By Cedric Williams
It’s only mid-November, and the NFL playoff races are far from over. Only four teams have the division-high of seven wins in the AFC so far this season, and three of them come from the AFC West, so it seems like a good bet that both AFC wild card teams will come from that division.
But in the NFC where the Cowboys stand out among the pack with eight victories, only three teams even come close with six wins apiece. That means anyone with five (or even as few as four) wins right now can still count themselves among those in the NFC playoff hunt.
And that’s where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that will face the Kansas City Chiefs in a game at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday, find themselves.
The Buccaneers are 4-5 on the season, which puts them in 10th place in the NFC standings. But with a win and some help from a few other teams on Sunday, Tampa could vault itself closer to one of the two NFC wild card slots.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season Record: 4-5, tied for second place in the NFC South
After beginning the year with losses in three of their first four games, the Bucs have won three of their last five, including Sunday’s dominating 36-10 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Offense:
Quarterback Jameis Winston led the way for Tampa in the win over Chicago. He passed for 312 yards and threw two touchdown passes. For the season, Winston—the 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year—ranks near the league leaders with 2,349 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes.
Tampa’s top receiving threat is fellow second-year player Mike Evans, who has 59 catches and 811 yards. Evans, who leads the entire NFL in targets, also leads the league with eight touchdown catches this season.
Injuries have plagued the Bucs’ running game, with expected starter Doug Martin missing eight weeks due to a hamstring injury. Martin played his first game on Sunday against Chicago and gained 33 yards on 16 carries.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Defense:
Another problem for Tampa this season has been its defense, which ranks near the bottom of the league in just about every defensive category.
The Bucs are 27th in total yards allowed (386.0 per game), which includes allowing 118.3 rushing yards per game (eighth-worst in the league this season) and 267.7 passing yards (11th worst this season).
Those numbers aside, Tampa was terrific on “D” against the Bears, holding them to just 283 total yards, while sacking quarterback Jay Cutler four times and forcing four turnovers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Players to Watch: Cameron Brate, Kwon Alexander
Another potential emerging star on the Tampa offense is tight end Cameron Brate. On Sunday, he caught seven passes for 84 yards and scored his fifth touchdown of the season.
Mike Evans remains Winston’s favorite target, but Brate is quickly becoming his quarterback’s second-favorite target, especially when the Bucs get into or even near the red zone.
Defensively, Tampa’s top players are leading tackler Kwon Alexander and team sack leader Gerald McCoy.
With matchups against the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders pending in the following three weeks, this Sunday’s contest against Tampa Bay has trap game written all over it. Tampa is a team capable of scoring a lot of points, while Kansas City has struggled in the scoring department.
The Bucs are also the kind of up-and-down group that’s just as likely to play its best game of the season on Sunday as it is to play its worst. There’s just no way to know.
But let’s count ourselves amongst the believers in the Chiefs. We’re predicting the Chiefs show up on Sunday and do just enough to hold off the young and emerging Buccaneers: Kansas City 27, Tampa Bay 20.