Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
Sunday November 21, 2010 4:05 PM EST
Line: San Francisco -3
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were written off by nearly everyone throughout the league prior to the season. As it stands, they are 6-3 and right in the mix of things in the brutal NFC South. The Bucs are thinking playoffs and you can’t argue with their production. While they may not be the best team in the NFC, as they so claim, they definitely have a shot at a wild card spot.
Standing in their way this week are the 3-6 San Francisco 49ers, who have won three of their last four games. People may say no team can recover from being 0-5 and that a 3-6 team has no business talking about playoff scenarios, but in the NFC West, the 49ers are only two games out of first place. This is a must win home victory for the 49ers, though it won’t come easily.
Keys to the Game:
Frank Gore is going to have a monster day on the ground. The more touches Gore gets, the better he becomes. the Bucs allow 143.8 on the ground per game. Gore has rushed for 456 yards in his last four games. Gore could easily put together a huge performance again this week. The Bucs are soft up front and the 49ers will rely heavily on the run while Troy Smith gets fully adapted to being the starting quarterback.
The Bucs have to get some sort of pass rush. With only eight sacks on the entire year, the Bucs aren’t doing their secondary any favors by giving the opposing quarterbacks all day to throw. The Bucs run a 4-3, where traditionally most of the pressure comes from the defensive line.
The problem is they don’t have an elite pass rushing defensive end. Gerald McCoy has solidified the defensive line, but they need someone to get after the quarterback. Being conservative is not going to be in the best interest of the Bucs this week, as the 49ers are vulnerable up front right now.
The 49ers offensive line is walking a thin line between troublesome and panic. Left tackle Joe Staley is out with a broken leg. Center Eric Heitman is already out at center with a broken leg. The 49ers have two rookies, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, starting this week.
The left tackle spot will likely be filled by Barry Sims, who filled in nicely in Joe Staley’s place last year. The 49ers could struggle this week, as there are changes everywhere and an inexperienced quarterback, but the Bucs are a good front seven for the 49ers to face while they regather themselves.
The Buccaneers are likely to see the 49ers gameplan that they had last week. While Lagarrette Blount might not be Steven Jackson, but Blount has seen a dramatic influx in the amount of carries he is getting. Blount is becoming the feature back in the Bucs offense.
The 49ers keyed against Steven Jackson all game long, allowing the Rams limited amount of targets to be wide open at times. They face a better set of targets this week, with Mike Williams at the forefront of the attack, but the game plan should be similar.
Who covers on Sunday?
Josh Freeman vs. Troy Smith
Josh Freeman has a 90.1 quarterback rating on the year. He has the presence to lead his team in critical situations and looks like he could be one of those clutch quarterbacks teams covet.
In only his second year, Freeman looks as though he is the real deal. The 49ers are likely to blitz to stop the run, which is going to put heat on Freeman. Freeman will have a hard time breaking contain, but if he can, big plays should be open down the field.
Alex Smith was given the benefit of the doubt, partially because the 49ers had no viable option at quarterback. Right? Troy Smith has proved this notion to be false, at least for the time being. In two starts he already has two wins this season. He has been ridiculously productive and led his team to a come from behind victory that ended in over time.
He has big play potential and gets the entire offense involved. Troy Smith has the potential to be the 49ers quarterback next season. Bringing a 1-6 team to the playoffs would probably suffice as enough to make him the leading candidate headed into next season.
This is a must-win game for San Francisco. A win at home would launch them right back into the playoff mix, while a loss would almost certainly eliminate them. The Bucs have looked great this season, but they still need a victory to make a play for the top of the NFC South at some point.
The Bucs are still very much so in the playoff picture, but moving to 7-3 would give them some room to breath. That being said, the 49ers have looked fantastic. I don’t like the way the Bucs match up against San Francisco, so given the recent play at quarterback and the home field advantage, I’m going with the 49ers.
Free NFL Pick: San Francisco 49ers -3