The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears will meet for the 55th time ever on Sunday afternoon. The Bears lead the all-time series 36-18 with the last meeting coming in 2011 at Wembley Stadium.
The Bucs and Bears have met many times in the past since they were in the same division called the NFC Central. Tampa Bay entered the league in 1977 and joined the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings before moving to the NFC South with the Houston Texans coming in during the 2002 season.
This game has more story lines than the average fan can keep track of. The biggest one is the return of nine-year Bears coach Lovie Smith to Soldier Field.
He was fired after the 2012 season despite a 10-6 record as new general manager Phil Emery wanted to see the Bears’ offense improve on a disappointing ranking of 28th.
Smith took 2013 off and then got the Bucs job after Greg Schiano was fired. Marc Trestman took over for Smith and has posted a 12-14 record since being the man in charge.
The Bears are 3-2 against the Bucs dating back to 2004, Smith’s first year as the Bears’ head coach.
As hard as it is to believe both of these NFC teams are mathematically alive in the playoff race. The Bears’ slim chance lies within the two wild card spots. If they turn things around and win the final six games of the season, a 10-6 record could very well give them a shot at the postseason.
The Bucs (2-8) are only two games out of first place in the NFC South with the Saints and Falcons holding 4-6 records and the Panthers sitting at 3-7-1. If Tampa Bay can win four of their final six games they could have a shot with a 6-10 record as weird as that sounds.
Both teams picked up much needed wins last week and will be looking to build off their performances. After Week 12, three of the Bears’ final five games will come at home.
What the Bucs are thinking
“As much as we know about the Chicago Bears, they know about us,” First-year Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said on Tuesday. “It’s not like we’re changing defenses or anything like that. We’re both familiar with each other, but that’s kind of the case in the league a lot. You play teams that you’re both familiar with each other, but it’s about what happens after the ball is snapped and that’s what it comes down to.”
The Bucs have two legitimate stars in rookie wide receiver Mike Evans and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Evans has three straight games with 100 plus receiving yards and is fresh off a seven catch, 209-yard, two touchdown performance against Washington.
McCoy signed a seven-year extension worth nearly $100 million back on Oct. 25. He had just two sacks in the first five games of the season struggling with injuries, but he’s added 4.5 sacks the past four weeks.
His 6.5 sacks are a team-high. He also has 11 tackles for a loss despite commanding double-teams more often than not. The Bucs will look for him to generate pressures up the middle on Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.
“I feel like I’m at a better place now than I was at the start of the season,” Josh McCown said on Tuesday
McCown hasn’t been that consistent in his first year with the Bucs, tossing six touchdowns and six interceptions in five starts this season.
Given the fact offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has been away from the team all year giving quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo the reigns, the Bucs offense has been in disaray.
McCown has back-to-back games with 280 or more passing yards and two touchdowns. He looked comfortable in the pocket in Washington completing 15 of 23 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 137.5.
What the Bears are thinking
“We’ve left a lot of points on the field. We did it last week. We recognize that,” Trestman said this week.
Matt Forte carried the ball a season-high 26 times for 117 yards last week in the win over Minnesota. The Bears are 18-5 all-time when he rushes for 100 yards or more.
The Bears know they need to exploit the Bucs run defense which ranks 22nd, allowing around 118 yards a game. On the first 15 plays last week, Trestman dialed up 13 pass plays and only two runs.
Forte found a rhythm as the game progressed, but the Bears have to find a way to attack early and often on the ground to keep drives going.
Against the blitz Bucs quarterbacks are 31st in passer rating (57.6). four touchdowns, seven interceptions, nine sacks. The Bears’ secondary shouldn’t be phased much by the size of Bucs wide outs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson considering they go up against Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery every day in practice.
Cornerback Tim Jennings says he believes that the familiarity with Josh McCown could “help us.”
“It’s just a matter of stopping him,” Jennings said in Wednesday’s press conference. “We know what Josh is capable of doing and what kind of type of quarterback he is. He’s a fighter, he’s a hard worker and it’s just a matter of stopping him.”
Bears – OUT: Trevor Scott (knee), Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and Chris Williams (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Eben Britton (illness), Demontre Hurst (knee) and Jordan Mills (ribs); PROBABLE: Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring)
—Sharpton and Britton are out for the third consecutive week, while Williams will be out with a hamstring injury. He will be replaced by recently signed Marc Mariani on both punts and kickoffs.
—Mills doesn’t look likely to play for a second straight game, so Michael Ola will start at right tackle. Hurst and Britton aren’t expected to play meaning rookie Charles Leno Jr. will man the swing tackle spot and Sherrick McManis will serve as the nickelback.
—Marshall and Jeffery were given time off in practice this week to rest. Marquess Wilson will once again be the No. 3 receiver and is expected to be used more this week, while Josh Morgan returns and will serve as the No. 4 receiver with Williams out.
Bucs – QUESTIONABLE: LB Lavonte David (hamstring), RB Charles Sims (ankle), CB Alterraun Verner (hamstring) and RB Doug Martin (ankle)
—David has missed the last two days of practice due to a hamstring issue and is being called a game-time decision by team officials.
—Verner, Martin and Sims all seem poised to suit up. Verner and Martin will likely be on a snap count.
Final Score Prediction
Bears 31, Bucs 24
The Bears only scored 21 points last week, but it was enough to win. They will face an inconsistent Bucs offense that has a weak offensive line and running game included. The Bears should be able to get on the board early which will set a tone in the game. Tampa Bay’s defense has only 20 sacks on the season, six coming last week, so that bodes well for a Bears’ offensive line looking to find a rhythm. The Bears should take this one.
Season prediction record: (3-7).
Patchy fog in the morning. Showers likely in the morning, then rain in the afternoon. Highs in the lower 50s. South winds 10 to 20 mph. Chance of precipitation 100 percent.
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