detroit Lions are set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in an NFC Divisional playoff game that is a rematch of a regular season contest between the two teams. The Lions and Buccaneers have faced off before in the playoffs, but not since the late 1990s. This time around, both teams come in hot and there are some juicy storylines to follow.
Lions Look to Avenge Early Season Loss
The Lions and Bucs squared off in Detroit back in Week 6, with the Buccaneers coming away with a narrow 30-27 victory. However, that was the low point of the season for the Lions, as they have gone on an incredible run since then led by quarterback Jared Goff. Meanwhile, the Bucs have had a turbulent year with Tom Brady’s brief retirement and subsequent return, as well as installing Baker Mayfield at quarterback midseason.
According to Lions head coach Dan Campbell, his team was still trying to find their identity back in Week 6 when they let a close game against Tampa Bay slip away:
“We’re a different team now than we were then. I think it was huge for us and our growth at that point. But now we know who we are and we’ve gelled and come together in all phases.”
Lions Record Since Week 6 Loss: 10-2
Buccaneers Record Since Week 6 Win: 6-6
The records show two teams trending in opposite directions over the past three months. Detroit has found their groove both offensively and defensively, while Tampa has been the definition of inconsistent in 2023.
Rushing Attack Key for Lions
In the Week 6 matchup, the Lions struggled to get their ground game going, with just 57 total rushing yards. Running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were both banged up at the time, but they are now healthy and among the best RB duos in the league. The Lions will look to control the game on the ground and limit possessions for the dangerous Bucs offense.
Lions Rushing Stats in 2023
“It starts up front for us with being able to run the football,” said offensive tackle Penei Sewell this week. “If we can get Jamaal and Swift going early and often, it’s going to be a long day for Tampa.”
Controlling the time of possession and keeping Tom Brady Brady on the sidelines has proven to be a recipe for success against the Bucs this season. The Lions have the personnel up front on the offensive line and at running back to execute that plan.
Bucs Defense Seeks Redemption
While the Lions’ strength is their running game, the Buccaneers will try to counter that with their stout rush defense. In the first meeting, Tampa held Detroit to under 100 yards on the ground and 3.5 yards per carry.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vita Vea is a massive force in the middle and is excellent at occupying blockers and shutting down run lanes. Veterans Devin White at linebacker and Lavonte David at linebacker are also exceptional at flying to the ball and finishing off tackles.
If the Bucs can contain Swift and Williams like they did before, it will put pressure on Jared Goff and the Lions’ passing attack. Goff was solid but unspectacular in Week 6, throwing for 264 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also a costly red zone interception. Tampa would love to flip the script and make Detroit one-dimensional on offense.
Mayfield, Evans Face Stiff Tests
On the flip side of the ball, the Buccaneers have the weapons to stress any defense, led by new quarterback Baker Mayfield and All-Pro receiver Mike Evans. However, both stars face difficult individual matchups that could swing the game.
For Mayfield, playing at Ford Field will be no easy task given the crowd noise he’ll have to handle. The Lions have also been excellent at generating pressure this season, racking up 43 sacks. But Mayfield welcomes the challenge:
“I love playing in environments like I know Ford Field is going to be on Sunday. As a competitor, you have to have confidence in yourself to make the throws, so I’m not worried about the noise.”
At receiver, Mike Evans squares off against rising CB star Jeff Okudah, who has had a redemptive year after struggling early in his career. Okduah has the length and speed to potentially limit Evans from making his trademark contested catches downfield. It’s a matchup that could decide the game.
While oddsmakers have installed the Lions as very slight favorites playing at home, most experts anticipate another nail-biter coming down to the final possession:
Lions 23, Buccaneers 20
Detroit seems to have all the momentum, but Tampa Bay’s playoff pedigree and championship DNA under Brady and Bowles simply can’t be ignored. Ultimately, the Lions find just enough offense to eke out a close victory behind their raucous home crowd.
No matter the winner, this game promises to be an intense, back-and-forth divisional round classic featuring two of the NFC’s most compelling teams. Football fans everywhere should have the popcorn ready for this one!
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.