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Scouting the enemy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Denver Broncos will look to go 4-0 this Sunday when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Here is an outlook on who the Buccaneers are and what they will bring to the table this Sunday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There isn't a whole lot of gridiron history between the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The two franchises have squared off only eight times since the Buccaneers inaugural 1976 season, with the Broncos leading the head-to-head series with six wins and two losses.  Outside of the first to meetings the team had years ago, the outcomes of the last six games have been decided by less than a touchdown on average.

The Buccaneers aren't getting much love at all from analysts and prognosticators and they certainly aren't favored to win on Sunday here by our group of writers at Mile High Report.

Our staff unanimously picked the Broncos to win this game, with several of my fellow writers believing Denver will win by at least two touchdowns.  I disagree with the sentiment of it being a blowout.  Historically, Denver has struggled on road trips to Florida.  I don't know if it's the heat, humidity, changing of two time zones or just poor execution in the away game endeavors — but the Broncos never seem to play at a top level in the nation's southeast peninsula.

The Buccaneers are expected to be without defensive end and former Denver Bronco Robert Ayers, running back Doug Martin, wide receiver Cecil Shorts and tight end Luke Stocker for Sunday's match up. Denver has a similar slate with five injuries: DeMarcus Ware, Donald Stephenson and Virgil Green have officially been ruled out for the contest, with safeties Shiloh Keo and Justin Simmons listed as questionable.

Listed below is my brief overview of the game, highlighting some pros and cons for Tampa Bay, as well as matchup's to watch and my overall prediction.

A Concern for Tampa Bay - A Lackluster Defense

The Buccaneers' defense is a work in progress.  After three games, their defense is 19th in the NFL in regard to yardage allowed.  Even more troublesome, they rank last in the league in scoring defense and in three games have allowed 101 points.  Offenses have had no trouble finding the end zone against them, with 12 touchdowns surrendered in just 12 quarters of play.

For those of you out there who are licking your chops in hopes that the Broncos' offense continues to excel like they did last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, these next few sentences might get you happier than ever in that regard.  Opposing offenses are averaging almost six yards per play against the Buccaneers.  They are allowing an alarming 8.5 yard per pass play from scrimmage, but show much more efficiency against the run, keeping their opponents to a 3.5 yard per carry average on the ground.

As a whole, their defense has only logged five sacks and registered one interception. Those statistics show that they haven't been able to consistently generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and furthermore, that they lack the ideal playmakers in their secondary to generate turnovers and limit offenses from making big plays down field.

With all their issues on defense, this game presents another big opportunity for second-year signal caller Trevor Siemian to continue to grow and demonstrate the poise and precisions he did against the Bengals.  Expect Head Coach Gary Kubiak to get creative with the play calling and come up with a strategy that focuses on the Broncos moving the chains with an aerial assault down the field.

The X-Factor for Tampa Bay - Jameis Winston

Though Tampa Bay has struggled immensely on the defensive side of the ball, they have done a decent job on the offensive side of the ball, especially in regard to passing.  The team ranks 9th in the league in yards per game, but levels out in the middle of the pack league-wide with a rank 16th in points per game.

Head Coach Dirk Koetter loves to throw the ball and that has shown in their first three games of the year with promising second-year quarterback Jameis Winston slinging the rock 142 times.  I wouldn't expect Koetter and the Buccaneers' offense to stop that trend anytime soon, and expect Winston to challenge Denver's vaunted No Fly Zone consistently.

Winston had a remarkable rookie season where he threw for 4,042 yards and 25 touchdowns.  He proved to be efficient in the red zone as a runner and scored an additional six touchdowns on the ground as well. In his sophomore campaign, Winston has continued to show his big-time arm and has eight touchdowns and almost 1,000 yards passing in three contests.

The big question mark, just like last year, is his decision-making skills on the field.  He already has six interceptions on the year, with four of them coming against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago and has thrown an interception in every game thus far.  The team overall is -5 in the turnover margin and it is one of the key reasons why they are 1-2 to start the season.

Regardless, Winston's penchant to extend plays by maneuvering the pocket on his feet is a cause for concern and something the Broncos defense will need to keep in check in order to secure a victory on Sunday.  That's something defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips' is well aware of.

"We’re playing against a really good young quarterback. I think he’s developing well. The way he’s played this year reminds me of those really top quarterbacks, [QB] Peyton Manning, all the way back to those top picks that it’s taken them a little time, but then they start coming through and making plays," stated Phillips.

"They’re throwing the ball a whole lot and I know they don’t want to throw it all of the time like that, but he’s impressive throwing the football and he’s getting more and more confident doing that," Phillips went on to add.

With that said, it'll be up to Phillips and the Broncos' defense to make sure Winston's confidence and poise is rattled on Sunday.  I have extreme confidence that Phillips will create and adapt the right game plan in order to limit the Buccaneers' prolific passing attack on Sunday.

Key Matchup's to Watch

Aqib Talib vs. Mike Evans

Aqib Talib has done a great job shutting down the premier wide receiver's of opposing offenses in his short time with the Denver Broncos.  He will be going up against another great receiver named Mike Evans, who is off to the best start for a Buccaneers' wide receiver in franchise history.

Size, physicality and ball skills are Evan's top assets.  He's an absolute terror in the red zone and can beat cornerbacks with ease off the line of scrimmage with his deceptive speed and physicality.  There aren't many defenders in the league who can stop Evans one-on-one, so expect the Broncos to give Talib a little help over the top to stop Evans' big play ability.

Denver's Wide Receivers vs. Tampa Bay's defensive backs

For Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Christmas came early for them last week against the Bengals and they got exactly what they wanted with tons of balls thrown their way and went on to have marvelous production against Cincinnati.  Expect that trend to continue against the Buccaneers if the offense is firing on all cylinders.

As mentioned above, the Buccaneers' defense has struggled to stop opposing teams through the air.  Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes aren't bad players at all, and in the past have shown great ability to make game changing plays that create turnovers to help their team win ball games.

Their play can be feast or famine, so expect Denver to get Thomas and Sanders involved early and mix it up early by taking advantage of the full route tree to keep the Buccaneers' cornerbacks on their heels.

Hart's Prediction

I expect Denver to roll into Raymond James Stadium and secure a win, but I don't think it's going to be the blowout fest that so many are stating.  Trevor Siemian will continue his development and have a tremendous game against the struggling Buccaneers defense, but the Winston-led Buccaneers will give it everything they have and make it a close battle on the gridiron.

Broncos, 27. Buccaneers, 20.