The Bears may have dropped three straight games and four of their last five, but you can bet John Fox will have his team ready to go this Sunday in the final road trip of the year at Tampa Bay.
At 5-9, the postseason has been out of the question for a couple of weeks now as its all about finding who is worth keeping on the roster beyond this year. The Buccaneers, who are run by former Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith have been better with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston under center, but they are still 6-8 and in transition.
It will be a battle between two NFC foes that have played each other often over the years. This game might be the most meaningless as a win would put both teams farther back in the draft next year. For what’s it worth, the Bears have won two straight over Tampa Bay as well as the last meeting at Raymond James Stadium in 2005, 13-10.
Here’s a breakdown of what both teams are thinking heading into Sunday’s 56th all-time meeting.
What the Buccaneers are thinking
Winston. Martin. Evans. That’s the trio that have carried the Bucs offense this season. Winston is settling in as a pro quarterback and as of late he’s been smart with the ball and appears to be growing as his offensive line should see a makeover this off-season.
As for Doug Martin, although he’s a free agent after the season ends, he’s most certainly going to be re-signed with a solid year of big plays and runs more often than not. With six total touchdowns (5 rushing, 1 receiving), Martin has rushed for over 80 plus yards in eight games, including five straight. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has his first 1,000-yard rushing season since his rookie year with 1,305.
Wide receiver Mike Evans has continued his success with five 100-yard receiving days with over 1,000 yards on the year. He only has three receiving touchdowns though as his counterpart Vincent Jackson has missed some time.
Defensively, Tampa Bay has been better, but overall it’s not all there just yet for Smith’s group. More talent needs to be added specifically on the line and in the secondary.
Those two areas will be monitored this week as former Bear and current Bucs starting safety Chris Conte is likely out with a knee injury.
What the Bears are thinking
No wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in this one and linebacker Shea McClellin could also be out which would open the door to Christian Jones’ return to the starting lineup next to rookie John Timu.
Like mentioned above, the Bears need to find the players that fit the schemes on both sides of the ball. With so many young players, undrafted rookies, rookies and prove-it deal players, general manager Ryan Pace has a lot of figuring out to do over the final two weeks.
In the final road game of the 2015, this could be where we learn an awful lot about this team. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson should see more time on offense after excelling as a kick returner over the last month. He’s definitely a candidate for an extension especially if he can turn into a situational deep threat.
Tight end Zach Miller is a free agent and this could be his biggest opportunity yet as Martellus Bennett is not returning to the lineup on injured reserve and Jeffery and Royal banged up and both possibly out. Jay Cutler has little to work with, but who knows if these guys will be back. Marc Mariani has turned into a nice third down target and young guys like Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy are playing for jobs next season.
Banged up on offense and defense, the chances are there for many unknown and unheralded players. Keep an eye out on these guys this week in Tampa Bay.
Bears – DOUBTFUL: Wide Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), linebacker Shea McClellin (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: Safety Adrian Amos (shoulder), cornerback Bryce Callahan (quad), linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), cornerback Tracy Porter (ankle), wide receiver Eddie Royal (knee)
Tampa Bay – OUT: Wide receiver Vincent Jackson (knee) and defensive tackle Akeem Spence (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: Defensive end Kourtnei Brown (groin) and safety Chris Conte (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Guard Logan Mankins (knee)
PROBABLE: Linebacker Bruce Carter (ankle), defensive end George Johnson (calf) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand)
Final Score Prediction
Buccaneers 24, Bears 20
Although I think the Bears are a better team than Tampa Bay, John Fox’s group is simply too banged up right now as the season is coming to a close. I give the edge to the home team.
Season predictions: (8-6)
Intervals of clouds and sunshine. Record high temperatures expected. High 84F. Winds SE at 10 to 15 mph.
The Bears welcome division rival Detroit to Soldier Field in a Week 17 finale between two teams destined for a top 15 selection.
Thoughts on the Bears-Buccaneers Week 16 matchup? Make sure to weigh in on the comment section below.
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