Without hyperbole, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season is on the line Sunday in Atlanta.
A win would propel the Bucs into first place and crack the NFC South race wide open with just four games left on the schedule. If the Tampa Bay loses, it essentially ends any hope of making the playoffs and all but seals the deal on the season.
With jobs on the line all over the building, everything could come down to what happens in Week 14.
Something working against the Bucs in recent weeks are injuries to key players. Last week the team was without four important pieces of the defense, which might have been why they only barely managed to beat Carolina.
This week the injury report is another mixed bag of good and bad news.
Buccaneers injury report is a mixed bag ahead of Week 14 vs. Falcons
There’s a lot to parse through from the final injury report, not the least of which is the Bucs have once again ruled Jamel Dean and Devin White out before the weekend arrives.
Lavonte David is not among the group of players already being ruled out, though. David hasn’t played since the Bucs loss in San Francisco, and he’s going to be welcomed back with open arms on Sunday.
It was tough sledding at linebacker last Sunday, with David and White both being ruled out alongside rookie SirVocea Dennis. This left the Bucs with just a few healthy linebackers, and K.J. Britt’s injury in the first quarter meant Ryan Neal needed to step into emergency duties.
The Bucs are still thin at linebacker, but David’s return is coupled with Dennis’ which gives the second level a much-needed boost.
It’s not just the defense that can breathe a little easier. Neither Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs carry an injury designation into Sunday, which means the Bucs will be at full strength at key positions. Whether or not Godwin gets involved is a story everyone will keep an eye on, but unlike last week his neck injury can’t be used as an excuse.
While there was plenty of good news to soak in, the biggest question heading into Sunday is whether Vita Vea will play.
He’s been banged up a lot since the bye week and his absence in the Buffalo game was very noticeable. If he can’t play, or if he’s hampered by an injury, it puts the Bucs run defense in a tough spot against a resurgent Bijan Robinson and an always dangerous Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson (assuming he plays).
Tampa Bay was able to grind out a divisional win last week, but they can’t play one-win teams every week. The Bucs have proven they can win with a depleted roster, but they’re going to need all they help they can get to jump past Atlanta and back into first place.