According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, the Bucs are expecting to get back two key starters for the playoffs. Running back Leonard Fournette seems likely to return from a hamstring injury. Fournette was injured against the Saints in Week 15 and was placed on injured reserve. Meanwhile, linebacker Lavonte David could also return to the team soon.
Per Russini, the Bucs are hopeful David can play in the Wild Card round. The Bucs star linebacker suffered a foot sprain near the end of the team’s loss to the Saints. David was dominant against New Orleans, posting 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. There has been some question about when his return would occur. It sounds like Fournette remains the surer bet to play in the playoffs’ opening round, but that David has a strong chance too.
Based on head coach Bruce Arians’ comments yesterday, Giovani Bernard could return soon too. Bernard has been out since the Bucs’ Week 14 victory over the Bills.
“I have my fingers crossed that Gio [Bernard] might be able to get back (for Week 18),” Arians said on Monday.
If the Bucs can get Bernard and Fournette back for the playoffs, that would be huge. With Ronald Jones suffering an ankle injury on Sunday, Tampa Bay is thin at running back. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Le’Veon Bell could share the load against the Panthers this week.
On defense, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett is likely to return for the playoffs. Most assume Jason Pierre-Paul will be back then too, as the team seems to just be resting him with that torn rotator cuff right now. If the Bucs can avoid more injuries in Week 18 and get David, Barrett and Pierre-Paul back for the playoffs, their defense could finally be at full strength. Tampa Bay hasn’t played a single defensive snap with all their starters during the 2021 season.