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Saturday Preview: Buffalo Bills @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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With the Buffalo Bills seeing their season begin to slowly slip away, they head South to take on the defending world champs. Despite the result on Monday night, the Bills still control their own destiny for the AFC East title. If the Bills win out they will win the division. But as they say, the Bills can’t win them all this Sunday… but they can take a very big first step.

The Last Five

Bills 30 Buccaneers 27 (2017)
Buccaneers 27 Bills 6 (2013)
Bills 33 Buccaneers 20 (2009)
Buccaneers 19 Bills 3 (2005)
Buccaneers 31 Bills 17 (2001)

The Bills and Bucs meet every 4 years and have alternated wins since 2005. The last game was a memorable one. It came early in 2017, Sean McDermott first year as the Bills’ head coach. A late turnover set up the Bills winning score and pushed the Bills to a surprising 4-2. The last time the Bills visited Raymond James Stadium, in 2013, was one of the final nails in the E.J. Manuel coffin. If things go badly this Sunday, it could prove to be the final nail in the Bills’ AFC East chances.

What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills

McDermott Unraveling?

A storyline that has been gaining some traction this week has been Sean McDermott, who is usually unflappable, “losing composure” after the loss to the Patriots on Monday night. Apparently, refusing to kiss the butt of Bill Belichick and the Patriots is a sign that McDermott is losing composure. I have to disagree with most of the bigger sports outlets who are clinging to that story this week. While the Bills are struggling more than anyone imagined this year, citing McDermott’s attitude as part of the problem is lazy. Those who have watched and listened to McDermott build this program over the past five seasons know better than to believe that.

Now, I would be open to criticizing some of McDermott’s game management decisions, which put the Bills in a more difficult spot last Monday. This includes an irresponsible challenge, questionable fourth down decisions, and an over-emphasis on establishing the line of scrimmage through the run game. Just as his team does on the field, I expect McDermott to rebound this week.

Offense

There’s been a hot debate since Monday night about where most of the blame belongs for the Buffalo Bills’ loss to the Patriots. Many want to point to the defense, which yielded 222 yards on the ground and over 4 yards per carry. However, the bottom line is that the Bills surrendered just 14 points. In today’s NFL, and on a team where the starting quarterback has the second-richest contract in NFL history, 14 points against should be a win. 50 mph winds aside, Monday night should have been a win.

I agree with McDermott when he says the team “needs to score points”. The Bills red zone offense has been a problem all season, especially in all of the team’s losses. As I have said before, the question going into every Bills game for the rest of the year will be “which Buffalo Bills team are we going to get this week”? The advanced stats still indicate the Bills are a very good team. That’s due, in large part, to the talent on the offensive side of the ball. While we have yet to see the offense click consistently, it is well past time for them to start rolling.

One More Shot at the GOAT

Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier faced Tom Brady six times while he was on the Patriots. Chronologically, the winning margins by the Patriots in those games were: 20, 21, 19, 12, six, and eight points. Not only were the Bills getting closer to beating Brady and the Patriots each time they played them, but you could see the talent gap closing between the two teams as the years progressed. While Brady was still effective during his games against Buffalo, McDermott and Frazier always did a great job defending him; sometimes resulting in his worst games of those seasons. In the six games Brady played McDermott, he threw for four TDs, 5 interceptions, and averaged 225 yards per game. If I were the Bills, I would sign up for a 225-yard day from Brady in a heartbeat.

The betting favorite for MVP is having a historic year at 44 years old and McDermott would love to beat Brady in what might be his final attempt to do so. The Bills next scheduled game against Tampa Bay is 2025. However, they could play them again before that in 2023, when the NFC South will be the 17th game crossover for the AFC East. Of course, the Bills would love to face Brady before then, as it likely means squaring off in the Super Bowl.

What To Watch For: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pass Defense

If there is a weak link in Tampa Bay’s defense, it is their secondary. While Tampa’s run defense is currently ranked second in the league, the pass defense currently ranks 20th, yielding around 250 yards per game in the air. The Bucs know their opponent this week will not run the ball, and have certainly committed more time to scheming against Josh Allen and the Bills passing offense. This matchup could be problematic for Tampa Bay. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Buccaneers try to establish some physical dominance early in the game and watch the Bills wilt away, just as they have done on multiple occasions this year.

Chance to Clinch

While the Bills are locked in a tight division battle, the Buccaneers are on the verge of locking up their division just two weeks into December. Tampa Bay can clinch the NFC South with a win AND losses from the Panthers and Falcons. In a game that Brady called “the biggest game of the year” and, with a chance to clinch their division, the Bucs are sure to come out firing. Tampa Bay is undefeated at home this year, posting a perfect 5-0 record at Raymond James Stadium to date.

Tom Owns Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills have had three owners in their 62-year history: Ralph Wilson, Terry Pegula, and Tom Brady. Brady is an astonishing 32-3 against the Bills in his career. All 35 games came as a member of the Patriots. The three losses were: a 31-0 opening day romp back in 2003, a thrilling 34-31 win back in 2011, and the season finale of the 2014 season, a game where Brady started but did not play the second half. (It is worth noting, the Bills were leading the Patriots 17-6 at the half in that game.) Other than those games, Brady has owned the franchise.

No quarterback has dominated another team in NFL history more than the Tom Brady has dominated the Bills. I am confident we will never see anything like it again. Unless the Bills and Bucs face each other in the Super Bowl, this could be the last time Brady suits up against what I am sure is his favorite opponent to play.

Prediction: Bills 33 Buccaneers 24

Last week, I had a gut feeling the Patriots were going to beat the Bills. This week, I have a similar gut feeling that the Bills will right the (pirate) ship down in Tampa.

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