Report: Baker Mayfield expected to start Week 18 vs. Panthers

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

We started the season over-analyzing practice footage of Baker Mayfield and we find ourselves ending the season the exact same way.

Tampa Bay can clinch a third-straight NFC South title with a win over Carolina on Sunday, but the biggest question all week has been whether or not Baker would factor into things. He took a nasty shot from New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu that ended up bruising his ribs and causing some unnecessary extra anxiety.

Baker didn't sound too optimistic earlier in the week as to whether or not he'd be able to play, but it turns out he simply didn't want to over promise. Kyle Trask got extra reps in practice, including with the first team, which added to fears that Baker wouldn't be able to go.

All seems to be well in the end, though. While Baker is still banged up, he fully returned to practice on Friday and Bucs fans got the most positive update of the week not long after.

Is Baker Mayfield playing Week 18 vs. Panthers?

Let's not stand on ceremony -- yes Baker is playing.

We didn't even need to break down the practice footage, as Greg Auman passed along word Friday morning that everyone is 'full go' for Sunday. Obviously things can still change but the expectation is that everyone with an injury designation, not just Baker, will play against the Panthers.

This is even better news than expected. There was a chance that Baker didn't play, but given what's at stake Sunday it seemed unlikely he'd be ruled out ahead of the weekend rolling around. At worst he'd be a game-time decision to allow the maximum amount of time for him to get ready but the middle mann has simply been cut out.

Concerns extended beyond Baker, as Tristan Wirfs also missed practice on Wednesday and was limitetd on Thursday. It'd be one thing to be without Baker but not having Wirfs would have been a backbreaking loss.

Neither of those players appear to be in danger of missing Sunday's game, and the Bucs are going to need every ounce of effort they can muster up to punch a playoff ticket.

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