The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will look to do something that the franchise has done just once in the Super Bowl Era (since 1966) — win their first six home games of the season — when they return to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon.
A Tampa Bay (9-3) win would also push the Buccaneers to their 10th win of 2021, which would join Bruce Arians' squad with his previous group — the Arizona Cardinals — as the NFC's only double-digit-win teams thus far. As an added bonus, the Bucs would all but clinch the NFC South with still a month to play as the Panthers, Falcons, and Saints all enter Week 14 at 5-7, four games behind. Atlanta was the victim of Tampa Bay's most recent win during this stretch — a dominant 30-17 showing on the road last week — while both New Orleans and Carolina will face the reigning Super Bowl champions in the next two weeks.
The Bills (7-5) haven't had nearly the same successful start to the season but are still very much in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC. And one of their calling cards has been an ability to win away from Orchard Park. Buffalo is 4-2 on the road compared to 3-2 at home, making the Bills one of just six AFC teams with at least four road victories. A win in Tampa on Sunday also would put Buffalo just a game behind New England in the AFC East, something that's even more critical following the Patriots' 14-10 victory over the Bills on Monday night in what was a brutally windy and cold Highmark Stadium. Buffalo has scored at least 30 points in five of its six road contests this year but matching that may be a challenge since the Buccaneers are giving up less than 17 points a game at home (compared to 28 on the road).
The Bills' defense has been stellar in its own right, leading the NFL in both yards per play and points per game allowed. But limiting a Tampa Bay offense that not only won five in a row at home but also has scored at least 30 points in each game (and 40 or more in four of the five) will be a challenge.
Buffalo (7-5) at Tampa Bay (9-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 12, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Buccaneers -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Tampa Bay's versatile attack endure for another week?
The Buccaneers are 5-0 at home this season thanks in large part to an offense that has gone over the 30-point mark in each of these games. Tom Brady is leading the league in virtually every major passing category even though there have been plenty of injuries to his supporting cast. His spot atop these leaderboards is impressive in and of itself, but then you have to remind yourself that he's 44. He's one of just two quarterbacks with 30 touchdown passes this season, as his 34 have him four ahead of Matthew Stafford.
Brady certainly isn't doing this alone. Tampa Bay features four of the top 50 pass catchers in yards per target, a group that consists of Antonio Brown (10.0), Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin (9.0), and Mike Evans (8.5). This means that, on average, targeting any one of those four will result in a first down or close to it. But Brady has spread the ball around, connecting with nine different teammates for a touchdown with Evans (10), Gronkowski (six), and Godwin (five) leading the way. The Buccaneers are the only team in the league with three players with five or more touchdown grabs.
2. Can Buffalo's offense keep up?
The Bills haven't exactly fallen by the wayside offensively with 30-plus points in seven of 12 games. But when Buffalo doesn't reach that mark, it's just 1-4. As Josh Allen goes so does the offense pretty much. In the Bills' last three losses, Allen has eclipsed 250 passing yards just once (9-6 loss at Jacksonville in Week 9) and has thrown three touchdowns — two to Stefon Diggs against Indianapolis, one to Gabriel Davis against New England — compared to four interceptions.
In short, when the Bills score, they give themselves a pretty good chance at coming away with a win. And they have gotten out to some great starts on the road en route to their 4-2 record, leading the AFC with 15.2 first-half points per game in those contests. Tampa Bay allows the third-most first-half points per game among its NFC counterparts, so a fast start may be just what Buffalo needs to stay close to the defending Super Bowl champs.
3. Which defense can continue to stand tall and prevent big plays?
While the Bucs' defense may start games a bit more permissively when it comes to allowing first-half points, they've done well to limit the big plays, especially at home. Tampa Bay has allowed just 5.1 yards per play at Raymond James Stadium in 2021, the third-lowest rate at home by NFC teams. For the season, the Bucs are in the top five of the conference and top eight in the league at 5.3 yards allowed per play.
Even still, Tampa Bay is looking up at Buffalo, however … in both yards allowed per play and geography. The Bills are No. 1 in the NFL at 4.6 yards per play and 165.3 yards per game allowed. Additionally, they are second in scoring defense only to the Patriots (15.4 ppg) at 16.3. Buffalo has brought its defense on the road, holding teams to just 4.3 yards per play in those games. The Bills are hurrying QBs at an NFL-best rate of 16 percent of dropbacks despite a blitz rate that's in the bottom half of the league. Even if they aren't racking up the sacks (rate is among the bottom 10 teams in the league), their ability to pressure the pocket and limit the big play are two reasons why the defense has performed so well this season.
Tampa Bay heads into Sunday riding plenty of momentum on the wave of three straight wins, while the Bills have alternated wins and losses in their six games since a Week 7 bye. Both offenses have proven to be quite effective by and large, so it will be interesting to see which defense can do its part. Plenty of attention will be paid to the quarterbacks — one young, one a bit more seasoned — and whichever one plays better or makes fewer mistakes could hold the key. Brady has the experience edge, he's performing more like an MVP candidate right now, and he and his team has thrived at home. Don't expect that to change much on Sunday.
Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Bills 20
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.