Tom Brady and the Buccaneers come to town this weekend in what could be the hometown heroes' last trip to the Bay Area in his storied NFL career. Tampa Bay and the 49ers are both coming off of emotional wins in week 13, and DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the 49ers favored by 3.5 points, with the total set at 37.5.
Yes, you read that right. Mr. Irrelevant, the rookie who was the final pick in the draft, is favored against the greatest quarterback of all time in his first-ever career start. How can you not be romantic about football?
Luckily for Brock Purdy, football is not played one-on-one, and the other 45 players dressed on game day will be there to help pick him up in his introduction to the starting quarterback role. Here are a few things to keep an eye on in this game.
Can the 49ers keep Tampa Bay one-dimensional?
The 49ers have the league's best rushing defense, holding opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Coincidentally, the Buccaneers have the worst rushing attack in the NFL this season, ranking last or next to last in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per attempt.
Tampa Bay’s running game is non-existent this season has forced them to throw the ball more than any other team in the league this season. While they rank top five in passing yards, it largely depends on volume, as they rank 20th in net yards per passing attempt.
It’s never wise to underestimate a Brady-led passing attack. Still, the lack of a running game to compliment their air attack sets up a ferocious 49ers pass rush to tee off against a stationary target that won’t threaten you with the ability to extend plays with their legs, which begs the question...
Can Tampa Bay’s offensive line do just enough to keep them in this game
Facing the 49ers' defensive front is tough no matter who you are, especially when you are a Buccaneers team that is missing multiple starters up front. Tampa Bay is coming off of a game that saw four of their five starting offensive linemen allow three plus pressures, led by right guard Shaq Mason who surrendered seven.
All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs remains sidelined with an ankle injury, and there is no immediate relief to suggest that this offensive line will be able to turn it around against an even more talented unit than the one that decimated them on Monday night.
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on Nick Bosa, but this week pay extra attention to Arik Armstead, Charles Omenihu, and the interior pass rush from the 49ers' defense due to the vulnerability the Buccaneers have shown on the interior. Tampa Bay has had an interior offensive lineman surrender multiple pressures in 11 of the 12 games they have played this season.
Can Brock Purdy and the 49ers' offense keep the chains moving?
It’s a tall ask to have your third-string quarterback win a game in their first-ever NFL start, and that challenge only gets amplified when you face off with a defense as stout as Tampa Bay’s. However, don’t let their record or bouts of mediocrity this year fool you. The Buccaneers defense has been great, even if the rest of the team has been unable to follow suit consistently this season.
Tampa Bay currently ranks in the top ten in both points allowed, and yards allowed and has one of the better teams in the league in getting off the field on third down. The Buccaneers defense is currently holding opponents to a 37.3 percent conversion rate on third down, which is the ninth-best mark in the league this season.
The 49ers were 7-17 on third downs with Purdy under center against the Dolphins, which actually should be counted as 7-16 considering one of those “failed” third-down conversions was the final kneel down of the game.
If the 49ers can convert around on third down around the 40 percent mark they posted with Purdy last week; they should be in an excellent spot to play a complete game in all three phases and come away with their sixth victory in a row.