Gameday: Bucs have Christmas Eve showdown in New Orleans

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What’s At Stake?

The Buccaneers don’t completely control their own playoff destiny. There are a couple of scenarios where they could win their last two games and still miss the postseason. A lot would have to go against them for that to happen, though. The situation will not be same if the Bucs lose to the Saints today. Though a loss today won’t automatically knock the Bucs out of race for either an NFC wild card berth or the NFC South title, it will make it a lot harder for them to claim either prize. That’s why the Bucs are taking the approach that the playoffs start now. After losing the Cowboys last year they are virtually in a win-now-or-go-home situation.

Key matchup

The Bucs didn’t get a very good game out of their right tackle during the loss to the Cowboys last week. Filling in for a injured Demar Dotson, veteran Gosder Cherilus looked horribly out of place. The situation may not get much better in this one. With Dotson and Cherilus both on the sideline nursing injuries the Bucs are expected to start third-year pro Kevin Pamphile at right tackle. Talk about being out place. Pamphile was drafted to play tackle but he’s taken the majority of his NFL snaps at left guard, starting all but two games there for the Bucs this year. He’ll have his hands full with Cameron Jordan who disrupted the Tampa Bay backfield repeatedly two weeks ago and will be frothing at the chance to go against third string right tackles.

Statistically speaking

The Cardinals tried virtually everything to slow Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks last week. Nothing worked. According to ProFootballFocus, the Cardinals matched at least five different defenders against Cooks, but none of them had an impact as Cooks caught seven of the eight passes thrown his way for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Cooks was reportedly at his best working out the slot, which means Bucs rookie Javien Elliott could be in for a busy day today. If that proves to be the case, Tampa Bay may want to counter by sliding Vernon Hargreaves III back into the slot and making more use of Alterraun Verner. Either way, this figures to be a chess match that could greatly impact the game’s outcome.

He said it

“First down is the most important down. Third down (is important), but what you do on first down determines how long you’re in on third down and we haven’t been doing as well as we need to the last few weeks, but that’s something that can change at any game. We’ll certainly be trying to do our best to change that this week.” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter on the importance of first down plays, where the Bucs offense ranks 31st in the league with an average gain of 4.64 yards per first-down play.

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