We're entering the home stretch of the NFL season, now that all bye weeks have come and gone, and the games get more and more important. This Sunday, the Colts look to extend their winning streak to three straight when they return home to host the 5-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team who had the #1 overall pick in the draft last year, but have won their last two games as well to keep themselves in the Wild Card hunt.
When the schedule first came out this looked to be a cupcake game for the Colts: a home game against the team with the worst record in 2014. But funny how things change once teams actually start playing, as the Colts (obviously) haven't lived up to their lofty expectations and will be playing without Andrew Luck for the 4th time this season, while the Buccaneers have played much better than they did a year ago. Tampa has also played their best two games of the season the last two weeks, with last week against the Eagles being the best Offensive game of the entire NFL season, once you adjust for the opponent. Clearly the Eagles are struggling Defensively (as we got further evidence of that Thursday afternoon), but it's still #1 despite the opponent. If you still think this is a cupcake game for the Colts, you're sadly mistaken.
The biggest and most obvious difference between last year and this one for the Buccaneers is QB Jameis Winston, who had a few hiccups early in the season but he's starting to find his groove ten games into his rookie season. But I think the biggest difference is their lack of games missed due to injuries to starters, which in a season full of big name players being hurt, the Bucs have largely been injury free. Sure they've had guys out for a game or two, like receivers Mike Evans (1 game) and Vincent Jackson (3 games), but compared to the rest of the league, they're really healthy. Contrast that with the Colts missing Luck, S Mike Adams, LT Anthony Castonzo, RB Frank Gore, CB Greg Toler, and DE Erik Walden from practice this week, and it's quite the contrast. It's never a good sign when a team full of NFL starters is playing a bunch of backups.
With these two teams in opposite conferences they don't play that often, just 12 times, with the Colts having won seven of those meetings. The last time the Colts and Bucs played was a Monday night in 2011, a 24-17 Tampa win that gave us all hope that Curtis Painter could lead the Colts to at least a couple wins (eh, not quite). The two previous games were Colts wins, one a romp in 2007, and the other the Monday Night Miracle in Tampa in 2003.
How do these teams match-up in what is a very important game for both teams? Let's jump into the numbers and find out.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Buccaneers (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||61.3%||6||56.8%||22||51.3%||22||51.3%||12|
|Avg Start Pos||27.9||26||29.9||19||30.9||8||31.4||28|
|3 and Outs||4.16||26||3.55||19||2.92||5||2.86||30|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.780||15||1.117||2||1.153||32||0.825||17|
Keys to the Game:
- I found another reason why the Buccaneers have turned it around this year: they are 4th in Turnovers forced in the NFL. We all know how careless the Colts have been with the football this season, so this has the potential to be very ugly. If the Colts don't turn the ball over though, I think they'll be very successful. That's a gigantic "if" though.
- Why will they be in good shape? Tampa's Defense appears to let teams move the ball with ease between the 20s, with their Drive Success Rate at 26th, Time of Possession per Drive at 26th, and Three and Outs at 30th, but they tighten up once teams get close to the end zone, ranking 12th and 17th in Orange and Red Zone Efficiency respectively. As we all know from the Tony Dungy days, this is a classic Tampa-2 Defense under Head Coach Lovie Smith and Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier. I talked Tuesday about how we should only expect two to three good to decent drives by a Matt Hasselbeck-led Offense, but the numbers suggest that could be higher Sunday.
- The Colts also have a pretty nice edge on 3rd/4th down, ranking 6th in the league while the Bucs are just 28th. These are all very good signs, other than that Turnover stat.
- The Colts run game should be able to get 4 to 5 yards when they need it (TB 30th in RB Success rate), but can't get many big gainers (8th in Yards per Carry). With the status of Frank Gore being up in the air, the Colts claimed Boom Herron off of waivers from the Bills Thursday.
- On the flip side, the Buccaneers rank 8th in our passing stat, so you can see how well Winston has been throwing the ball. I mentioned Greg Toler hasn't practiced this week, and rookie D'Joun Smith being limited this week, could make this even tougher.
- To go with a top 8 passing Offense, both rushing stats rank in the top 6, led by Doug Martin. The Colts did a good job bottling up the Falcons rushing attack, but was helped when Devonta Freeman left with a concussion. They'll need another good effort this weekend.
- Tampa's drive stats are all above average, but they've struggled scoring touchdowns when they get into the scoring zones, ranking just 22nd and 26th in the Orange and Red Zone. Their field goal kicker has been picked up for a good number of my fantasy teams because of this fact, so let's hope this continues Sunday.
- The Bucs are the most penalized team in the NFL, in terms of penalty yards per play, while the Colts rank 2nd in opponent yards. Could play a part in a key moment.
It looks like these two teams are pretty equally matched, and both teams have strengths against the other team's weaknesses. Playing at home will be a slight advantage for the Colts, and I can't help think the success Tampa has had the last two weeks had more to do with their opponents (Cowboys, Eagles) than it did the Buccaneers. This is a team the Colts should beat, and while the Predictor thinks the Buccaneers will win, I'm not agreeing with it this week. I think the Colts find a way to limit the Turnovers, are able to move the ball, and force the Bucs Offense into field goals.
Colts 28, Buccaneers 26