It’s the middle of January, and the Detroit Lions are still playing football.
It’s unfamiliar territory for the organization and its fanbase. The Lions are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2017, and instead of immersing themselves in mock drafts like they typically do this time of year, its fans are preparing to watch their team take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
A win would send the Lions to the NFC Championship for the first time since 1992, but the Buccaneers present plenty of challenges and will be a tougher test than when these two teams met in Week 6. Below are a few notes ahead of this regular season rematch.
Divisional Preview: Lions vs Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s Stingy Defense…
The Buccaneers come to Detroit having won six of their last seven, and their defense deserves credit for leading an impressive midseason turnaround.
Tampa Bay is coming off an excellent showing where they held Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles to just a touchdown and field goal in a 32-9 beatdown. For the season, the Buccaneers are sixth in points allowed (19.1 points per game) and 23rd in total defense (344.2 yards per game), although that number has improved during their recent surge. Their defense also ranks fifth in rushing yards (95.3 yards per game) and is third in red zone efficiency (42.6). According to Pro Football Reference, Tampa Bay also blitzes as much as anyone in the league, sending pressure on 40.1% of opponent dropbacks.
…Against The Lions’ High-Powered Offense
In their Week 6 matchup, Detroit only rushed for 40 yards. Granted, they were without Jahmyr Gibbs and his counterpart David Montgomery missed the entire second half. Still, it will be crucial to establish the run and to get more production on the ground this time around, and not lean as heavily on quarterback Jared Goff as they did in their 20-6 win back in October. Goff completed 30 of 44 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay in the regular season.
Detroit can slow down Tampa Bay’s heavy blitz schemes by running sweeps and screens for receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams and getting the ball in the aforementioned speedster Gibbs’ hands. The offensive line will need to do a better job of giving Goff time to operate in the pocket, as he was sacked three times by Tampa Bay in their previous meeting.
Detroit Is Healthier Now
Back when these two teams met in the regular season, Detroit was banged up, missing key players on both sides of the ball.
CJ Gardner-Johnson and James Houston were both on IR. Jonah Jackson was out, leaving the offensive line without one of its best run blockers. As mentioned earlier, both of Detroit’s top two running backs were absent; Gibbs didn’t play and Montgomery was injured in the first half and didn’t return. Defensive players Brian Branch and Josh Paschal, who had broken out in the first month of the season, missed the game against Tampa Bay too. Now, Detroit is as healthy as it’s been all season and is getting contributions from each of the players mentioned above, minus Houston who was just activated on Thursday.
Detroit was missing multiple starters and still left Tampa Bay with a decisive victory in the regular season. Yes, the Buccaneers are a better team now, but so are the Lions, and being at full strength will only help their chances of defeating Tampa Bay again.
Home Field Advantage
The atmosphere for the Lions’ first playoff game in the history of Ford Field did not disappoint, and thanks to the Green Bay Packers upsetting the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit will be back at home this weekend.
A sold-out crowd broke the noise-level stadium record in the Lions’ Wild Card win over the Los Angeles Rams. Topping out at 133.6 decibels, many Los Angeles players told former teammate and current Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield that it was “the loudest thing they’ve ever heard.” There’s no doubt that the Detroit faithful played a major part in their team winning last weekend — the Rams had to burn multiple timeouts to avoid delay of game penalties — and that same energy will present similar problems for Tampa Bay this Sunday.
A trip to the NFC Championship is on the line from Ford Field.
Lions vs Buccaneers, Sunday at 3 PM EST.
Main Image: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK