Keys To Victory Divisional Playoff Round: Buccaneers vs Lions


In the NFL playoffs, it’s all about survive and advance. It doesn’t matter who you play or where you play, you win or you go home. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to do that in resounding fashion against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

Now, as a reward for their victory, the Bucs will travel to Detroit this Sunday to play the Lions. This will be another rematch for the Buccaneers after losing to the Lions in week six by a score of 20-6. However, just like the Bucs dominating win on Monday won’t have any influence on this game, neither will the Lions week six win. 

This game will be all about matchups and who is playing the best football right now. When it comes to that, these two teams look pretty equal (despite the Bucs being 6.5 point underdogs). The outcome of this game will come down to which team executes better because there is no significant mismatch or talent gap between them. 

Here are the key matchups that the Bucs will have to win in my divisional playoff round skeleton keys to victory.

Use Your Biggest Weapons

The Lions defense isn’t particularly good. They have allowed the 4th most passing yards in the NFL this season and the 6th most passing touchdowns. The Buccaneers should be able to throw the ball around on Sunday.

However, a word of caution to this story. The Lions actually do have some dangerous playmakers at safety. Rookie safety/nickel Brian Branch has been one of the best rookies in the NFL this season and they recently got safety/nickel Chauncey Gardner-Johnson back from injury after missing basically the entire season. 

What that means for the Bucs is that throwing over the middle of the field could be problematic. These players often cover tight ends, running backs and slot receivers, so targeting those players won’t likely be a big part of the game plan. This will force the Bucs to throw the ball more towards the outside.

This is something that can play into the Buccaneers hands. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both racked up over 1,000 yards receiving this year. There are both a clear mismatch for any of the Lions corners, including Cam Sutton who is their best cover man on the outside. Baker Mayfield should look for both of his best two playmakers early and often in this game.

Hold The Line

The greatest strength of the Detroit Lions is their offensive line. They have a pair of All Pros in Penei Sewell (right tackle) and Frank Ragnow (center) to go along with three other above average starters. Neutralizing this group as much as possible is the top priority. 

This will be an interesting strength on strength matchup as the Bucs bring in one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL. This is anchored by star nose tackle Vita Vea and rookie defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. These two make an incredible blend of overwhelming power and athletic ability.

The Bucs also feature veteran Shaq Barrett on the outside along with rookie Yaya Diaby. I don’t believe that either can beat Sewell in any kind of consistent way, but both bring the ability to hold the point of attack vs the run. This needs to be a priority for the entire defensive line this weekend. 

The Lions ran for the 5th most rushing yards in the NFL this season. They were also tied (with the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins) for the most rushing touchdowns. Stopping this running game will be critical for the Buccaneers defense this weekend. That starts upfront; not just with the starters but also for the likes of Greg Gaines. Anthony Nelson and Joe-Tryon-Shoyinka.

Don’t Let The Other Lions Eat

The Lions have a lot of weapons they can throw the ball to. Jameson Williams is a burner on the outside who plays with physicality. Josh Reynolds is a quick, shifty secondary option who has a knack for picking up first downs. Sam LaPorta was elected an All Pro as a rookie and has nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns.

However, the main man the Bucs need to key in on in the passing game is star wide receiver Amon-Ra St Brown. He is one of the best slot receivers (or receivers of any type) in the NFL and consistently wins with his route running, toughness over the middle and elite hands. For all of these reasons he was named a first team All Pro and is one of the very best in the NFL.

St Brown will put up numbers this weekend and I don’t know that the Bucs can stop him. However, they can take away the other talented options of this team. Limiting the likes of Williams, Reynolds and LaPorta is possible and needs to be the priority. The defense has to make one pass catcher beat them and not allow the other four or five options to kill them by 1,000 paper cuts.

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