Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions Predictions: Keys to the Game, Plus Players To Watch

The 2023-2024 Detroit Lions are seeking to win their first back-to-back home playoff games in franchise history. Here are the keys to victory.

The Detroit Lions fans showed up ready to support their favorite team in a big way this past weekend against the Los Angeles Rams, and they figure to do the same again in the Divisional Round against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What are the keys to the game for the Lions this week and the most pivotal players to watch? Will Detroit be able to win back-to-back home playoff games for the first time in franchise history? Let’s find out.

The Keys to Victory for the Detroit Lions

Attack the Secondary

The Buccaneers boast one of the more stout defensive fronts in the NFL. Headlined by Vita Vea, Tampa Bay held opposing RBs to just 3.9 yards per attempt on average this season and just five total touchdowns to the position, which was tied for the fewest in the league.

However, the Tampa Bay secondary didn’t fare as well this season as teams consistently chose to attack their defense through the air. Throughout the 2023 regular season, Tampa Bay surrendered 3,036 receiving yards to opposing WRs, which was the fourth-most in the NFL.

Lions QB Jared Goff showed that the postseason spotlight wasn’t too bright for him as he ended last week’s contest 22-of-27 for 277 yards and a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. In a much more favorable spot this week, expect the Lions to focus in on picking apart the Bucs through the passing game versus trying to force-feed the RBs.

Protect Jared Goff

It might seem a bit obvious to say that a key to winning this matchup is to protect the QB … but in Detroit’s case, it’s especially true. When Goff is operating from a clean pocket, he’s easily one of the best signal callers in the NFL.

Throughout the 2023 regular season, only one QB had a better passer rating when he wasn’t pressured than Goff, San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy. The Lions QB was credited with a rating of 114.5 when he was given time to properly scan the field, set his feet, and deliver the ball accurately.

However, when Goff was under duress in the regular season, his passer rating cratered to just 62.5. For context, some other QBs that had more positive ratings than Goff were Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields, Indianapolis Colts QB Gardner Minshew II, Atlanta Falcons QB Desmond Ridder, and Las Vegas Raiders QB Aidan O’Connell.

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As the Bucs feature a bevy of talented pass rushers like Shaquil Barrett, Calijah Kancey, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, and many more, there will need to be an increased priority this week of giving Goff time to throw.

They did this in the Wild Card Round against the Rams successfully by having eight of Goff’s 30 dropbacks be off of play-action concepts. Expect Ben Johnson to lean into that concept even more in this matchup against a defense that will want to pin its ears back and get after the veteran QB.

Feature Sam LaPorta

Going into last week’s contest, it wasn’t a given that LaPorta was going to be able to make his way back onto the field in time for the Wild Card matchup against the Rams. However, he was able to push through his knee injury and he played a big role in helping Detroit advance to the next round by reeling in a touchdown reception midway through the second quarter.

However, he wasn’t utilized much more than just that limited opportunity in the red zone as he ended the game with just three targets. Based on the fact that LaPorta has been able to practice this week and the specific matchup against the Bucs, expect him to be much more involved in the NFC Divisional Round.

Opposing offenses targeted their tight end 151 times this past season when facing the Buccaneers. The next closest was the Houston Texans with 137 targets against, which signals that opposing QBs realized that their TE was open early and often and they made it a point to get them the ball.

LaPorta’s a difference-maker at the position already and we know that he can capitalize on the opportunity when it’s presented to him. Assuming that the rookie TE is anywhere close to 100% this week, it should be a main priority for this offense to get the ball into his hands and help him drive this offense down the field.

The dynamic RB duo of Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery may have trouble this week with the matchup they face on the ground, so pivoting to featuring LaPorta could be the key to advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

Key Players To Watch in the Divisional Round

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s been nothing short of remarkable what Mike Evans has done this year with QB Baker Mayfield. Despite being written off by essentially everyone going into the season, Evans has silenced every critic with his impressive performances time and time again this year.

The Buccaneers struggled with drops in the Wild Card Round against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the talent is certainly there to take advantage of a plus-matchup. Tampa’s going to need their big-time players to step up and make big-time plays, so make sure to watch Evans as he could be a key difference-maker in the NFC Divisional Round.

James Houston, EDGE, Detroit Lions

At the time of writing, we don’t know yet if James Houston is going to be cleared to play — he’s currently listed as questionable. However, if he can suit up, his ability to send waves of pass rushers at Mayfield will certainly be a welcomed addition.

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In 2022, Houston burst onto the scene with eight sacks over the final seven games of the season. However, he landed on injured reserve early this year before he was able to fully get up and running.

Aidan Hutchinson and Houston formed quite the pass-rushing duo last year, so if Houston’s able to suit up and give Hutchinson some help on key pass-rushing situations, he could be a key player in determining the outcome of this game.

Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions

Gibbs was fantastic in the Wild Card Round matchup against the Rams as his speed, elusiveness, and decisiveness were all on display repeatedly. He faces a tough test in this one though against a stout Bucs defensive front.

All signs point to Gibbs struggling to make a high-end impact in this game. However, his playmaking ability could easily be one of the key deciding factors. The Lions drafted Gibbs with the No. 12 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft or moments just like this one. Let’s see if the rookie RB is up to the task.

Want to predict the results of the 2023 NFL postseason with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? How about looking into in-depth breakdowns of team depth charts or the NFL playoff schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with all that and more!

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