It's pivotal for the Bucs, at least. Denver is in the driver's seat in the AFC West, needing one win or a San Diego Chargers loss in order to clinch the division. That's impressive considering there are still five weeks of football left to play!
Tampa Bay is hoping to bounce back after a disappointing home loss to NFC South rival Atlanta. That loss more or less handed the Falcons the division title and put the Bucs in a chase for a wild-card playoff berth.
Things haven't come easy for Tampa this season, especially in close games against good football teams. The Bucs' six wins have come against teams with a 20-46 record. They have only beaten one team with a winning record: The Minnesota Vikings in Week 8.
Three of the teams Tampa Bay beat were from the AFC West. In those matchups, Tampa Bay has scored more than 30 points twice and more than 40 points once (Oakland). This week's opponent is the best team the division has to offer, though.
The Broncos pose a significantly bigger challenge on both sides of the ball for the Bucs.
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
When: Sunday, Dec. 2 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Direct Ticket
Betting Line: Denver (-7), according to Bovada
Tampa Bay Injury Report via CBS Sports (as of 11/27/2012)
DE Michael Bennett, Shoulder, Probable
CB Leonard Johnson, Heel, Probable
DE Aaron Morgan, Shoulder, Probable
WR Tiquan Underwood, Head, Probable
LB Dekoda Watson, Hamstring, Probable
CB Eric Wright, Achilles, Questionable (Suspension, Out)
Denver Injury Report via CBS Sports (as of 11/27/2012)
DE Robert Ayers, Groin, Probable
CB Omar Bolden, Concussion, Questionable
TE Virgil Green, Hamstring, Probable
RB Ronnie Hillman, Hamstring, Probable
G Chris Kuper, Ankle, Probable
RB Knowshon Moreno, Groin, Probable
CB Tracy Porter, Illness, Probable
WR Demaryius Thomas, Knee, Probable
DE Derek Wolfe, Quadriceps, Probable
What's At Stake?
Denver more or less has already locked up the AFC West. Although there are five games left in the season, the 9-3 Broncos are five games ahead of everyone else in the division. Even a total meltdown wouldn't be enough to unseat them at this point because of Denver's two wins over second-place San Diego.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is fighting and clawing for a playoff spot by earning a wild-card berth. After losing at home to Atlanta last week, the Atlanta Falcons basically clinched the division. That means if the Bucs hope to make it to the postseason they'll need to beat out other playoff hopefuls like the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks in order to get that final wild-card spot, assuming Green Bay or Chicago earns the other one.
Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin
Doug "Don't call me Muscle Hamster" Martin has broken out as a rookie rusher for the Buccaneers. The team traded into the bottom of the first round to get the former Boise State back and it has paid off for them this season. Fantasy owners are rejoicing as well, after a breakout performance has led to him being the second-ranked running back this season.
Denver poses a challenge for the Bucs' offense in general. They have only allowed four rushing touchdowns and a 100-yard rusher just four times this season. If anyone can beat that trend it's the explosive Tampa Bay rookie back.
Denver WR Demaryius Thomas
Thomas has the explosiveness to be a top wide receiver in the NFL. He's currently ranked as the fifth-best fantasy receiver in the league and is only getting better. Peyton Manning has been a big help to his breakout season. Despite the presence of Eric Decker across from him, Thomas has flashed a big-play potential that makes him a must-start fantasy receiver.
That's especially true this week as the Broncos host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are surrendering a league-high 27.4 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers. They'll also be without cornerback Eric Wright due to a suspension. Both Decker and Thomas will feast on the horrible Bucs secondary.
What They Are Saying
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora pointed out the significance of this game for the Broncos (via Twitter):
There was lots of buzz after defensive end Jason Babin was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday. That talk sprouted an interesting fact: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just aren't very good at getting pressure on the quarterback.
Kevin O'Donnell of WTVT Fox 13 in Tampa noted that Babin could be a big improvement for the Bucs' pass rush (via Twitter):
Jason Babin made the Pro Bowl last season with 18 sacks. That equals the Bucs total for this season. Bucs need to grab him if they can.— Kevin O'Donnell (@ODonnellFox13) November 27, 2012
Gil Arcia of TheBayCave.com pointed out that the Bucs are doing a good job at creating turnovers despite getting beat for big plays in the passing game (via Twitter):
#Bucs are 3rd in the league in interceptions with 16 and 6th in total takeaways with 22.— Gil Arcia (@BayCave) November 27, 2012
Key Matchup: Peyton Manning vs. ultra-thin Buccaneers secondary
Earlier in November, the Bucs traded away suspended cornerback and former first-round draft pick Aqib Talib. Talib was serving a four-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall, a banned PED. This week, the Bucs be without their other preseason starting quarterback Eric Wright. Wright was served a four-game suspension before the team's loss to Atlanta in Week 12.
Peyton Manning is going to be Peyton Manning, no matter who the defense is lining up opposite of him. Combine the struggles of the Bucs at getting to the quarterback and their depleted secondary and things could get ugly in Denver for Tampa Bay.
The Broncos have a stout defense, for the most part, and will be able to exploit the Bucs' secondary over the top at will in this one. Tampa Bay will struggle to get pressure on Manning and he'll take advantage by having a big day connecting with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Denver will clinch a playoff spot and the Bucs will fall one game further away from returning to the post season.
Broncos 35, Buccaneers 21