Lions’ Den: Detroit needs to beat Tampa Bay to keep playoff hopes alive

The Detroit Lions desperately need a win to get the playoff dreams back on track. After getting embarrassed by the Baltimore Ravens, the Lions are traveling down to Tampa Bay to take on the lowly Buccaneers (4-8).

In the preseason, Tampa Bay was considered strong contenders for the NFC, but have looked mediocre all season.

Hopes were high for quarterback Jameis Winston entering his fourth season, but after a shaky start and a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games, it was evident that Tampa Bay wouldn’t be in the playoffs.

It isn’t for a lack of effort though. Winston is manning the fifth-best passing offense and a lot of the credit can go to his weapons. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, the list goes on. Detroit’s secondary is going to have its hands full.

Evans is one of the hardest receivers to cover in the league. While he hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game this season, he’s had at least five catches in eight games, and over 75 yards in five. The former first-round pick can easily take over a game.

Opposite of Evans is Jackson, who Tampa brought in in the offseason. While Evans is a wide out that can beat you on any route, Jackson is the type of receiver that will burn you deep. He’s getting up there in age, but even at 31-years-old, Jackson is one of the fastest players in the league.

Probably the biggest disappointment for Tampa is Doug Martin and the run game. The Buccaneers are averaging under 90 rush yards a game (28th in the NFL) and Martin has 376 yards in eight games. The former All-Pro back is sporting 47 yards a game. That’s horrendous.

The Buccaneers rush defense isn’t much better, not that Detroit will take advantage of it. The Lions offensive line has been a disaster all season and Tampa’s front seven is going to embarrass them.  

Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay’s star defensive tackle, is going to wreak havoc. Arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL, McCoy has a knack for blowing up run games and pressuring quarterbacks. Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford, if he plays, will be running for his life, as usual.

If not McCoy, then it will be former Michigan State defensive end William Gholston or middle linebacker Lavonte David bringing the pressure. On paper, Tampa’s defense is dominant, but they haven’t been able to put it together. They will against Detroit.

Keys to the game

  • Feed running back Tion Green. It’s time to move on from the small, shifty backs that Detroit’s been known for. Green is a bruiser who can run in-between the tackles and doesn’t need a hole the size of the Grand Canyon to be productive. Yes, the sample size is small, but the season is essentially over for the Lions, it’s time to see what Green can bring to the team.
  • Contain Gerald McCoy. Avoid him. Try and limit him every way possible. If Detroit isn’t able to slow him down he will single-handedly stop the Lions offense. He’s a force in both the run and pass game. Don’t run at him, wherever he is, run to the opposite side.
  • Stafford needs to play. If anyone other than Stafford is under center, the Lions have zero chance to win. It’s that simple. He’s been the best player on Detroit and without him, the Lions would be lucky to have two wins. Even if he’s at 75 percent, he’s still leaps and bounds better than his backup Jake Rudock.

Writers’ picks

Michael Downes: I’ve stuck my neck out for Detroit too many times and they have continued to disappoint. I have zero faith in this offensive line to contain McCoy. I think he is going to have a huge game for Tampa. Stafford will struggle handling the pressure and throw some costly interceptions. The Bucs embarrass Detroit.

Buccaneers 27, Lions 14

John Dolan: This is a battle of teams that haven’t lived up to expectations this season. While the Lions have been dreadful the past few weeks, the Buccaneers have been one of the NFL’s worst teams all year. Regardless of if Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jameis Winston starts, the Bucs shouldn’t be much of a threat to the Lions, but there’s a good chance they’ll make it close.

Lions 24, Buccaneers 20

Noah Goad: Expect the Lions to be much better than last week. After dropping two in a row, this is a must-win game. Stafford is listed as questionable, but if he is healthy, the Lions should be successful against the Buccaneers defense. The Lions defense is coming off of a game in which they allowed 37 points to the Baltimore Ravens. This week, against a healthy Jameis Winston, it is going to be an even bigger challenge.

Buccaneers 27, Lions 24