When the NFL schedule was first announced earlier this year, the November 29 game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was circled for no other reason than being a matchup of two former first overall picks at quarterback. As for the game itself? Nobody paid much attention to it. After all, Tampa Bay had only won more than four games in a season twice in the last seven seasons and not since 2012.
Now, with that game only a few days away, however, it's looking like a compelling matchup between two teams fighting for a playoff spot. The Colts and the Buccaneers both sit at 5-5, and the Colts lead their division by a half of a game while the Buccaneers would be the first team out in the NFC if the playoffs started today. It won't be a matchup of the former first overall quarterbacks as Andrew Luck is still out due to injury, but the Buccaneers are playing good football and will be a big test for the Colts.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston has been impressive this season, completing 58.3% of his passes for 2,405 yards (7.7 yards per attempt), 15 touchdowns, and nine picks for a passer rating of 86.5, also adding 118 yards and four scores on the ground. Recently, however, he has been terrific, and it goes beyond his five touchdown, zero interception performance a week ago. In five of the last six games, Winston has played interception-free, and during that six game stretch he has completed 60.8% of his passes for 1,440 yards (8.0 yards per attempt), nine touchdowns, and two picks for a passer rating of 97.8, adding 65 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The Buccaneers are 4-2 during that stretch and playing very good football.
Running back Doug Martin is also playing well, and he too is coming off of his best performance of the season after rushing for 235 yards a week ago. On the year, he has totaled 941 yards and three scores on the ground (averaging five yards per carry) and has added 21 receptions for 188 yards and a touchdown in the receiving game. He has topped 100-yards rushing in four games this year.
At the wide receiver position, second-year pro Mike Evans has had a nice year, catching 42 passes for 725 yards and two scores on 92 targets (averaging 16.5 yards per catch). He has 13 catches of 20+ yards and four 100-yard games this season. Vincent Jackson has missed some time this year due to injury, but he still has caught 25 passes for 375 yards and three scores, including seven catches of 20+ yards.
Defensively, the Buccaneers have had their struggles but still rank 13th in the league in yards per game allowed (with 339.1). Furthermore, during their last six games Tampa Bay has allowed an average of 22.8 points per game, a mark that isn't great by any means but is a solid number. Linebacker Lavonte David earned NFC Player of the Week honors for his performance last week against the Eagles, recording six tackles, two passes defensed, and two interceptions (returning one for a touchdown).
In other words, this Buccaneers team that is coming to Indianapolis has confidence and is playing very good football right now. They're a dangerous team, as evidenced by their play recently. The Colts are also beginning to hit their stride, having won their last two games, but they still haven't been overly impressive. Facing a hot Tampa Bay offense, they'll need their defense to come through once again and keep it close, as they can't afford to get into a shootout with Matt Hasselbeck. Last week was a great performance by the defense that did just that. They'll be looking to continue their winning streak and continue to stay atop their division heading into a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but no longer is this game one to overlook or one that should be considered an easy game for the Colts. It's winnable, yes, but it's going to be a tough matchup against a team fighting for a playoff spot that is playing good football right now.