WHERE:Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California
SPREAD: Raiders by 3.5
WHERE THE RAIDERS STAND: Oakland finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and they won the AFC West Division. They secured homefield advantage and went 2-0 in post-season play.
RAIDERS HEAD COACH: Bill Callahan
RAIDERS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Mark Trestman
RAIDERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
RAIDERS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bob Casullo
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 24th RUSHING: 27th PASSING: 15th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 5th (T) PASSING: 1st
HOW THE RAIDERS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 18th PASSING: 1st
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 11th RUSHING: 3rd PASSING: 23rd
MATCHUP TO WATCH Bucs LB Derrick Brooks vs. Raiders RB Charlie Garner: Yes, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon was voted the Most Valuable Player of the league this season, but running back Charlie Garner was one of the reasons why he was able to have such a successful season.
Garner isn't a guy that will run you over, but he will make you miss. Garner is an solid runner with exceptional speed. He's also a fantastic receiver out of the backfield. Garner rushed for 962 yards on just 182 carries (5.3 avg.) during the regular season. He also hauled in 91 passes for 941 yards and scored a total of 11 touchdowns.
Since Garner (5-foot-10, 190 pounds), isn't the biggest back, the Raiders could try to pound the ball up the middle of Tampa Bay's defense with RB Tyrone Wheatley (6-0, 235). Wheatley rushed for 419 yards (3.9 avg.) and scored two touchdowns during the regular season. But Wheatley doesn't have the hands Garner does out of the backfield.
Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks will play an important role in containing Garner. Brooks, who led the Bucs defense in tackles, will have to tackle Garner the first chance he gets. Garner makes a living off of making defenders miss, but Brooks is one of the best tacklers in the league. Brooks' speed also bodes well for Tampa Bay's defense. They'll definitely need it when they attempt to stop the league's best offense on Sunday.
DID YOU KNOW…
…Oakland was 0-4 this season in games they scored less than 20 points?
BUCS MUST WIN TURNOVER BATTLE:
Tampa Bay's defense thrives off of turnovers. If you've noticed this season, this unit is not the same without them. But Tampa Bay's defense rarely goes without creating at least one turnover.
The Bucs produced an 11-0 record this season in games in which they won the turnover battle. Tampa Bay's defense led the league in interceptions with 31 and they'll have to come up with some on Sunday.
The problem is Oakland's offense doesn't make a habit of turning the ball over. Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon threw just 10 interceptions during the regular season. But if the Bucs' defensive line can get pressure on Gannon and Co., especially on third downs, they could pressure him into making some key mistakes.
FIELD POSITION KEY:
Everyone wants to talk about Oakland's No. 1 offense vs. Tampa Bay's No. 1 defense, but special teams could ultimately make or break this game for both teams.
Tampa Bay's special teams coverage units started off very shaky against Philadelphia last Sunday and they can't afford to allow Oakland kick returner Marcus Knight to secure good field position for the Raiders offense. Knight averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return this season, but didn't score a touchdown.
Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown will likely return punts for his team, but he averaged just 5.5 yards per return during the regular season.
The good news is Oakland has one of the worst special teams coverage units in the league. Tampa Bay has never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in its 27-year history. Bucs KR Aaron Stecker averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return during the regular season.
The matchup between Oakland's wide receivers and Tampa Bay's cornerbacks should be a very interesting one on Sunday.
Oakland's offense features some of the best receivers in the NFL in Tim Brown, Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter.
Even at 40, Rice hauled in a team-high 92 passes for 1,211 yards and he scored 7 touchdowns. Brown caught 81 passes for 930 yards and he scored four touchdowns.
Tampa Bay cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly are two of the best cover corners in the league. Barber had a career-like game last Sunday against the Eagles and he'll have to pick up where he left off on Sunday. Kelly led the league in interceptions with eight.
Oakland's offense is pass-oriented, but if the Raiders come out passing, they might fall right into Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked pass defense's hands. The Bucs always aim to stop the run first and they'd be happy taking their chances against the Raiders' passing game.
Rice and Brown vs. Barber and Kelly might be a wash, which leaves the Bucs with an interesting matchup against Porter. Smith has done an admirable job of filling former Bucs CB Donnie Abraham's shoes at the nickel back position this season, but Porter is lethal in one-on-one coverage. Tampa Bay will probably move Barber into the nickel slot to cover Porter, which will leave Smith with Rice or Brown. Porter has caught 51 passes for 688 yards and he's one of Gannon's favorite targets in the red zone. Porter has scored nine touchdowns this season.
Oakland's offense features a lot of short intermediate routes by its receivers. The receivers make their living on yards after the catch, which means Tampa Bay's secondary must tackle them immediately. But the Bucs will also have to punish the Oakland receivers when they attempt to catch balls across the middle of the field.
BUCS MUST ATTACK THROUGH AIR:
Tampa Bay's offense is pass-oriented, which might bode well for them since they're going up against an Oakland secondary that's suspect at best.
Tampa Bay will likely spread the field by featuring plenty of three wide receivers sets. The more Jon Gruden can get Joe Jurevicius on the field, the better off the offense will be. Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson is banged up and Gruden will likely test him out early and often.
The only legitimate threat Oakland has in its secondary is free safety Rod Woodson, who has hauled in eight interceptions this season. Woodson is a savvy veteran, which means the Bucs could opt to throw and run away from him.
Oakland's defense allowed an average of 220 yards passing per during the regular season.
BUCS MUST CONTAIN RICH GANNON:
Oakland QB Rich Gannon was the best quarterback in the NFL this season. Gannon, 36, completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 4,689 yards and he tossed 26 touchdowns this season.
Gannon is a smart quarterback and rarely makes bad decisions with the football. He is also a scrambler. Gannon rushed 50 times (3.1 avg.) and scored three touchdowns via the ground game during the regular season.
The fact that Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden coached Gannon for several seasons bodes well for the Bucs. Gruden knows what Gannon likes and doesn't like as a quarterback in terms of blitz packages and defensive schemes.
Still, the most important thing Tampa Bay's defense must do is get pressure on Gannon. Gannon will simply pick apart a defense if you give him too much time to throw.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on how Tampa Bay's defense will prepare for the Raiders' passing attack, which often sets up their running game:
"We've got to mix it up. We just can't sit back there all day. I thought the Niners were very good when they came in. At Raymond James, we had our home field there. The Rams are always tough. I compare this offense to when we came to St. Louis in 1999 in the NFC Championship game. I thought that the Rams are very explosive, they have a lot of speed. If you don't tackle, they make a lot of yards after the catch. This team does the same thing in 2002."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on playing against his former team:
"Well, I'll be honest, I'm a human being. I'm a sensitive person, a very emotional guy. Without getting real deep and philosophical, there will be obvious emotions running through me. But I've got to concentrate. I'm here with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We have to do everything we can to find a way to win another football game. This is Super Bowl XXXVII and I've got to try to control my emotions, as do a lot of people involved in this game."
Gruden on the importance of LB Derrick Brooks containing RB Charlie Garner out of the backfield:
"Huge. Not only Derrick but (Shelton) Quarles, our whole football team. But Charlie Garner to me is as dangerous a football player as there is in the NFL. Rushing, receiving…he's a nasty pickup artist when it comes to picking up blitzes. This is one physical, dynamic football player that obviously I have great respect for.
Gruden on Raiders QB Rich Gannon:
"Gannon is a lot like a robot, like the Terminator. He's got a lot of different ways to destruct a defense – with his legs, with his arm, with his mind. This guy will not waste plays. He'll change plays three, four, five times. Obviously, he is surrounded right now with great football players. This offensive line is very big, very physical. They've got two Hall of Fame wide receivers, an emerging star in (Jerry) Porter and let's be honest, they've got Charlie Garner which is as good an all-purpose back as there is. They're all veterans, they've been playing together now for some time, and Gannon is the leader of this band."
After watching Tampa Bay defeat Philadelphia last Sunday, one could argue that the Buccaneers are destined to win it all this season. But the Pewter Pirates can't bank on such a sentiment. The Oakland Raiders are, after all, a very good team.
While Tampa Bay's offense will attack the Oakland defense via the passing game, look for the Bucs to try to establish the run early. This will keep Oakland's defense off balance and it will also help give Tampa Bay a legitimate play-action passing attack.
Oakland's defense might have finished the regular season ranked 3rd overall against the run, but that statistic is a bit deceiving. Don't be surprised if the Bucs manage to pound the ball against the Raiders front four on Sunday.
Tampa Bay's offensive line must continue to provide quarterback Brad Johnson with time to hit his receivers. Oakland's front four isn't the scariest group in the league in terms of raising havoc in the trenches, but Gruden may opt to keep calling three-step drops for Johnson in the passing game.
Oakland has so many weapons on offense and they remind a lot of people of the St. Louis Rams' offense. If there's any truth to that opinion, the Bucs defense should fare well on Sunday. Tampa Bay's defense has shut down some of the best offenses in the NFL, including the Rams'. Tampa Bay must limit Oakland RB Charlie Garner's production in both the running and passing game. If they can do that, the Bucs will stand an excellent chance of winning this contest.
They say offenses sell tickets and defenses win championships. Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked defense will have a chance to prove that theory true when they go up against Oakland's No. 1 ranked offense.
Oakland's offense is good. They're real good, but they haven't seen a defense as fast or as good as Tampa Bay's.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 24 Raiders 16
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