Thursday, January 9
Bucs' offense struggling to lead team
By John Madden
Here is my look at the teams, players and coaches for Sunday's playoff games.
Click here for my preview of Saturday's games.
San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
The Bucs' defense is an excellent one, but like most teams, they're a lot better when they make you one-dimensional. And they make you that way when you stop running and start throwing the ball every time. And when you do that, they get their pass rush going, with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice and those guys, and they get in the Cover 2 with their safeties sitting deep. And the way you get them out of those things is by getting ahead, being able to run the ball, and being a balanced offense, and the 49ers are capable of doing that.
Tampa Bay had a bye last weekend and will get quarterback Brad Johnson back for this game. While he was injured and out, the Bucs darn near proved that they don't have any offense. He makes good decisions and gets rid of the ball quickly. He throws those short passes and those kinds of things and he should help them in this game.
However, I still don't see them scoring a lot of points. They just don't have the offense. When they do score a lot of points, their defense usually scores some, the special teams give the offense good field position and then they get ahead. But if they're behind or if their defense doesn't score touchdowns off of turnovers, it's still tough for them to put up many points.
New York Jets at Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET)
But can New York move the ball against them? That will be something to watch on Sunday.
I did the last meeting between these two teams on Dec. 2 when the Raiders won 26-20 at home. Since then, quarterback Chad Pennington has had that much more experience and really developed for the Jets. He now has a greater command of the offense and what they're doing on the field. And running back Curtis Martin has gotten healthier since that game.
Both teams are coming into this one with a heckuva lot of confidence. I know it's easy to say that New York has a lot of steam right now, but Oakland has a lot of steam, too. If the Raiders can get their secondary healthy or get some plays out of their secondary, that will be a big thing.
The Raiders are coming off of a week off and there are a bunch of things that go with that besides just having the week off. One, you do get the week off and the biggest benefit of that is giving the injured players an extra week. Two, you have the week off because you earned it by having the better record. So, during the regular season you have proven to be better than the teams that did have to play last weekend -- at least record-wise. And then three, you get to play the game at home in front of your fans and you don't have to travel.
And so it's not just any one of those things. Having a bye can be pretty big. Being the better team all season can be pretty big. And playing at home can be pretty big. But when you add all three of those things together, it's gigantic. And that's not only what the Jets are playing against this weekend, but that's what all of the visiting teams are playing against this weekend in the NFL.