The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going up the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 and as we all know, this isn’t your father’s -or even grandfather’s- Bengals team.

This is the new-age Bengals, aka the defending AFC champs, led by superstar quarterback Joe Burrow.

So, when it comes to the Buccaneers and their division title/playoff aspirations, it’s safe to say this is a very important matchup. Even if the Bengals reside in the AFC.

Naturally, teams want their best players available when they play the NFL’s best teams. There is really zero reason to elaborate on this – the “why” in this equation is very, very obvious.

So, it’s easy to understand why Todd Bowles’ Wednesday updates on the health of a couple key players are labeled as discouraging.

It started with Sean Murphy-Bunting, Mike Edwards, and Antoine Winfield Jr. All three players have missed the last two games due to various injuries and all three were labeled as limited participants in Wednesday’s practice.

“Sean is ahead of the other two – he did some good things today, we’ll see how he progresses during the week,” Bowles told reporters. “Mike did some things as well, [Winfield] did some things – he’s got to do more for him to play.”

It’s that last bit about Winfield Jr. that stings the most. He’s easily one of the Buccaneers’ best defenders and his role is arguably the most valuable on defense. His versatility in the secondary, as well as his physical play style, allows the other Buccaneers defenders to play their more natural positions and the play style sets the tone for them.

And when you combine the fact the Buccaneers are very likely to go up against two dynamic wideouts in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, it becomes even clearer why the secondary needs Winfield Jr. and Edwards on the field.

“[He has] outstanding hands, outstanding size, [he is] very good at getting off the ball, his catch radius is enormous – him and Tee Higgins, actually – as soon as the ball touches his hands, he’s getting up-field right now,” Bowles said in reference to Chase. “It’s rare to see somebody get up-field that quick with that size. He has a natural knack for the game and he looks great doing it.”

But it didn’t stop there. Bowles’ update on stud defensive tackle Vita Vea wasn’t optimistic, either.

“I doubt it – we’ll see how he progresses during the week,” Bowles said when asked if Vea could play against the Bengals. “If he’s not out there by Friday, I’d say no.”

Vea played just one series in Sunday’s 35-7 loss to the San Fransisco 49ers before leaving the game with an injured calf. The Buccaneers defense struggled throughout the day and it was clear the unit missed the big man’s presence.

The Bengals’ rushing attack has looked great over the last couple of weeks and that’s without Joe Mixon. That, along with the desire to pressure Burrow up the middle, are reasons enough to want Vea in the mix on Sunday.

There’s obviously still time, but time is also running out. The Buccaneers are going to need these guys if they want to avoid falling to 6-8 on Sunday. But, right now, that doesn’t look it will happen when accounting for the injuries and listening to what Bowles had to say.

Featured image via Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

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