The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) take their final road trip of the 2021 regular season in Week 17, heading north to take on the New York Jets (4-11).
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s game:
Injuries piling up
Injuries continue to be the biggest story for the Bucs, as some of the team’s biggest names will be out yet again Sunday. Wide receiver Chris Godwin is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury while linebacker Lavonte David and running back Leonard Fournette are on injured reserve and expected to miss the rest of the regular season.
Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett also is not expected back until the playoffs, while other starters such as outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. are still working their way back from injury.
Injuries might not be the only thing that leaves the Bucs shorthanded against the Jets on Sunday, as COVID-19 made its biggest impact so far on the defending Super Bowl champs this week.
Wide receiver Mike Evans was placed on the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, and he was quickly followed by cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.
Head coach Bruce Arians also tested positive, leaving assistant head coach Harold Goodwin running the show this week as the team prepares for Sunday.
The NFL’s updated COVID-19 protocols could allow for all of them to return in time for the game, they’re having to prepare to be without them.
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After clinching their first NFC South title since 2007 with a blowout win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 16, the Bucs now shift their focus to playoff seeding in the NFC, where there is some ground to make up.
They currently own the No. 4 seed, the lowest of the four division winners, due to tiebreakers with the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.
While it’s unlikely they’ll be able to unseat the top-seeded Green Bay Packers over the final two weeks of the regular season, they can still get to the No. 2 spot if they win out and also get a little help from the teams ahead of them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bucs QB Tom Brady vs. Jets QB Zach Wilson
The GOAT was born Aug. 3, 1977. On the same day, 22 years later, Wilson entered the world. Brady’s legendary career has spanned Wilson’s entire lifetime, and while these two won’t face one another on the field directly Sunday, it will be a clashing of eras as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft matches throws with the seven-time Super Bowl champ.
Bucs WR Antonio Brown vs. Jets’ secondary
Brown made his return last week after a long absence due to injury and suspension, and made an immediate impact with Evans and Godwin both out, leading the Bucs with 101 yards on 10 receptions against the Panthers.
The Bucs will need him to have a similar impact this week, as Godwin is out for the season and Evans is both on the COVID-19 list and recovering from a hamstring injury.
The Jets have allowed 62 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season, the second-highest mark in the league, so expect Brady and Brown to test them down the field early and often.
Bucs’ edge rushers vs. Jets’ offensive tackles
It’s highly likely the Bucs will be without both of their star pass rushers in this game, as both Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are expected to miss Sunday’s game due to injury.
That means rookie first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will start on one side, while Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill rotate opposite him.
All three have flashed the ability to get after the quarterback this season, and they’ll be facing an offensive line that’s missing their best tackle in Mekhi Becton, who is on injured reserve.
Last week, the Bucs proved they can still dominate an inferior team despite missing some of their most important players on both sides of the ball.
They got significant contributions from depth players who rose to the occasion (Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Cyril Grayson Jr.), and they’ll need more of the same this week if they want the same result.
They still have Brady, Brown, Rob Gronkowski and an offensive line the features three Pro Bowlers, so the offense should put up plenty of points against a struggling, banged-up Jets defense.
Even with a skeleton crew on defense, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should feast on a rookie quarterback after going two games without giving up a touchdown.
Bucs 34, Jets 13
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Buccaneers travel to play New York Jets at 1 p.m. on Sunday