WHERE: Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois.
WHERE THE BEARS STAND: Chicago is 4-11 and in third place in the NFC North Division.
BEARS HEAD COACH: Dick Jauron
BEARS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: John Shoop
BEARS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Blache
BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Mike Sweatman
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 22nd RUSHING: 27th PASSING: 13th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 7th PASSING: 1st
HOW THE BEARS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 29th RUSHING: 32nd PASSING: 23rd
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 25th RUSHING: 25th PASSING: 26th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly vs. Bears wide receiver Marty Booker: Booker is Chicago's leading receiving this season. He has hauled in 93 passes for 1,164 yards and he's scored six touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's defense had a hard time containing Booker last season. In two contests against the Bucs, Booker hauled in 10 passes for 184 yards and he scored four touchdowns. Most of those plays came on deep routes, which is unusual since Tampa Bay's Cover 2 defensive scheme doesn't usually allow those types of big plays downfield. Kelly was involved in some of Booker's big plays last season, but he's been a Pro Bowl-type player this season and is tied for the league-lead in interceptions with six.
DID YOU KNOW…
…Tampa Bay can clinch a first-round bye week in the playoffs with a win against Chicago and a loss by Green Bay?
RUNNING ON EMPTY:
Chicago's offense is scoring an average of just 18.7 points per game this season and its woeful running game, which is ranked dead last in the league, is part of the problem.
The Bears have been without RB Anthony Thomas for most of the season since they had to place him on the injured reserve. He was replaced by RB Leon Johnson, who has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Johnson isn't a big receiving threat out of the backfield, but he has caught 15 passes for 94 yards.
Tampa Bay's run defense is ranked No. 7 in the league and they're only allowing 97 yards rushing per game this season. With Chicago's offense struggling in the passing game and weather conditions calling for some wind, Tampa Bay's defense must keep Chicago's running game grounded. The fact that middle linebacker Shelton Quarles (ankle) will likely play Sunday night bodes well for the Bucs, but the team could be without defensive tackle Warren Sapp, which could hurt.
BUCS' DEFENSE TO FACE THIRD-STRING QB:
Chicago quarterback Jim Miller was placed on the injured reserve about one month ago and backup QB Chris Chandler, who suffered a concussion last Sunday against Carolina, will not play against Tampa Bay. That means the Bucs' No. 1 ranked defense will face third-string QB Henry Burris. Burris has played in five games this season and he's completed 11-fo-32 passes for 129 yards and he's thrown three touchdowns and one interception. While Tampa Bay's defense is licking its chops at the fact that they'll face the inexperienced quarterback, Burris can present some problems with his mobility. He's rushed 11 times for 90 yards (8.2 avg.) this season.
BUCS MUST GET TO THE QUARTERBACK:
Chicago's offensive line was the best in the NFL last season in terms of allowing sacks, but things have changed this year. Chicago has allowed 43 sacks in 15 games this season and Tampa Bay's defense has recorded 42 sacks. Chicago offensive coordinator John Shoop calls play which require his quarterbacks to take three-step drops and throw the ball right away, but this hasn't been effective this season due to the fact that Chicago doesn't have an effective running game. If Tampa Bay's front-four can get pressure on Burris, the Bucs' secondary will likely come up with some interceptions, which it hasn't done in four consecutive games.
Chicago's defense was one of the best in the league last season, but injuries and inconsistencies have caused this unit to take a few steps backward this season.
Chicago is allowing teams to score an average of 24.3 points per game and 355 yards of total offense per game this season. This bodes well for Tampa Bay's offense, which struggled last Monday night against Pittsburgh. The Bucs' offense will be led by backup QB Rob Johnson on Sunday night.
Look for Tampa Bay to pound the ball via the running game. Chicago is giving up an average of 127 yards rushing per game and with weather conditions calling for wind and cold temperatures, the Buccaneers must be able to move the ball on the ground with Mike Alstott and/or Michael Pittman. Chicago Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is arguably the best in the league and he will make it tough for the Bucs to run the football effectively.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs quarterback Rob Johnson on Sunday's game against Chicago:
"I'm just going to try and play my game. I know it's going to be cold and windy. I came from Buffalo so it's not going to be a lot different for me. I know the record here and all that stuff but hopefully we won't use that as an excuse to go out there and lay down."
Bucs wide receiver Keenan McCardell on putting the team's 17-7 loss to the Steelers behind them:
"You've got to. That's the lovely thing about the NFL. You start worrying about the one you let get away from you, then you'll be in trouble the next week. Every week is a new opponent, a new task. We've got to have full concentration on the Bears. The Jets walked in there thinking they were going to walk out of there with a win and the Bears bloodied their nose. So, we got to go in there ready to play. If, by any chance things fall the way they may, we got to play. Regardless of the weather, we got to play to win and that's what we got to do."
Bucs left tackle Roman Oben on protecting Rob Johnson:
"I mean they're (Rob Johnson and Shaun King) confident players. We beat Carolina with Rob. In the Green Bay game he came in for a few series and did a good job. We're very familiar with whoever is back there taking snaps under center. He (the QB) is only one guy. There are 10 other guys on the field and we have to do our best to help ourselves succeed."
Bucs left tackle Kenyatta Walker on Tampa Bay's 0-21 record in temperatures below 40 degrees:
"Everybody wants to see of the Bucs can win in the cold, so we are going to find out on Sunday."
Tampa Bay may or may not have a lot to play for by the time they take the field in Champaign.
The Buccaneers need the Jets to defeat the Packers on Sunday and if that happens, the Pewter Pirates will have everything in the world to play for come 8:30 p.m. Sunday night. A Bucs win and a Packers loss would give the Pewter Pirates a bye week in the first-round of the playoffs.
Chicago has absolutely nothing to play for, which is why Tampa Bay should win this game, regardless of what's at stake. The team is pretty geeked about the possibility of recording its 12th win of the season, which would set a new franchise record.
Tampa Bay will be without starting quarterback Brad Johnson, which should scare Bucs fans. Rob Johnson gets sacked once every five times he drops backs to throw the ball, which hinders the offense.
With Rob Johnson starting and Chicago's defense allowing 127 yards rushing per game this season, Tampa Bay should attack Chicago via the running game.
Chicago's offensive line has allowed 43 sacks this season and Tampa Bay right defensive end Simeon Rice, who has recorded 15.5 sacks this season, is just one away from tying the team's single-season sack record held by defensive tackle Warren Sapp (16.5 in 2000). Ironically, Rice will try to tie or break that record in the same stadium he used to play his college ball in. Rice attended the University of Illinois and if he can rattle Burris, he'll likely break the record and help the Bucs win this game. Rice recorded three sacks in two contests against the Bears last season.
Tampa Bay is 0-21 in games played in temperatures below 40 degrees. The temperature at kickoff on Sunday night in Champaign should be just below 40 degrees, which doesn't bode well for the Bucs.
No matter what the temperature is on Sunday night, Tampa Bay should win this game. They have too much to play for and Chicago has absolutely nothing to play for. But until the Bucs actually prove they can win in temperatures below 40 degrees, how can I pick them to leave Champaign victorious?
FLYNN'S PICK Bears 13 Buccaneers 10
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