Bucs look for playoff berth with win at Detroit

LEFT: Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions throws a pass during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Lions 46-25. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Image

No team in football gives off more mixed signals than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Depending on your viewpoint, last Sunday’s 31-27 comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons either signals great things going forward or is a reminder that the Bucs remain a work in progress. Still, with two games left in the regular season, the Bucs travel to play the hapless Lions with a playoff berth on the line with a win or a tie Saturday at Ford Field (1 p.m., NFL Network.)

The Lions meanwhile have won just once in their last five games and with the playoffs out of reach have begun auditioning for jobs next season. That includes interim head coach Darrell Bevell who took over for Matt Patricia after Week 11.

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The sports betting information

On FOXBet.com Sportsbook, the Bucs are 9 1/2 road favorites with a money line of -400. (A $400 bet would pay out $100.) The Lions are +320 (a $100 bet pays $320) with the over-under of 54.  Against the number this year, the Bucs are 7-7 and even more compelling is the fact they are seventh in the NFL with an average of 5.7 points in margin of victory. The Lions are 6-8 and are a woeful 1-5 at home.

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The history

The two teams have met 59 times including one in the playoffs – a 20-10 Tampa Bay win in 1997 back when the Bucs were a member of the NFC Central. The two have only met ten times since the Bucs were placed in the NFC South in 2002. Since that point, the series record is 5-5. The Bucs won 38-17 last season and now have the added dynamic of Brady as their quarterback. Brady is 4-1 against Detroit as a member of the New England Patriots.

The storylines to watch

Aside from a social media dust-up with Pro Football Hall of Fame coach and current broadcaster Tony Dungy, Brady remains focused on the Bucs pursuit of the postseason for the first time since 2007, the best news of the week came in the form of left tackle Donovan Smith getting activated after missing last week due to Covid-19 protocol. Brady was sacked three times in Smith’s absence and had to rally the Bucs after the Falcons took a 17-0 lead into halftime.

The Lions meanwhile have plenty of problems on the field but may have more off it as Bevell fired special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs on Monday. The move, precipitated by Coombs calling for a fake punt on his own, had many players questioning the decision.

The biggest on field question remains the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford. The veteran is trying to work through a rib injury and the Lions have to ask themselves, with the playoffs out of reach, just how necessary is it to have Stafford play over the final two weeks of the season.

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