Pretty much a must-win for the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.
The Bucs will play without Jameis Winston. A trip to New England is next. The back end of the schedule is tough and if Miami were to drop a fourth consecutive November contest, the playoffs would be an entirely unrealistic goal.
That said, Miami should win. If Tampa pulls the upset, here are three groups that could run into trouble:
Jettisoned Rey Maualauga wasn’t a perfect fit at middle linebacker but he brought a veteran presence and physical, brawny approach to run-stopping. Charles Sims and Doug Martin have been far from dominant behind an underwhelming offensive line, so perhaps the biggest challenge for Miami linebackers is rookie tight end O.J. Howard, who sure would have looked nice in aqua and orange. In fact, the Bucs have two talented tight ends, in Howard and Cameron Brate. Kiko Alonso has struggled in coverage recently and Lawrence Timmons hasn’t been the consistent tackler he was early in the season.
It’s easy to say, well, the Bucs are starting Ryan Fitzpatrick, so they can’t possibly be much of a threat through the air. But remember that Josh McCown of the Jets had his way with Miami in a Week 3 victory. Fitzpatrick is savvy and surely has studied ways to attack rookie corner Cordrea Tankersley and second-year corner Xavien Howard, who has really struggled to locate the ball in recent weeks. Tankersley and Howard may be better fits to engage in physical battles with Mike Evans than they are to chase speedy DeSean Jackson, who has had a nice season.
Jay Cutler was wildly inaccurate at times on Monday night at Carolina. How will he react if Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy penetrates the interior of Miami’s offensive line? How will he react if Robert Ayers comes around the edge and bears down on his sore ribs? Cutler and his coaches acknowledge he must set his feet and use proper mechanics more often. Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry vs. Brent Grimes should be a joy to watch. And we predict DeVante Parker gets nine targets in this game. It’s time.