The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come out of their bye week riding back-to-back wins as they prepare for Sunday’s road trip to face the Cleveland Browns.
Here’s everything you need to know about this Week 12 showdown:
Just a few weeks ago, the Bucs were reeling at 3-5, and appeared destined for a top-10 draft pick instead of the postseason. But now they’re back at .500 after a last-second win over the Los Angeles Rams and an impressive victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Germany, and they remain in first place in the NFC South.
The bye week gave the Bucs an opportunity to get some much-needed rest, and allow some key players to get back to full strength. The challenge for Tampa Bay now becomes keeping that positive momentum going after two straight victories, and avoiding a letdown in a tough road environment.
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Mike Evans has already broken every conceivable receiving record the Bucs have, but he’s also climbing the NFL’s all-time list at an impressive clip.
Evans needs just 28 receiving yards to eclipse 10,000 for his career, adding yet another impressive accomplishment to a what’s already a strong case for Canton.
Evans would become just the 51st player in NFL history to hit that mark, and considering he’s still just 29 years old, he’s got plenty of time to keep climbing that chart.
Only four active players in the league have more receiving yards than Evans, who is the only receiver in NFL history to start his career with eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and he needs just 329 more yards this year to make it nine in a row.
Two Bucs have already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, as wide receiver Russell Gage (hamstring) and left guard Luke Goedeke (foot) are still dealing with nagging ailments.
Running back Leonard Fournette (hip) is listed as doubtful on the team’s final injury report, which could mean another week with rookie Rachaad White handling the bulk of the workload in the offensive backfield.
Defensive lineman Vita Vea (foot) is questionable, and the team is hopeful he’ll be able to go despite missing practice for much of the week.
Browns cornerback Greg Newsome has also been ruled out for the game, leaving Cleveland without one of their better defenders.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Evans vs. Browns CB Denzel Ward
Evans is obviously one of the best in the game at his position, but so is Ward.
Both have lived up to the hype and expectation that comes with being a top-10 draft pick, which should make it must-see TV every time they line up across from one another Sunday.
Evans has played through multiple injuries so far this season, but the bye week should have allowed him some time to get healthier.
At 5-11, Ward may give up plenty in the size department to Evans (6-5), but he’s still one of the best cover men in the league.
Browns’ RBs vs. Bucs’ front seven
Tampa Bay’s rushing defense was struggling for a long stretch earlier in the season, but they bounced back with impressive performances against the Rams and Seahawks, playing a huge role in both victories.
Nick Chubb spearheads one of the league’s best ground attacks, and Kareem Hunt is one of the better backup runners in the league, which should challenge the Bucs’ stout defensive front.
Tampa Bay has the personnel to slow them down, but it’ll be much easier said than done.
Browns WR Amari Cooper vs. Bucs CBs Carlton Davis III & Jamel Dean
He may not be getting the attention he was earlier in his career, but Cooper has quietly put together an impressive 2022 season in Cleveland, reminding opponents that he’s still one of the best route-runners and big-play threats in the league.
Tampa Bay has one of the league’s better corner tandems in Davis and Dean, both of whom have the length and physicality to win at the line of scrimmage, and in contested-catch situations.
Don’t be surprised if the Bucs roll their safeties to Cooper’s side, and try to force a different receiver to beat them through the air.
Tampa Bay is riding a two-game winning streak, and should be fresh after the bye week.
Even so, they shouldn’t take this Browns team lightly, despite their unimpressive record. The weather isn’t looking great for Sunday, which favors Cleveland’s physical ground attack on offense, and the Bucs might be without Fournette.
It’ll be chilly and wet, and the Bucs can’t afford to let the elements impact their execution, especially in the turnover department.
This one will be closer than the records might indicate, but the Bucs will make those few extra plays necessary on both sides of the ball to escape with a hard-fought win on the road.
Bucs 19, Browns 13
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at Cleveland Browns on Sunday at 1 p.m.