The Detroit Lions are just one win away from their first NFC Championship game appearance since 1991; the Lions have had a great season and will be hosting a Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad that nobody at the start of this season thought they had a chance of making it this far. The Bucs are led by Baker Mayfield, who can go off at any time, which makes the Bucs dangerous. The Bucs did go through stretches this season where they found it hard to score points, but when they are on, they can beat anybody.
Detroit boasted one of the league’s premier offenses this season under Ben Johnson’s guidance, featuring top-10 rushing and passing units. Jared Goff has historically performed better indoors, so he must be delighted to get two consecutive home games here in Michigan.
At DVOA, Tampa finished in the top 10 for rush defense, making sense in Todd Bowles’ scheme. Even better is its performance when fully healthy as an older team that lacks depth. As for Detroit, their running attack cannot be stopped easily; its best means of moving the ball may come through their air attacks against an opponent that has struggled at times to cover.
Like other Bowles defenses, Tampa does an exceptional job of covering backs – particularly against Gibbs – but has struggled against No.1 receivers and slot players; that should come as welcome news to Amon Ra St. Brown, who caught 12 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown during their initial encounter.
Bowles is sure to employ an elaborate blitz scheme against Goff in an attempt to throw him off, which has proven very successful in the past. His numbers have taken an unexpected drop against such tactics in past games; therefore, it would be prudent for Goff’s pass protection early in a game to be monitored closely.
Tampa should not expect much success on the ground in this game; their ineptitude at running back this season ranked them 28th overall according to Rush DVOA rankings, making this task even harder against Detroit a surprise leader in that department – their defense finished first overall against the run!
Therefore, I anticipate offensive coordinator Dave Caneles to implement a similar game plan as last week against Philadelphia, where Baker Mayfield posted an impressive 75% pass rate. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin can take advantage of Cam Sutton and Kindle Vildor on the outside against them, giving the Bucs an edge.
Mayfield has been throwing deep passes like no other quarterback this season, including in their meeting against Detroit earlier in the season. Though only six points were scored during a home loss by Mayfield and co., ten passes that travelled at least 20 yards downfield were attempted by him; unfortunately, many wide-open receivers couldn’t take advantage of complete coverage busts in Detroit’s secondary.
The Lions’ defense can generate pressure at an impressive rate, even if they fail to convert these pressures into sacks. Mayfield has historically struggled under pressure but has improved significantly this season. Can Mayfield connect on deep shots to his outstanding wide receiver corps? That will likely decide whether or not Tampa stays competitive in this game.
The Lions were missing significant players in the earlier game between these teams, and they still won. Mayfield is streaky and will hit a few deep balls, but the Lions control this game on the ground and Goff will play well. Pick: Detroit 30 Tampa Bay 20.
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