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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions Prediction and Preview

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions Prediction and Preview

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions Prediction and Preview

It's a day-after-Christmas NFL tripleheader on Saturday, starting with the Detroit Lions hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These teams ought to be familiar after also meeting last year at Ford Field when the Bucs easily won 38-17, but the Lions have actually won four of the last six meetings dating back to 2010.

Last time these teams met, Jameis Winston racked up 458 yards and four touchdowns in the win while Detroit started David Blough, who was predictably not good with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Of course, both teams have new starting quarterbacks and have changed dramatically in the past year.

In Week 15, Tampa Bay (9-5) once again didn't look its best but managed to defeat Atlanta 31-27 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. After a slow start, Tom Brady finished with 390 passing yards as the Bucs overcame a 24-7 deficit with 7:34 left in the third quarter. Leonard Fournette had two rushing touchdowns, but the running game struggled overall. Meanwhile, the defense allowed Matt Ryan to slice them up time and time again. But a win is a win and as a result, the Bucs are just a game behind New Orleans in the NFC South and can lock up a playoff spot with a victory (or a tie) on Saturday.

Detroit, on the other hand, was officially eliminated from postseason contention last week after a 46-25 loss at Tennessee dropped the Lions to 5-9. Matthew Stafford gutted out a solid effort, finishing with 252 passing yards and a touchdown. But the defense surrendered 463 yards and six touchdowns. Detroit totaled 430 yards on offense, but the defense's woes and three turnovers helped produce a familiar result, a loss.

Tampa Bay at Detroit

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 26 at 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Spread: Buccaneers -9.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Intangibles

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Motivation should not be lacking for the Buccaneers, who have won two straight games since their bye and still have a lot to play for. Tampa is close to locking up a playoff spot, which will end the NFC's longest active playoff drought (13 seasons), but the division is still in play with New Orleans' recent struggles. It's a short week for the Bucs and a second straight road game, but they'll be ready. Detroit has lost four of five, negating the spark the team had right after the team fired Matt Patricia following the Thanksgiving loss at home to Houston. The Lions will close the season out at home against the Vikings and then prepare for a lot of changes.

2. Will the real Bucs defense please stand up?

There is plenty of talent on this Tampa defense, but the unit has struggled to show consistency. Six times this season the Bucs have allowed 20 points or fewer, but they also have surrendered 27 or more on six other occasions. Getting to the quarterback (43 sacks, tied for fourth in NFL), isn't really a problem, but overall they are 27th against the pass, including 27 touchdown passes allowed.

This defense has plenty of appealing pieces in linebackers Devin White and Shaquil Barrett, as well as defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh, but the secondary, including guys like cornerback Carlton Davis, have struggled over the past few weeks. Detroit is no offensive juggernaut, ranking in the middle of the league in both scoring (23.9 ppg) and total (357.1 ypg) offense, but the Lions have scored 20 or more points in four straight games. This offense could give Tampa problems with Stafford his usual solid self and rookie D'Andre Swift coming into his own. The Bucs' D is capable of shutting teams down so we'll see if they can rise to the occasion once more in this one.

3. Balance on offense

Every team has run on the Lions, who are 29th in the NFL at 137.3 rushing yards per game and have given up a league-high 24 touchdowns on the ground. Tennessee gouged Detroit for 195 last week with Derrick Henry (147 yds., TD) and Ryan Tannehill (2 rushing TDs) both doing damage. For Tampa, leading rusher Ronald Jones II remains on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but he also underwent surgery last week to put in a pin in his broken finger, so he may not be available either way on Saturday.

Fournette will see an increased workload once again, but the former Jaguar is averaging less than four yards per carry, although he does have five touchdowns. LeSean McCoy and Ke'Shawn Vaughn are other options, but neither has done much to this point. Taking some pressure off Tom Brady will become more important with the playoffs and the potential for more games in cold weather both getting closer. One piece of good news for the Bucs' offense is that starting left tackle Donovan Smith was removed from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday, so he should be back in the lineup.

Final Analysis

The Lions may make things interesting at first, but Tampa's talent will win out. I think the Bucs take care of business in this one even if they put together another slow start. A close game at halftime becomes a rout late as the visitors enjoy their post-Christmas stop in the Motor City by clinching their first playoff berth since the 2007 season.

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Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Lions 13

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.