TAMPA FL - DECEMBER 19: Running back Earnest Graham #34 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs through the tackle of linebacker Bobby Carpenter #59 of the Detroit Lions during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 19 2010 in Tampa Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
SB Nation Tampa Bay continues our preview of the Bucs-Lions Week 1 matchup.
It was opportunity lost. So close to changing the course of NFL history but ending with a bad call and even worse defense.
Flash forward to 2011 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have heard all off-season how the Lions ended their playoff hopes and how Detroit is the team to watch out for.
The Bucs played well in the pre-season in all but one game - but ended with a pedestrian 2-2 record. The Lions came out firing on all cylinders, finishing the pre-season 4-0.
So of course, everyone is picking the Lions on Sunday, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Attack vs. Detroit Lions Pass Defense
It's a myth that the Lions have a good pass defense. Is Ndamukong Suh a disruptive force? Absolutely - but it didn't stop teams from averaging 218.6 yards a game and 23 touchdowns on the Lions.
Suh had little impact statistically on the game last year, managing just 2 tackles and an assisted tackle against Bucs backup offensive linemen Jeremy Zuttah (at center) and guard Derek Hardman while allowing Freeman to complete 66% of his passes, 251 yards and a touchdown.
This year Suh will face Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph and veteran center Jeff Faine. Regus Benn gives the Bucs another deep threat and the continued maturation of Dezmon Briscoe could take some pressure off the Bucs' Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow, Jr.
The Bucs were the 17th best passing offense in the NFL. Detroit ranked 16th against the pass.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay's Running Game vs. Detroit's Run Defense
Another area where the Lions' defense struggled was against the run. They struggled to contain LeGarrette Blount, who pounded away for 110 yds and a touchdown. The Lions spent some money in free agency to improve their linebacking core, bringing in Stephen Tulloch. The also added first round pick Nick Fairley to team with Suh on the inside of the defensive line.
Fairley went down to injury and if the pre-season is any indication, the Lions still can't stop the run, giving up 4.5 yds a carry.
Of course, LaGarrette Blount is a force. Rushing for 1,007 yds and 6 touchdowns in just 10 games, Blount is striving to become a complete back, looking effective in the passing game as well.
The Bucs were 8th in the league rushing the football while the Lions were 24th against the run.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Detroit's Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay's Pass Defense
Without Aquib Talib, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson had his way with the Bucs secondary in last year's meeting. Johnson hauled in 10 catches for 152 yds. Talib is back but so is the Lions' Mr. Glass, Matthew Stafford. Needless to say, Stafford is a talented QB. He's also more brittle than a crystal chandelier. If he can stay upright, Stafford can do some damage. He had a tremendous pre-season.
Despite lacking any kind of pass rush, the Buccaneers were again near the top of the league in pass defense. Ronde Barber and EJ Biggers join Talib in solidifying the Bucs' secondary.
The Bucs were ranked 7th in the NFL against the pass, while the Lions - sans Stafford - were still 12th in the NFL.
Detroit's Running Game vs. Tampa Bay's Run Defense
We all know the Bucs were terrible against the run last season. The Lions certainly took advantage - with veteran Maurice Morris rushing for over 100 yds against Tampa Bay.
In the pre-season, the Bucs were significantly better against the run - perhaps a result of their new philosophy on the defensive line or maybe it's just better talent in the front seven. The Bucs finished the exhibition season ranked 13th in the NFL against the run - significantly better than their 28th ranking last season.
The Lions tried to address their running game, drafting Mikel LeShoure, but they lost him early in training camp to an Achilles injury. Javid Best is an adequate runner, Morris is still there, as is former Brown Jerome Harrison.
The Lions were ranked 23rd in the NFL rushing the football in 2010.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Raheem Morris is entering his third season with Tampa Bay, he is 13-19 with no playoff appearances.
Jim Schwartz is also entering his third season with Detroit, he is 8-24 with no playoff appearances.
While everyone and their mother has jumped on the Honolulu blue bandwagon, the Buccaneers have just gone about their business with focus and a quiet confidence.
While the Lions are the hot team everyone seems to love, if you really look at it, a healthy Tampa Bay is clearly the better football team. The Lions can't stop the run, the Bucs excel at running the football. Detroit struggles in pass defense, Josh Freeman is one of the game's best.
The Bucs are one of the more underestimated teams in football, they want some payback for last season and they'll be celebrating the life their only Hall of Famer and the original Buccaneer Lee Roy Selmon.
I think the Bucs deal the Lions a big reality check.
Tampa Bay 24, Detroit 13
Who wins this Week 1 Showdown
Tampa Bay (72 votes)
Detroit (205 votes)
277 total votes