After getting embarrassed in back-to-back games against playoff-caliber opponents, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to bounce back in Week 16 with a road trip to Arizona to face the lowly Cardinals.
Here’s everything you need to know about this 8:20 p.m. Christmas night matchup:
Pro Bowlers:Dolphins’ Tuspan Tspangovspanilospan is bypspanssed for Pro Bowl; Armstespand, Hill, Howspanrd honored
Joe Schad:Dolphins defense hspans been substspanndspanrd, unspancceptspanble spannd disspanppointing spannd Dolphins spangree
Brady’s Last Homestretch?
With just three weeks left in the regular season, Tom Brady’s future has once again become a topic of conversation. His contract with the Bucs expires after this season, which means he’ll once again be a free agent, should he choose to keep playing.
It feels just as likely that he might retire again, this time for good, but there should be no shortage of suitors if the GOAT wants to hit the open market again like he did back in 2020.
If he does want to play another year, staying in Tampa Bay would still make plenty of sense for many reasons. But with all of his options open, it’s possible that these next few games might be the last we see of Brady in a Bucs uniform… or any uniform at all.
Heading into Sunday night’s game, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans needs just 112 receiving yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth season in a row.
Evans is the only player in NFL history to start his career with that many seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards, breaking the previous mark of seven held by Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
Only four active players (Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, DeSean Jackson, A.J. Green) have more career receiving yards than Evans, who recently went over 10,000 in just his ninth season.
Another 1,000-yard campaign would further strengthen Evans’ already-solid case for his own gold jacket and bronze bust in Canton.
Despite being two games under .500, the Bucs are still in first place in the NFC South and control their destiny for a home playoff game.
They could even lose this game and still lock up the division crown and the No. 4 seed in the NFC by beating the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons in their final two games of the regular season.
If they can’t win two of these last three games, Tampa Bay could go from hosting in the postseason to having a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
If they can lock up the division down the stretch, it would give the Bucs back-to-back NFC South titles for the first time ever, and their fifth such banner overall since the divisions realigned back in 2002.
If both teams had all their players healthy, this would be a much more anticipated matchup in prime time.
Instead, both sides will likely be missing key starters.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is out for the season with a knee injury, and backup Colt McCoy has already been ruled out with a concussion, leaving third-stringer Trace McSorley to start Sunday night.
Bucs cornerback Jamel Dean is expected to miss his second straight game with a toe injury, and other starters like right tackle Tristan Wirfs, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and nose tackle Vita Vea (all Pro Bowlers last year) are in doubt.
A total of 23 players appeared on this week’s injury report between the two teams.
Both of these teams have underachieved to a startling degree this season, but the Bucs have way more firepower still at their disposal, and way more still at stake here.
While the Cardinals are already looking at a top-five draft pick, the Bucs have a chance to finish strong and capture another division title.
They’ve still got more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to run away with this one, but the long road trip on a holiday could make it more challenging.
It might look ugly for both sides for much of the evening, but Tom Brady is coming off a four-turnover performance, so don’t be surprised if he bounces back with enough big plays through the air to leave Arizona with a win.
Bucs 23, Cardinals 19