The first game of a jam-packed Week 8 slate comes between two teams fighting to remain afloat near the top of their respective divisions. Although the opponents began their season with inverse expectations, the two teams are firmly in the playoff discussion within their conferences. What advantages will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills have against one another on Thursday night?

From the current NFL standings to team depth charts to coverage of every game in the 18-week NFL schedule, we have all the news from around the league to keep you up to speed!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Buffalo Bills Predictions

The PFN game selectors were unanimous in their decision this week on Thursday night. However, the selection committee was a combined 25-40 last week, proof that we’re all either terrible at our jobs or sometimes weird things happen in the NFL.

  • Beasley: Bills
  • Bearman: Bills
  • Miller: Bills
  • Morrison: Bills
  • Robinson: Bills

Injuries on Defense Have Bills Reeling

Tre’Davious White, Matt Milano, and DaQuan Jones all went on the injured reserve list over a four-day span in the beginning of October. Meanwhile, Ed Oliver is questionable for Thursday night with a toe injury.

Buffalo had depth on the defensive line, but with injuries and Von Miller only playing 53 snaps in his three games back, there are issues.

The unit held on by a thread against the New York Giants, who are currently ranked 30th in offensive EPA and were playing with Tyrod Taylor, their backup quarterback. But Buffalo fell apart against the New England Patriots, the least efficient offense in the NFL and only the 20th-most successful.

According to Sports Info Solutions, the differences between having those three players on the field versus off are staggering. The EPA difference with White (0.3), Milano (0.28), and Jones (0.26) off the field paints a completely different picture of what we should expect from the Bills defense in 2023.

If their offense can’t put on the rucksack and carry this team to high-octane victories, it could be a long season for Bills Mafia.

Buccaneers’ Offense Must Start Faster

It’s no secret that the Buccaneers’ rushing attack looks like a DFW highway during an ice storm. It’s a massive pile-up that only causes damage, all while nobody gets to their destination on time. We can only hope that everyone comes out of the situation healthy.

We’ll get to the run game soon, but let’s talk about early vs. late-down offense.

MORE: Buccaneers vs. Bills Starting Lineups

Baker Mayfield currently ranks fourth in dropback EPA on third and fourth down with the 10th-highest success rate. He’s also fourth in completion rate and third in CPOE, while passes travel an average of 9.4 yards through the air.

Mayfield has been great on third down. The problem is that he has to be because the Buccaneers offense insists on procrastinating. They’re dead last in early-down success rate and just 26th in early-down EPA. They’re also dead last in rushing success rate on early downs. So pass the ball more… right?

Well, Tampa Bay has the 11th-highest passing rate on early downs. A high early-down passing rate is a good call by offensive coordinator Dave Canales, considering their nonexistent ability to move the ball on the ground.

But the Buccaneers rank 23rd in early-down dropback EPA and 24th in success rate. Canales, Mayfield, and the weapons must play with a bit more urgency on first and second down moving forward because relying on third-down success is an unsustainable business model.

The Highs and Lows of Josh Allen

Over the past two seasons, only Patrick Mahomes has a higher EPA rate than Josh Allen, and nobody is more successful per dropback than the oversized kid from the University of Wyoming.

But over that time, no quarterback has turned the ball over more (28) than Allen. According to Inside Edge, his turnover rate (2.7%) ranks 21st of 27 qualified quarterbacks. For reference, Patrick Mahomes (1.7%) ranks third.

Because Allen is such a playmaker by nature, he gets a relative pass for his lack of ball security. In the end, the 97.3% of plays he doesn’t lose the football on are so good that it levels back out to being a top-five QB.

Because of the mass of injuries on defense, the league’s modern-day gunslinger must do the best tightrope walk of his career over the next 10 games. He must find the balance between aggressiveness and recklessness. His defense is no longer good enough to save him from his mistakes.

Buccaneers M.I.A. Run Game

By almost every conceivable metric, Tampa Bay’s rushing attack may as well cease to exist. They’re 31st in rushing yards per play and 29th in rushing yards per game. They rank 30th in EPA and 32nd in success rate.

Among the 46 players with at least 40 carries, Rachaad White is 42nd in yards per attempt after contact and 24th in broken tackles and missed tackles forced, according to SIS. He’s averaging 3.2 yards per carry. His longest run is just 13 yards.

Tampa Bay’s impossibly bad rushing attack also hurts its red-zone offense. A run game in the red zone is often necessary because passers are unable to use space to their advantage.

Watch Tristan Wirfs Be Elite Against a Bevy of Rushers

It’s almost impossible to describe exactly how good Tristan Wirfs is. The league’s best young right tackle (Lane Johnson is old) made the move to the left side of the ball during the offseason. For mortal men, that would come with a learning curve. But Wirfs is obviously not human.

MORE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Potential Deadline Moves

He’s already the best left tackle in the NFL. However, the six pressures he has allowed so far are already one more than he allowed at RT last season.

Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Von Miller, and Leonard Floyd are all different players. However, each is good in their own right, and they all give blockers a unique challenge. Watching Wirfs put them all in prison for 60 minutes will be the best part of this football game for hardcore football fans.

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