Tom Brady, Bucs still don't look capable of doing damage in the playoff game they're probably going to host
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals played a game on Christmas night that not even the Grinch would want to steal. Tampa Bay had to scratch and claw to outscore a team that started Trace McSorley, keeping its playoff hopes alive another week as it held onto a one-game lead on the rest of the dismal NFC South. By rule, the Buccaneers are in the driver’s seat to earn a coveted home playoff game in a few weeks, but this team doesn’t look like it has the chops to actually win one, let alone go on a playoff run.
This can’t be the season Tom Brady was envisioning when he decided to come back. Even though the Bucs can clinch the division with a win over the Panthers on Sunday, so many things have gone wrong on offense this year. Offensive line injuries, skill position injuries, no running game — in a normal year, this Bucs team wouldn’t have a prayer of making it to the playoffs. However, the NFC South is so damn bad that the team that played a major role in ruining Christmas is going to get a home playoff game. This isn’t a suggestion to change the playoff structure (already did that), just an examination of Tampa Bay's chances to actually make noise.
With the way the NFC playoff race has played out, the Buccaneers (or the Panthers or Saints) appear to be all but guaranteed to host the Cowboys in the playoffs. Unless the Cowboys manage to win the NFC East, in which case they’ll be hosting the Eagles. Is the team that played last night capable of winning a game against either of those opponents? It doesn’t really look like it.
If there is a way for the Buccaneers to get through the playoffs and win a game, they’re going to need their defense to carry the load for them. The Buccaneers' defense ranks ninth in expected points allowed per play (-0.029) and is one of just 12 defenses allowing negative expected points per play. That’s with important defenders like Vita Vea and Jamel Dean missing time recently. Head coach Todd Bowles hasn’t been perfect this year, but the defense is still playing at a high level. The Buccaneers' defense has really had only two truly bad outings: against the Chiefs in Week 4 and the 49ers a couple of weeks ago. Tampa gave up 34 points to the Bengals, but that was largely a product of the Buccaneers’ offense repeatedly turning the ball over on their own side of the field.
The problem with needing this defense to carry the load is that’s not really a style of football that lends itself to overcoming bad moments. The Buccaneers’ offense is so bad that this defense doesn’t have any margin for error — an extremely difficult way to win with the amount of skill talent on offense and how the rules are slanted toward it.
Tampa Bay's offense is going to have to hold up its end of the bargain, which doesn’t seem like something that it's capable of doing right now. The Buccaneers have hit 20 points in a game only six times this season and only once in their past five games. That’s not enough for this team to be a worthwhile playoff squad.
The convoluted answer to “can the Bucs do damage in the playoffs?” is that they're going to need a heroic performance from a defense to buoy a terrible offense, or that offense is going to need to way outperform the expectations they’ve set this season.
The simple answer? It probably won't. Merry Christmas, Bucs fans.