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It is Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season, which means the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) are headed up to Maryland to take on the Washington Football Team (2-6). 

Both teams are coming off their Bye Week and while both teams have drastically different records, both had plenty of things to work on and areas to improve in over the previous seven days. 

How it shakes out on the field remains to be seen, but it should be an interesting game due to the extra preparation provided to both sides. And when you consider that 18 of the 24 meetings between these teams have resulted in a one-score margin or less, it's easy to see why that previous statement is likely to hold true.

Overview

Can Taylor Heinicke break out of the current slump he's in?

Can Taylor Heinicke break out of the current slump he's in?

What To Watch For

  • Both teams off the Bye: The Buccaneers and Washington both had a week of rest prior to this game, which means they also had an extra week of prep, as well. The Bucs are by far and away the better team, but it will be interesting to see if the extra time helps Washington give Tampa Bay another playoff-like scare on Sunday.
  • Chris Godwin's injury: Godwin is a very good player, so his foot issue is already taking away from that. What makes this injury so significant is Godwin's role in the offense. He's arguably the team's best run blocker that isn't an offensive linemen (I see you, Gronk) and a reliable receiver. It was reported Saturday that the Bucs expect him to play, but it remains to be seen as to how much he plays and how effective he is when he does play. Tampa Bay still has Mike Evans, but it will need others like Tyler Johnson, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, etc. to step up this weekend, especially since it is already without Antonio Brown.
  • Penalties: Yep. We're still here. Penalties doomed the Bucs against the Saints and they're going to continue to do so until Tampa Bay gets it figured out. The worst part is bad teams, like Washington, will hang around in games and have a better chance to win at the end if the Bucs keep it up with the penalties. Right now, it's best to treat this as a week-to-week scenario. We'll see how it goes this weekend.
  • Tampa Bay's pass protection: There is never really one area that defines a football game, but the Bucs pass pro has the chance to be a major factor in determining the outcome of this game. This is because Washington's secondary is arguably the NFL's worst secondary. If the pass pro holds up and doesn't allow Washington to get to Tom Brady, then there's pretty much no way the Washington defense will stop the Bucs offense unless Brady has a really bad day.
  • The return of Richard Sherman: This could be a big game for Sherman. He's rested, he's in game shape, he's now been with the Bucs for over a month, and he's had the Bye Week to get ready for this game. It honestly won't be a surprise if he makes a big play.

Impact Players

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • QB Tom Brady: Washington's secondary is not good and the pass rush is without Montez Sweat. Brady should have a nice day.
  • TE O.J. Howard: Long story short: Washington deploys a 5-1-5 defense at times, which should leave Howard with opportunities over the middle.  
  • WR Tyler Johnson: This could be a career game for Johnson, who has improved so far in his second year.
  • LB Devin White: How will he respond after his performance in New Orleans? White is one of the Bucs who need to have a good second half of the season, so many will be watching his performance(s) closely.
  • OLB Shaquil Barrett: Jason Pierre-Paul is hurting and the Bucs pass rush as a whole needs a jump, therefore, the Bucs need their best pass rusher to step up and do even more than he already has.
  • CB Jamel Dean: Dean will see Terry McLaurin more than any other defensive back. This will be a fun matchup between one of the league's better receivers and a young corner who has hit his stride.

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Washington Football Team

  • QB Taylor Heinicke: The Bucs remember him very well, but he's struggled over the last four games. How will Heinicke look with two weeks to adjust?
  • RB Antonio Gibson: Gibson's shin is still affecting him, but he says the bye week helped him. The Bucs will be ready for him regardless, because one bad play can lead to six points real quick when dealing with Gibson.
  • WR Terry McLaurin: Washington's best skill player is having a solid year and will be needed with Logan Thomas still out.
  • DL Jonathan Allen: This dude is one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL. The Bucs did a good job of neutralizing him in the playoffs. Can they do it again?
  • LB Cole Holcomb: The third-year linebacker has had a good year and leads the team in tackles. He usually doesn't come off the field, so the Bucs better get used to seeing him a lot on Sunday.
  • S Kamren Curl: Curl is arguably the team's best defensive back and has improved a bit upon a solid rookie season, but he has a big test this week in the form of Brady.

Cool Stats

  • Tampa Bay has won three games by 20+ points this season, tied for the most by any team in 2021.
  • Through Week 10, the Buccaneers rank inside the top three in both point differential and yardage differential.
  • Two weeks ago in New Orleans, Godwin joined current teammates Brate and Evans among the top five in team history with 28 career receiving touchdowns, while also recording his 14th career 100-yard receiving game, which is tied for the third-most in team history. 
  • Godwin needs one touchdown to surpass Brate and Joey Galloway for sixth-most total touchdowns in team history (29).

*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department

The Bucs' passing attack may be relying on a heavy dose of Mike Evans Sunday.

The Bucs' passing attack may be relying on a heavy dose of Mike Evans Sunday.

Game Outlook

This is definitely a game the Bucs should win, as evidenced by Vegas' opening (+9) line for the defending champs. They're just the all-around better team and Washington is not the same team Tampa Bay faced in last year's Wild Card game.

However, there are two factors that could really shake things up for Washington if they were to get going and that's a) the pass rush and b) Taylor Heinicke. Washington still has a lot of talent and ability in the defensive trenches and Heinicke is one of the tougher quarterbacks to defend based off what he can do with his legs. Both the pass rush and Heinicke's mobility are two of the top ways to take the Bucs down, as we've seen in the past. 

But Tampa Bay's offensive line is playing too well and the Bucs have had two weeks to prep for Heinicke unlike, what, the two or three days they had to prep for him last year before the playoffs? And not only has Tampa Bay had an extra week, but Brady has had an extra week, too.

It would take Bucs beating Bucs for Tampa Bay to lose this game, but don't be surprised if Washington keeps it close. For whatever reason, these two teams always play each other close. There's the aforementioned 18 of 24 games stat, but there's also the fact that the average winning margin is just 6.6 points and three games have been decided by one point. 

Either way, the Bucs should be 7-2 when they host the New York Giants on Monday Night Football next week.

Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and other NFL news and analysis. Follow along on social media at @SIBuccaneers on Twitter and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.