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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions: Baker Mayfield vs. Jared Goff among 3 compelling storylines heading into their NFL playoff game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who looked like they were headed for a rebuild in the post-Tom Brady era, are now building momentum toward a Super Bowl.

The Buccaneers (10-8) travel to play the Detroit Lions (13-5) on Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff game that looked almost unconscionable considering where the Bucs were more than midway through the season.

After 11 games, Tampa Bay’s record sat at 4-7. But since then, the Bucs have reeled off six wins in their past seven games, including Monday’s 32-9 spanking of the Philadelphia Eagles, to quality as perhaps the most unexpected entry into the divisional round.

On the other hand, the Detroit Lions have been a model of consistency all season, never losing consecutive games on their way to the NFC North title, their first division championship since 1993. The Lions advanced to the next round with a 24-23 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit’s first playoff win since the 1991 season.

This will be the second meeting between the two teams, who met in Week 6, with Detroit scoring a 20-6 victory in Tampa.

With a trip to the NFC championship on the line, here are the top three storylines heading into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Detroit Lions matchup.

1. Baker Mayfield vs. Jared Goff: The battle of No. 1 overall picks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The two quarterbacks — Tampa Bay’s Baker Mayfield and Detroit’s Jared Goff — have much in common. Not only were drafted No. 1 overall (Goff in 2016 out of Cal, Mayfield in 2018 out of Oklahoma), but both were traded by their original teams.

The Los Angeles Rams dealt Goff to Detroit in exchange for Matthew Stafford, a move that has paid dividends for both teams. Meanwhile, Mayfield was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Carolina Panthers in the 2022 offseason, after the Browns traded for and signed Deshaun Watson.

Goff and Mayfield finished second and ninth, respectively, in passing yards and ninth and 12th in QB rating. Yet given their history, both quarterbacks have something to prove to their naysayers and will look to have a statement game Sunday.

Related: NFL QB rankings

2. How much the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have improved

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a much different team than the one that lined up against the Lions on Oct. 15. In that game, Detroit held Tampa Bay to 251 yards of total offense and limited Mayfield and the Bucs to two field goals, while Goff threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns.

But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the divisional matchup as the NFC’s hottest team and showed they are a worthy and confident playoff team in their destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles.

With the Lions listed as six-point favorites, Mayfield and the Bucs will embrace the underdog role and use that as fuel to show they have improved significantly since the first game.

The Lions, however, didn’t have rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs, and running back David Montgomery got hurt and sat out the rest of the game after the second quarter. So, Detroit’s balanced offensive attack will challenge Tampa Bay’s ability to show marked improvement.

Related: NFL power rankings

3. Can Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions continue to make history?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Dan Campbell has brought an attitude to the Detroit Lions, who have embodied their tough, passionate head coach on the football field, and it’s helped the Lions defy history this season.

Detroit remains the only team in the NFC that has never advanced to the Super Bowl, and the Lions have only made one appearance in the NFC championship game – during the 1991 season.

The Lions haven’t won an NFL title since 1957 when Bobby Layne was the quarterback. But Campbell has the Lions — and the city of Detroit — believing this team has a championship in its very near future. Perhaps even this season.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff bracket and Super Bowl 2024 winner

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