Previewing the Bills and Bucs

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome the Buffalo Bills to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sunday, December 12th. The Bucs are coming off a convincing win in Atlanta that was never really in doubt over the hapless Falcons, while the Bills got embarrassed in primetime by a New England team that threw the ball just three times. Here’s what to watch for.

The betting line has value on Bills

The line in this game per the Heather Dinich breakdown is the Buccaneers -3.5, with an over/under at 52.5. Given how well the Bucs offense has been playing at home (averaging 38.4 points per game at home), you have to like the over hitting due to the Bucs injuries in the secondary, and the Bills likely need to throw the ball to keep up in the scoring. Coming off an embarrassing Monday Night Football loss, I think a very well coached Bills team regroups and outduels the Bucs on the back of Stefon Diggs, and wins 33-30.

Can the Bills slow down Leonard Fournette?

Probably the most surprising story of the 2021 Buccaneers is Fournette’s emergence as the top back in Tampa. He split time with Ronald Jones in 2020, watching Rojo collect 1,000 all-purpose yards as the “1A” in Tampa’s backfield. When Jones went down at the end of the season as the result of Covid and a thumb injury, Fournette took over and has never looked back.

Fournette tallied 448 total yards and four touchdowns in the 2020 postseason as the moniker “Playoff Lenny” became “Lombardi Lenny”. With as up-and-down a career as Fournette has had, many expected a regression from those gaudy numbers in 2021. Instead, Fournette has balled out to the tune of 665 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, with 402 yards and two touchdowns through the air in 12 games.

All this has to be troubling to a BIlls team that’s struggled against talented backs this year. Just this past Monday, the Patriots rushed for 222 yards as a team and Damien Harris was able to break off a 64-yard touchdown run while Derrick Henry had a 76-yard score on his three touchdown day against this defense back in week six. Jonathan Taylor ripped off five combined touchdowns in week 11, including a 23 yard score through the air.

Buffalo plays a style of defense many criticize for “allowing” teams to run on them in order to shut down the passing game. If they have success against Brady, Fournette will have to answer the call yet again and punish this struggling defense.

Will the Bucs defensive backfield be able to contain Stefon Diggs?

Stefon Diggs is one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL. His speed, short area quickness, and sharp, nuanced route running make him a nightmare for defensive backs- not to mention his rapport with his quarterback Josh Allen.

Even in what many consider a “down” year, Diggs has 71 catches for 898 yards and seven touchdowns, and is averaging 12.6 yards per reception. In a game where Buffalo is expected to constantly be trailing, the Buccaneers DBs will absolutely have to contain Diggs.

That certainly won’t be easy with the injuries as plentiful as they have been so far this season. After recently getting Sean Murphy-Bunting back from a dislocated elbow, and Carlton Davis playing his first game back from a stint on IR, the Buccaneers lost #3 cornerback Jamel Dean to a concussion during the game at Atlanta.

Pair that with Jordan Whitehead potentially remaining out with the calf injury that forced him to miss the Falcons game, and safety Mike Edwards suspended due to controversy over his vaccination status, and the Buccaneers are thin in their defensive backfield. Andrew Adams has been a fine player stepping into the safety role in the past, but he will certainly be tested by a QB like Josh Allen who loves to throw to Diggs deep.

Ross Cockrell has spent time filling in at safety, but you have to hope the Bucs won’t need to use him in that capacity barring injury at the position. Bruce Arians recently revealed that the Bucs are working Richard Sherman at safety, though that’s likely only for emergency and end-of-game situations.

Pierre Desir played well this past sunday against the Falcons, producing five tackles and a timely forced fumble on the Falcons first drive of the second half. None of these players are a match for a player the caliber of Diggs, but with how much the Bills move him around the formation, they’re all going to get a turn matched up with him. Carlton Davis rarely shadows a team’s number one receiver, so when their time comes the Bucs depth players will have to step up.