Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are taking the league by storm. Head coach Greg Schiano is one of the leading candidates for coach of the year, and the Buccaneers are in a great position to secure a wild card spot.
We all know the above is not true. Just look at their 4-9 record for proof. This is a team going nowhere with a head coach who will likely be relieved of his duties at the start of the offseason.
Even with all that turmoil staring at them, the Buccaneers have somehow managed to win four out of their last five games. The NFL can be unpredictable, but who expected this?
That’s why the 49ers will have to duplicate the same urgency we witnessed last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. After coming off such an emotional victory, I wonder if the 49ers would suffer a letdown.
Despite the victory against the Seahawks, the 49ers are still trying to secure a playoff spot in a stacked NFC conference. Like last week's game, this will be a must win for the 49ers. In fact, every game from here on is a must win.
The keys to victory? As always, it will come down to certain matchups.
Here are three matchups to watch this Sunday.
1. Anquan Boldin vs. Darrelle Revis
This should be one of the more interesting matchups in this game. On one side, you have a veteran receiver who will do anything, and I mean anything, to get open.
On the other side, you have a top-notch corner who welcomes physicality, though not as much as years past.
However, with the return of Michael Crabtree, will Revis just play sides? It's a strong possibility, but I still see Revis matching up with Boldin more, especially since Crabtree has looked rusty since his return from an Achilles injury.
As many fans have witnessed, Revis is starting to ditch some of the zone schemes he was assigned earlier in the season. The Buccaneers have their star corner playing a lot more man, which has helped Revis somewhat return to his once dominant self.
The injury still lingers a bit, but Revis has done a tremendous job of playing through it. He will have to do the same against Boldin this Sunday.
Luckily for Revis, Boldin won't threaten the Buccaneers secondary down the field. If you noticed, Revis has struggled a bit with speed receivers this year.
With the exception of Vernon Davis, the 49ers receivers can't stretch the field. This should help the Buccaneers, but I wonder if their corners can match up with the 49ers physicality.
Even against the most physical corners, Boldin seems to always come down with several 50/50 balls. Physicality is in Boldin's nature.
Here's what Boldin had to say about the physical play of Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom:
That's the way that I play. If guys want to pretend to be tough, then I look forward to it. Talking—that's just what they do, you know what I'm saying? So, I let my play speak for itself.
Against Revis, Boldin will have another challenge on his hands. Will the veteran receiver come through, or will he be swallowed up by "Revis Island"?
2. Tramaine Brock vs. Vincent Jackson
According to Matt Maiocco, Tarell Brown could be out of the lineup anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Brown, who has shown to be the 49ers best defensive back, didn't play in the last two games.
Eric Wright, who is picking up some of the slack for Brown, is looking like a solid pickup for the 49ers. His play against the Seattle Seahawks shows why the 49ers were high on the former Buccaneers corner.
However, the key player in the 49ers secondary this week will be Tramaine Brock.
In all likelihood, Brock will line up opposite Vincent Jackson this Sunday. If so, this will be a testy matchup between two great competitors.
Brock, who is listed at 5'10", could have some trouble containing the 6'5'' Jackson. While I admire Brock's physical nature, there is a legit five inches between these two players.
The 49ers will likely have some safety help up top, but Jackson has shown to be menace when it comes to the deep ball. Check out his last four games:
Including the four matchups above, Jackson has caught a pass over 30 yards at least once per game for six of the 14 games he's started. The guy is a deep ball machine.
The 49ers have been pretty solid this year at protecting the deep ball, but Jackson is probably the best individual receiver they've faced since Larry Fitzgerald in Week 6.
3. Frank Gore vs. Lavonte David
Despite the importance of the two matchups above, the battle between Gore and David will be my favorite.
On one side, you have the wily, tough veteran halfback. On the other, you have the unripe but promising sophomore linebacker.
This matchup is unlike the other two mentioned above. While there will be instances where these two meet face-to-face, other factors are involved.
For example, a halfback is nothing without his offensive line. In addition, an inside linebacker is nothing without his defensive line.
Luckily for the viewers, these other factors are relatively even.
The 49ers would usually have the advantage in the trenches here, but injuries and inconsistencies have hurt this line. In the case for the Buccaneers, their pass rush is nothing to write home about; however, they do have a rather stingy run defense.
Gerald McCoy and David are usually at the center of the havoc they cause to opposing rushing attacks. Both guys look like stars in the making.
The 49ers have had trouble in the running department, which is a bit concerning this late in the season. Frank Gore just hasn't looked the same.
Whether the offensive line is to blame or play-calling, the 49ers must fix this, and fast. Check out Gore's last four games.
In the matchup against the Seahawks, Gore was held in check on the ground before rumbling for 51 yards late in the fourth quarter. This isn't to discount the big run, which helped seal the win for the 49ers, but to point out that statistics can be deceiving.
This could be a trap game for the 49ers. Remember, the playoff race isn't over in the NFC. While the cards are in the 49ers favor, a wild-card spot isn't a foregone conclusion for the defending NFC champions.
Heck, their own divisional rivals in the Arizona Cardinals are itching at the bit to takeover the sixth seed in the NFC. A 49ers loss, and a Cardinals win this week, leaves both teams with the same record.
The victor in this match could come down to the matchups mentioned above. We'll just have to wait and see if the 49ers can continue this good run.