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Five things to watch: Bengals at Buccaneers

S Vonn Bell (left) and S Jessie Bates III celebrates a blocked pass during the third quarter of the Chiefs-Bengals game in Week 13 of the 2022 season at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
S Vonn Bell (left) and S Jessie Bates III celebrates a blocked pass during the third quarter of the Chiefs-Bengals game in Week 13 of the 2022 season at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Bengals play an NFC team for the final time of the regular season when they head to Tampa Bay on Sunday. The game airs at 4:25 p.m. on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Bengals look to ground Bucs passing attack

Cincinnati's secondary faces a Tom Brady-led Buccaneers offense that ranks fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game (265.7). But even without the services of slot cornerback Mike Hilton (ruled out with a knee injury), and backup Jalen Davis listed as doubtful (thumb), the Bengals still boast a stingy pass defense that has yet to allow an opposing quarterback to throw for 300 yards. QBs playing Cincinnati are completing just 59.1 percent of their passes this season, tied for the lowest rate in the league, while the 12 touchdown passes thrown against the Bengals are the second-fewest. And even while Brady is fifth in the NFL in passing yards (3585), he hasn't recorded 300 in a game since October 27. He has also been more turnover prone as of late, throwing four interceptions over the last four weeks compared to just one in the first nine. Making things difficult for the 23rd-year signal caller would provide a major advantage for the Bengals, particularly with the Bucs' rushing offense ranking last in the league at 72.9 yards per game.

2. Red-hot in the red zone

Much of the Bengals' success this season has come from its ability to make game-changing plays in the red zone, on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati is the only team in the NFL that ranks in the top six in red zone offense (fourth) and defense (sixth). Offensively, the Bengals have scored a touchdown on 30 of their 45 appearances inside the opponents' 20-yard line (66.7 percent). That percentage could be even higher, but three of the team's wins (Atlanta, Tennessee and Kansas City) were wrapped up by the offense taking a knee in the red zone. The Buccaneers' defense, meanwhile, ranks 21st inside its own 20, giving up either a touchdown or field goal in 31 of 36 possessions that reach the red zone.

Cincinnati's defense is coming off a stellar performance against the Browns in Week 13, in which the unit allowed just 10 points on three red zone opportunities. The final chance saw rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt break up a pass on fourth-and-goal from the Bengals' six-yard line. Cleveland ran eight plays inside the Cincinnati 20 on that drive and came up empty.

3. More milestones for Burrow

Quarterback Joe Burrow has notched several career milestones so far this season, including 50 touchdown passes, 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 passing attempts. He is on the doorstep of two more in Week 15, including 11,000 passing yards which he enters just 16 shy of reaching. Should he do so in what will be his 40th career game, Burrow will tie Matthew Stafford as the fourth-fastest quarterback in NFL history to get to the 11K mark. Only Patrick Mahomes (37 games), Justin Herbert (38) and Kurt Warner (39) did it in fewer contests.

Burrow also heads into Sunday one touchdown pass shy of 75 for his career. He would become the fifth-fastest player in league history to achieve that feat, trailing Mahomes (30 games), Dan Marino (31), Herbert (34) and Warner (35). Burrow has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his last 20 regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NFL. He can tie Jeff Blake (21 games from 1994-95) for the Bengals record this week.

4. Chance for NFC South sweep

The Bengals have defeated three NFC South teams already this season with a point differential of plus-43. Should they continue that dominance and leave Tampa with a victory, Cincinnati will have gone 4-0 against an NFC division for the first time since sweeping the NFC North in 2005.

Coincidentally, the '05 Bengals completed their NFC North sweep with a road game on December 18th. Cincinnati beat the Detroit Lions 41-17 at Ford Field that day, thanks to three touchdown passes by Carson Palmer and three interceptions by the Bengals defense.

5. Cappa, Wilcox make Tampa homecoming

The Bengals offense features two starters that have extended history in Tampa. Right guard Alex Cappa was taken by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft and spent his first four pro seasons with the team, starting 46 out of 52 games. He was a member of the 2020 team that won Super Bowl LV, and contributed to a 2021 offense that led the NFL in total offense while allowing a league-low 23 sacks.

Mitchell Wilcox has started two of the last three games at tight end and figures to have an expanded role with Hayden Hurst ruled out with a calf injury. Wilcox, who has eight catches for 70 yards this season, is a native of Tarpon Spring, Fla. (part of Tampa Bay area) and played his college ball at the University of South Florida. He ended his USF career as the program record holder for catches, receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end.

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