WHERE: Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan
SPREAD: Bucs by 8.5
WHERE THE LIONS STAND: The Lions are 3-10 and in last place in the NFC North Division.
LIONS HEAD COACH: Marty Mornhinweg
LIONS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Maurice Carthon
LIONS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kurt Schottenheimer
LIONS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Chuck Priefer
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 22nd RUSHING: 29th PASSING: 14th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 4th PASSING: 1st
HOW THE LIONS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 31st RUSHING: 31st PASSING: 24th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 27th RUSHING: 16th PASSING: 29th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Detroit running back James Stewart vs. Tampa Bay middle linebacker Shelton Quarles: Detroit's offense hasn't been very impressive this season, but it has received tremendous play from running back James Stewart. Stewart has rushed for 962 yards, four touchdowns and he is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season. Stewart is also quite a lethal weapon in the passing game, where he has hauled in a team-high 42 passes for 311 yards and one touchdown.
Although Stewart is a very dangerous weapon, the Lions' defense has not done a good job of keeping its team in games this season, which has forced Detroit to abandon the running game too early.
Tampa Bay's defense is ranked 4th against the run and they're only allowing an average of 95.2 yards rushing per game. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles has been a big reason for Tampa Bay's defensive success against the run. He leads the team in tackles and has done a great job of filling the right running lanes. With the Lions' offense being led by a rookie quarterback, look for Detroit to pound the ball via the ground game. If Tampa Bay's defense can contain Stewart and the Bucs' offense can get a two-score lead early, this one might get ugly.
DID YOU KNOW…
…Tampa Bay has won four of its last five contests against Detroit?
PRESSURE DETROIT QB HARRINGTON:
Detroit's offense is led by rookie quarterback Joey Harrington, which has Tampa Bay's defense licking their chops. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has been known to make life hell for rookie quarterbacks, which doesn't bode well for Harrington, who has struggled in his first season as a pro.
Harrington has completed just 50.2 percent of his passes for 2,294 yards and he's tossed 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Tampa Bay's defense is ranked No. 1 against the pass and they've recorded 26 interceptions. Detroit's offensive line has, however, done a very good job of protecting Harrington. He's been sacked just seven times this season.
DETROIT'S DEFENSIVE WOES:
The Lions' defense is allowing opponents to score an average of 27.2 points per game this season. They're allowing teams to produce an average of 366 yards of total offense. With both their run and passing defense struggling, look for Tampa Bay to be able to move the ball via the running and passing game. But the Lions do have a couple of playmakers on the defensive side of the football. Lions defensive end Robert Porcher has recorded five sacks, two forced fumbles and has defended nine passes this season. Lions middle linebacker Chris Claiborne leads his team in tackles with 89 and has recorded four sacks and three interceptions this season.
MISSING IN ACTION:
Detroit will be without two of its best players on Sunday. Lions wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, who is one of the fastest players in the league, is on the injured reserve. He caught 37 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns. Detroit will also be without kick and punt return man Desmond Howard, who is also on the IR. Howard is regarded as one of the best return specialists in the league.
PICK YOUR POISON:
Detroit's defense is struggling against the run and the pass this season. They're allowing an average of 114.8 yards on the ground and 251.2 yards via the passing game this season. While Tampa Bay's running game has been inconsistent this season, they might be able to have some success pounding the ball this Sunday. The Bucs' offense is coming off of its 150-yard rushing day against the Falcons. Tampa Bay's offense has produced an average of 221.4 yards in the passing game this season, which means they might come out throwing the ball in order to move the chains against Detroit's woeful defense.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the Lions:
"It will be a challenge. I know playing on the road, number one is a difficult thing. They already knocked off the Saints at home. They're a tough team, especially in this dome. We don't put a lot of stock into records, and we realize we've got to play our best football. That's the key."
Gruden on the possibility of his team having a letdown against the 3-10 Lions:
"No, I'm not worried about that at all. We've got a lot of unfinished business. All you have to do is talk to our players. The last thing they want to do is let down. They want to get on the gas pedal, throw the foot down, and see where we can go. We have to get to where we're going in a hurry, there's only 20 days left. You work your whole life for these kind of situations."
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks on the possibility of the Lions playing the role of spoiler on Sunday:
"Yes, of course (they'll try to play spoiler). We were in that role a couple times in years past, and that may be a small motivation for them. But we can't even worry about that. We'll just make sure we go out and have the best preparation we've had, and take advantage of the situation we're in. We just need to go out and take care of business. Prepare for these guys with the same intensity, if not more, than we had last week knowing we had an in-division rival game. Because, right now we feel like all our games are just as important as last week and we have to stay a game up on New Orleans."
Brooks on Detroit QB Joey Harrington:
"Harrington is looking fine. I think he's a lot more poised than what people think. These guys move the ball offensively. He's shown a lot more poise, throwing the ball and creating big plays, in my opinion, than a lot of other young quarterbacks I've seen. I think he's matured this year compared to some other young quarterbacks I've seen. I'm very impressed."
Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson on Detroit:
"They're a very, very physical group. They've got a lot of veterans that have played a long time in this league. Playing against these guys for so many years, they're just a tough, tough team to always play against for some reason. They've had a couple of losing seasons, but regardless every time we've played them it's always been one of the hardest games we've ever faced. Last year we had it come down to two two-minute drives to win the game, so every game that you ever play, there's no such thing as an easy game. This will be a tough one for us, regardless."
If you think Tampa Bay will have a hard time getting up for its game against Detroit, think again. With a win, the Bucs can clinch a playoff berth and stay one game ahead of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South Division. With a Philadelphia loss and a Tampa Bay win, the Bucs would become the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC, which would make them the frontrunners for home-field advantage with just two games remaining in the season.
If you couldn't already tell, Detroit is just not a good team. Its defense is one of the worst in the league and its offense is led by a rookie quarterback that has definitely looked like a rookie throughout most of the season.
Tampa Bay's offense should be able to have a productive afternoon in both the passing and running game. Look for the Bucs to open up its running attack by throwing the ball first. If the Bucs can get up early on the Lions, Detroit will be forced to abandon its running game. Seeing as RB James Stewart will be Tampa Bay's biggest concern Sunday, they'd love nothing more than to see Detroit have to play from behind, which would essentially take Stewart out of the team's game plan.
Although this game is on the road, Tampa Bay has been a pretty good road team this season. They're 4-2 on the road this season and they should be able to improve that mark to 5-2 on Sunday. The Bucs have no room for error since they're in such a tight playoff race. The Pewter Pirates must take advantage of playing a weaker opponent by downing the Lions on Sunday.
FLYNN'S PICK: Buccaneers 27 Lions 9
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