Tampa, FL - Back-to-back defeats haven't helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' chances for postseason contention. The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, have kept themselves in the mix behind consecutive victories.
As each team continues to battle for a playoff spot, the Buccaneers put their perfect home record on the line Sunday as they match up against a Chargers team that is riding a late-season surge for a second straight year.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Buccaneers –3.5 point spread favorites for Sunday’s game against the Chargers. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 67% of more than 6,933 bets for this game have been placed on the Buccaneers –3.5.
Tampa Bay (9-5) was cruising toward the postseason entering Week 14, but has stumbled in its last two contests. After falling at Carolina on Dec. 8, the Buccaneers were slowed by a 13-10 overtime loss at Atlanta last Sunday that put the teams into a second-place tie in the NFC South, with both trailing Carolina by two games.
Still, Tampa Bay can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a win over San Diego (6-8), a loss by Atlanta and a loss by either Dallas or Philadelphia.
The Chargers' postseason hopes were hampered by three straight losses at the end of November, but they've won both games this month, rallying for a 22-21 win at Kansas City last Sunday to improve to 12-0 in December contests since 2006.
To stay alive, second-place San Diego needs to beat Tampa Bay and hope AFC West-leading Denver falls to visiting Buffalo on Sunday.
Last season, the Chargers rode a six-game winning streak into the playoffs before falling to New England in the conference championship. But while coach Norv Turner is hopeful, he knows his team's quest this season is a bit more grueling.
"We've known it's going to be difficult, but the only control we have is getting ready to go play and play at the best level we can in Tampa," Turner told the Chargers' official Web site. "We're playing a very good football team that has a lot to play for. It'll be a real challenge for us."
Tampa Bay's defense is smarting after allowing big efforts on the ground in its last two contests. Carolina rushed for 299 yards in its 38-23 win on Dec. 8 before Atlanta amassed 175 yards on the ground last weekend against the Buccaneers.
Defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Jovan Haye both missed last week's loss with knee injuries, but are expected to be back Sunday. Defensive ends Gaines Adams and Greg White, however, are both battling injuries before this game.
"They're struggling a little bit, but they're fighting through it and hopefully they'll be ready to go on Sunday," coach Jon Gruden said about his defensive ends. "It's unfortunate - we missed our two inside guys last week, now we're a little bit light on the outside, to say the least. But by the end of the week, hopefully we'll have everybody back."
Now Tampa Bay must try to contain star running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been having trouble getting untracked. Tomlinson was held to 39 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries last weekend, marking the sixth straight game he has failed to gain 100 yards - his longest such drought since his rookie year in 2001.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia was sidelined by a calf injury last week, but is expected to start Sunday. Garcia had won four straight starts before losing to Carolina.
"I'll say I'm confident, yes, that he'll be able to go," Gruden said. "He's one of the toughest guys I know and he wants to play and he did move around pretty good today."
Tampa Bay's Antonio Bryant - the team leader with 1,044 yards and six touchdowns - had eight catches for 108 yards and a TD last week one game after he caught nine balls for 200 yards versus the Panthers.
Though the injury-plagued defensive unit is expected to have 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks (ribs) available Sunday, it will be without starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips due to a broken arm.
Tampa Bay will be facing San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who has thrown for a career-high 28 touchdowns and leads the NFL with a 101.4 passer rating.
Last weekend, Rivers went 34-for-48 for 346 yards and his two fourth-quarter touchdowns helped the Chargers recover from an 11-point deficit as they picked up a back-to-back wins for the second time this season.
"There have been so many doubts and we've fallen so short of the expectations," Rivers said. "The way we've bounced back these past two weeks in our division and won says a lot about our guys."
Tampa Bay has outscored teams by 11.2 points per contest in winning all six games at home. The Buccaneers last won seven home games in 1999.
The Chargers have won all four previous contests in Tampa Bay, but haven't played there since Jan. 2, 1994.
Top Public Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 3-1 against the spread versus TAMPA BAY since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 3-1 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
4 of 4 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
There were no past matchups in this series during this time period.
All games played at TAMPA BAY since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 1-0 against the spread versus TAMPA BAY since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 1-0 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Key Player Injuries:
[LB] Shawne Merriman IR - Knee - 09/10/08
[C] Nick Hardwick injured last game, "?" - Neck - 12/14/08
[LB] Anthony Waters missed last game, "?" - Hamstring - 12/14/08
[WR] Buster Davis IR - Groin - 11/20/08
[FB] Mike Tolbert missed last game, "?" - Shoulder - 12/12/08
[SS] Clinton Hart missed last game, "?" - Shoulder - 12/14/08
[RB] Earnest Graham IR - Knee - 11/17/08
[FB] Byron Storer IR - Knee - 10/13/08
(!) [QB] Jeff Garcia missed last game, "?" - Calf - 12/14/08
[WR] Maurice Stovall IR - Hamstring - 11/12/08
[ss] Jermaine Phillips expected to miss rest of season - Arm - 12/15/08
[OL] Jeremy Zuttah missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 12/14/08
[LB] Geno Hayes IR - Knee - 11/19/08
[DT] Chris Hovan missed last game, "?" - Knee - 12/14/08
Posted: 12/17/08 11:20PM ET