The Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced this Bears squad last year in Chicago on a cold Thursday night in October.
Don’t expect that to happen again this Sunday in the rematch at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bears are in the bottom-5 of every major offensive statistical category. They’re running out a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields who, despite being supremely talented, has struggled so far in his first season in the NFL. His woes can really be pinpointed to a few things of his own doing, like inexperience and some silly mistakes, but that’s to be expected from a first year guy.
The biggest problem with this Bears offense really comes down to its offensive line. It allowed the most sacks in the NFL through the first six weeks of the season; with Fields being as mobile as he is, that simply shouldn’t be the case. Sure, Fields is young and some of those sacks could have been prevented by smarter QB play, but you don’t give up that many sacks with a decent offensive line.
The Bucs can certainly take advantage of this mismatch, as their pass rush has been heating up as of late. Shaq Barrett seems to be returning to form, and the rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is playing up to his draft status, with high-energy plays all around. Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) is still likely out, along with the long list of other players expected not to be available Sunday afternoon.
A bit of good news is that Bucs safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. is expected to return from his concussion, as he was back at practice Wednesday. He still has to clear concussion protocol, but is expected to do so. Tampa Bay’s secondary has been brutally hit by injuries, with veteran corner and recent free agent signing Richard Sherman suffering a hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him for several more weeks.
Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are still out, so Jamel Dean and Pierre Desir are going to hold down the fort at the outside corner positions.
Offensively, the Bucs might struggle a bit. As bad as the Bears are offensively, their defense has been one of the best in the league for quite some time now. While he might be limited with a foot injury, Khalil Mack is an elite pass rusher even when hobbled. What’s more is that Chicago has a great young linebacker in Raquan Smith out of Georgia, and veteran safety Eddie Jackson is still a force to be reckoned with.
But never count on Tom Brady to have a dud against the same team twice (unless we’re talking about the Giants in the Super Bowl). Last season TB12 was without Mike Evans in the Chicago-Tampa Bay Thursday night matchup, and Antonio Brown was still a free agent.
The Bucs should win this game easily, 23-10. Justin Fields might be able to do a few impressive things against a weak-and-getting-weaker Bucs secondary, but ultimately the Bucs front seven will pose too many problems for the young former Buckeye to overcome.
Let’s hope I’m not wrong like last week.
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