After enduring an embarrassing blowout loss at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers return home after that rough road trip to host one of the hottest teams in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals, at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s matchup:
The GOAT vs. Joe Cool
Tom Brady may be the greatest of all time, but it’s Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow who’s playing like an MVP candidate this season.
Despite dealing with injuries to his top offensive weapons all year long, and once again playing behind an offensive line that doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, Burrow has lived up to the hype as a recent No. 1 overall draft pick.
Brady and the Bucs offense have struggled all season long, averaging just 17 points per game, and failing to move the ball consistently down the field.
Tampa Bay is banged up on defense this week, so all signs point to another big day for Burrow and company, which means Brady could have to pull out some more magic if the Bucs want any chance of pulling the upset.
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This marks just the 13th time the Bucs and Bengals have faced one another, with Tampa Bay currently holding a 7-5 advantage in the all-time series.
Cincy’s had the upper hand in each of their last two meetings, with a 37-34 win back in 2018, and a 14-13 victory in 2014.
Before that, the Bucs had beaten the Bengals six straight times, with their next loss coming back in 1989.
Tampa Bay was shut out by the Bengals 21-0 during their winless inaugural season, but they returned the favor with a 35-0 win in 1998.
The Bucs also dominated Cincinnati 35-7 on the way to their first Super Bowl back in 2002.
Even at 6-7, the Bucs are somehow still in first place in the NFC South. It’s even more odd that even if the Bucs lose this game, and drop next week’s road tilt on Christmas night against the Arizona Cardinals, they could still take home the division crown with a losing record by beating the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons to finish out the regular season.
Most of Tampa Bay’s losses this year have come outside of the conference, and they’ve still only lost one game within the division so far this season.
The may be their roughest patch of the road yet, but a home playoff game is still within their grasp if they finish strong.
Both teams have key starters who have already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, and plenty more are still in doubt.
The Bucs will be without defensive lineman Vita Vea (calf) and cornerback Jamel Dean (toe), as well as outside linebackers Carl Nassib (pectoral) and Genard Avery (abdomen/oblique).
The Bengals have ruled out defensive end Trey Hendrickson (wrist), cornerback Mike Hilton (knee), and tight end Hayden Hurst (calf). Among the big names listed as questionable for the Bucs are All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle), Pro Bowl safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle), and wide receiver Julio Jones (knee). Bengals wide receivers Tee Higgins (hamstring) and Tyler Boyd (finger) are also questionable.
After a dramatic comeback win over a terrible New Orleans Saints team two weeks ago, the Bucs came crashing back down to earth last week in a 35-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
When you’re barely beating the worst teams in the league, and getting crushed by the best ones, that tells you which is your side of the spectrum.
The Bengals are red hot right now, thanks to an MVP-caliber season from Burrow, and even without their best pass rusher in Hendrickson, their defense should be able to keep Tom Brady and the offense struggling like they have all year long.
Bengals 34, Bucs 16.