The 49ers are well on their way to another playoff appearance and coming off their biggest win of the season. The Buccaneers have been better over the past month, but their playoff hopes were buried by an 0-8 start.
ESPN.com 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss the matchup.
Yasinskas: The 49ers are coming off a huge win against Seattle. How much confidence does that give them, and is there any chance for a letdown against the Bucs?
Williamson: The 49ers have a ton of confidence moving forward and they fully expect to play Seattle again in January. That is one of the reasons I don’t expect a letdown.
Let's face it, this is a prime week for a letdown. The 49ers are coming off their biggest win of the season and they have to take a long flight to face a team with a losing record. But Jim Harbaugh and his staff do a great job of hyping up the opponent. When they played then-winless Jacksonville, the staff talked about the Jaguars like they were the 1985 Bears. The 49ers have stayed focused all year. And with the possibility of clinching a playoff berth Sunday, I don't expect that to change.
Pat, do you think the Buccaneers can challenge the 49ers?
Yasinskas: I'm not saying the Bucs will win, but I think it will be a competitive game. They have won four of their last five games and are a much different team than they were earlier in the season. I don't think the Bucs want to get in an offensive shootout with the 49ers. But I think the Tampa Bay defense is playing well enough to keep the game close. The other thing to keep an eye on is home-field advantage. This is the final home game of the season for the Bucs, who have won three in a row at Raymond James Stadium, and coach Greg Schiano has made a big deal of wanting to finish with four straight wins at home. But I'm not sure they have enough offense to get it done against that 49ers defense.
Just how good has the San Francisco defense been?
Williamson: It is the strength of the team, and it has been outstanding. Over the past six games the 49ers have allowed an average of 13 points. This is a deep, athletic, fast unit that plays with anger and has a knack for the ball. There are few weaknesses. I look forward to seeing how rookie quarterback Mike Glennon deals with this aggressive defense.
How has Glennon done against the better defenses the Buccaneers have faced, and do you think he is up to this task?
Yasinskas: This game is a huge challenge for Glennon. He had been playing very efficiently, but the past two weeks he has struggled against the good defenses of Carolina and Buffalo. San Francisco might be even better than those two. The Bucs need to be able to run the ball effectively to keep the pressure off Glennon. That's easier said than done. With the Bucs using the run so heavily, opposing defenses have been loading the box. I expect the 49ers to do the same and challenge Glennon and the passing game to beat them.
San Francisco's ground game had struggled for three weeks before Frank Gore got it going against Seattle. The Bucs are good at slowing the run. Have the 49ers done enough to fix their running game?
Williamson: The 49ers had 137 yards rushing before contact against Seattle. There were several reasons behind San Francisco's mini-slump on the ground, but the Seattle performance showed they are back. The 49ers do a nice job of sticking with the run throughout the game. Sooner or later -- as Gore showed Sunday -- it pays off.
Do you see Tampa Bay shutting down the 49ers' ground game enough for the Bucs pull off an upset?
Yasinskas: Schiano places a huge emphasis on stopping the run. In theory, the rest of his defense flows from there. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David are having Pro Bowl seasons, and the rest of the front seven is pretty good. I'm sure safety Dashon Goldson, a former 49er, has given a good scouting report on his old team, which should help some. But I don't see the Bucs pulling off the upset.