It is safe to say that the NFC South division is not going as expected before the 2016 NFL season began. The Carolina Panthers were supposed to run away with the division after making the Super Bowl last year, but they are struggling to win on a weekly basis. The New Orleans Saints have come on strong lately, and they only have one less loss than the Atlanta Falcons after Week 9. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were also supposed to contend for a playoff spot, but it looks like those hopes are not going to come true. The Buccaneers need a great finish to their season to steal a playoff spot, and the turnaround needs to start with a win against the Chicago Bears this week.
The game against the Bears on Sunday had the makings of an easy win a few weeks ago, but that is no longer the case. The Bears have their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, back from injury, and he just helped the team get a very impressive win against the Minnesota Vikings last week. Like the Penguins, the Chicago Bears are fully healthy football team coming off of their best performance of the season. The same can’t be said for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If Doug Martin is unable to make it back for Sunday’s game, then the Buccaneers are going to be severely limited at the running back position. Peyton Barber and Mike James are currently the only two healthy running backs on the roster, and James was just signed last week. Despite their bad record, the Bears actually have one of the better pass defenses in the league. Tampa Bay normally would not have any problems running on the Bears defense, but it is going to be a lot harder if they have to rely on Peyton Barber the whole game.
If the Buccaneers want to win this game to stay in the playoff race, then they are going to have to put a lot of pressure on Jay Cutler. If he is given time to sit back in the pocket, then Cutler will probably not have a hard time finding an open receiver against the struggling pass defense of the Buccaneers. Jay Cutler has a reputation for making poor decisions when he is under pressure, so defensive pressure is one of the biggest keys to victory. The biggest problem for the Buccaneers is the fact that they have not been very good at pressuring the quarterback this season. The Bears have also only allowed 14 sacks this year, which is the 8th lowest total in the NFL.
This game is ultimately going to be decided by the defenses. If Tampa Bay can find a way to force turnovers and get defensive stops, then they should win the game. If the defense continues to struggle, then they will have a hard time running up the score on the talented secondary of the Bears.