Tampa Bay brings it's suddenly high-powered offense out west in search of the franchise's first ever road win against the Oakland Raiders.
Josh Freeman fired three touchdown passes and star rookie Doug Martin racked up over 200 total yards of total offense and two scores back on Oct. 25, as the Buccaneers ended a nine-game road losing streak with a 36-17 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.
Freeman threw for 262 yards on 19-of-36 passing in that one, while Martin carried the ball 29 times for 135 yards and a rushing score, and added three catches for 79 yards and a touchdown grab to help the Buccaneers earn their first road victory since Sept. 18 of last season, also in Minnesota.
"Doug had a huge night tonight," Freeman said of his rookie running back. "The moment is never too big for Doug and he did a great job."
Oakland also comes in off an impressive road win over long-time rival Kansas City. Carson Palmer had two touchdown passes to lead the Raiders past the Chiefs, 26-16, at Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday.
Palmer finished 14-for-28 with 209 yards and an interception while Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey each caught a touchdown for the Raiders, who have rebounded to win two straight after starting the season 1-4.
Darren McFadden carried the ball 29 times for 114 yards and added four catches for 23 yards.
"Our guys kept fighting and kept battling," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "We made enough plays at the end of the day to win the game."
The Bucs' defense got a big boost last week with the return of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, who played for the first time since tearing an Achilles'. The Raiders could get a similar lift this week from linebacker Aaron Curry, who is scheduled to come off the physically unable to perform list following offseason knee surgery.
The Raiders are 6-1 all-time vs. Tampa Bay and a perfect 5-0 at home.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Buccaneers will be aiming for a franchise-record fourth consecutive game with 28-or-more points but will have to do it without Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, who will be undergoing season-ending toe surgery.
Tampa Bay has been even more impressive over its last three games, averaging 34.0 points and 464 yards. Freeman, meanwhile, is already the first signal- caller in franchise history to pass for three-plus TDs in three consecutive games.
Things figure to get tougher without Nicks, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. Nicks, the team's left guard, played through the pain during the past several weeks but his toe injury continued to worsen.
"You talk about a tough, dedicated guy. This guy played through a ton of pain, and it just got to the point where he couldn't play anymore," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "There were some more tests done. Before that, it was painful. But now it's not safe, and we need to get it fixed."
Nicks joins Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, on the sidelines and Schiano isn't sure how he will proceed. He could move Jeremy Zuttah from center to left guard and play Ted Larsen at center or just insert Jeremy Trueblood.
"You cannot sit there and actually say that losing Carl is not going to hurt you. He's the best guard in the league," left tackle Donald Penn told the Tampa Tribune. "We have to step up. The next person has to step up, whoever it's going to be. That's how I got my start. That's how a lot of people got their start in this league."
"It's a tough loss," Schiano added. "That's an understatement when you face a guy of Carl's stature and the ability that he brings to the field each week. But nobody is going to feel sorry for us. That's the game."
For Oakland, it's all about getting the running game going and correcting the team's red zone woes. The Raiders have won five straight games when McFadden passes the century mark in rushing like he did last week. The Bucs, however, are allowing just 85.1 rushing yards per game although they stumbled a bit against Adrian Peterson in their last contest.
"Without going too much into our game plan, we're never going to just abandon the run," Palmer said. "They are very good against the run and they've struggled a little against the pass. They've had some big plays happen to them over and over again. But it's a good football team and that's the first thing Coach Allen said was, 'don't look at their record.'"
When Oakland reaches scoring position, it has failed to finish more often than not, generating just eight touchdowns in 23 trips to the red zone. Conversely, Tampa Bay's defense is fifth in the NFL in opponent's red-zone TD percentage, allowing just eight TDs in 21 trips.
"We've had a number of opportunities and it's not something we're satisfied with," Palmer said of the red zone woes. "You just have to find ways to get better. You have to find out what went wrong and correct them. It's a simple answer. It sounds simple and it's not obviously or else we would have corrected it, but we're going to continue to work at it and grind on it and get it to where it needs to be in the red zone."
The Bucs only two road wins in over a calendar year have been in Minnesota so it's tough imagining them winning back-to-back games away from Central Florida, especially since it's an East Coast club making the long trip to Northern California.
The Raiders aren't exactly world-beaters but add in the Nicks injury and this sure looks like a logical loss for Tampa Bay.
"I feel like our guys have confidence that they can go out and compete, that we can win football games," Allen said. "Like I told them, (last week's win in Kansas City) is only important if you're able to go out and win the next one."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 24, Bucs 21