In all of my years following the NFL, I can never remember a single position on the same team suffering from the exact same injury with three different players in a matter of days. Incredibly, this is what has happened with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiving core. Our free NFL pick for this week features our first Saturday game between Houston and Tampa Bay and is brought to you by our friends at BettorIQ.
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It started with (arguably) the team’s best receiver, Mike Evans, suffering a hamstring injury in Week 14 against the Colts on a touchdown throw from Jameis Winston. Evans has now been placed on injured reserve and will miss the remainder of the season.
Following Evans, Tampa Bay lost two more targets for Winston in its Week 15 win against the Lions in Chris Godwin, who was having an All-Pro caliber season, and slot receiver Scotty Miller (also placed on IR). The response from head coach Bruce Arians when asked about the circumstances, “Maybe I’ve overworked them.” No kidding, coach.
Winston is one of the biggest hit-or-miss players that we currently have in the league, throwing for 30 touchdowns (ranking second, only behind odds-on favorite for MVP, Lamar Jackson) while frustrating Buccaneers fans by throwing a league-high 24 interceptions.
Assuming that Godwin doesn’t play (he has yet to practice this week and has one less day to prepare given the Saturday game against the Texans), Tampa Bay will rely on Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson, along with a couple of tight ends as targets in the passing game. At some point, the loss of key players at a position so heavily used by Tampa Bay has to catch up.
Meanwhile, Houston is coming off a very tough three-point divisional road win at Tennessee that puts them a game ahead of the Titans for a guaranteed playoff spot. Deshaun Watson has a full arsenal of his receiving weapons at his disposal, as DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills are all forecasted as available.
This usually means great things for the Texans air attack, as Fuller allows Hopkins to avoid a constant double team from defensive secondaries. To make matters even better, Carlos Hyde is coming off of his best game running the ball since early November (26 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown).
Take Houston and lay the field goal, as this game is just far too important for the Texans and their playoff aspirations in the final two weeks of the regular season, particularly as they head into a potential showdown (again) with the Titans. Win this game, and you’ve won the AFC South for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Then start preparations for your Wild Card weekend home playoff game.