The Buffalo Bills are set to face their third NFC South opponent of the season on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town. The last time the Bills and Bucs faced off was Week 14 of the 2013 season, when four EJ Manuel interceptions helped Tampa come away with an easy 27-6 victory.
A lot has changed for both teams since then. To help get us up to speed on the state of the team nowadays, I reached out to Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation for some insight. Here’s what he had to say.
The biggest question around the Buccaneers heading into this game is about the status of Jameis Winston's shoulder. If he plays, how effective will he be? If not, how do you feel about Ryan Fitzpatrick (a name Bills fans know all too well) taking the helm?
He'll definitely play, as head coach Dirk Koetter announced on Friday, so the main question is how effective Winston will be. We don't know how much his shoulder will affect him--he looked a lot more inaccurate than usual when he tried to play through it after the injury happened, but we're a week removed from that and he looked pretty decent in training. I'd expect his game to suffer a little, though, but Winston's biggest problems were there before the injury: an inability to hit anyone with a deep ball, and a tendency to throw a few too many interceptable passes.
On a related note, Mike Evans seems to be having another standout season (on pace for almost 90 catches and 1,200 yards), while Cameron Brate (four touchdowns) has kept my fantasy team afloat through six games. Who is the key to the offense in Tampa, and who might be a player that could surprise the Bills on Sunday?
The key to the offense is always Jameis Winston, but that's too easy an answer. Mike Evans has been relatively bottled up this year, in part because every defense has spent a lot of resources stopping him. DeSean Jackson is open deep a couple of times in each game, but he and Winston just can't seem to connect yet. So who's the real key to this offense? It has to be Doug Martin: he can bring some consistent production to an offense that so far has been highly erratic. He can provide a basis and some breathing room for the passing game, which should benefit everyone who's not a Buffalo Bill.
The Bucs are one of two teams (along with the Patriots) giving up over 300 passing yards a game. Tyrod Taylor has one 300-yard passing game in his career, and he needed overtime to get there. Which unit do you see prevailing on Sunday: Tampa's secondary or Buffalo's passing game? Both? Neither?
The Bucs' secondary has been incredibly up-and-down this year, so it's very hard to predict. They can't consistently stop anyone, but they do have the ability to tighten up in the red zone and force some turnovers. There's a chance of a tailspin after their disastrous outing against the Cardinals, though, so I'll say Taylor hitting those 300 yards--albeit maybe with a few interceptions.
Tampa's draft class as a whole has seemingly been unimpressive, especially first-round pick O.J. Howard (five catches in five games), but third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith is off to a very strong start to his career. What are your impressions of the team's rookies so far this year?
Perhaps from a raw number standpoint the production has been unimpressive, but the Bucs are pretty happy with where they stand. Howard's on the field a lot, mostly as a blocker, and has shown flashes of great talent in the passing game. Chris Godwin has produced some impressive catches despite being barely getting on the field because of the Bucs' excessive depth at the position, and second-round safety Justin Evans has looked very promising at safety. None of those guys are heavy producers right now, but they've shown enough for me to believe that they'll get there sooner rather than later.
How do you see this game playing out? Does your prediction for the winner depend on Winston's status, or do you think the game will settle out the same way regardless of whether he plays or not?
It'll mostly depend on how Winston plays. Quarterbacks are what win games in the NFL, after all, especially when you have a porous defense like the Bucs do. If Winston can hit DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans deep a couple of times, I see the Bucs prevailing. If his shoulder is bothering him too much to do that (or he just continues to be inaccurate on those passes), it'll be a lot harder.