Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 11:45 AM EST
8:35 PM EST. The Buccaneers don't get a lot of attention, as Tampa isn't exactly New York City, but the home squad has ripped off six straight at Raymond James Stadium. Thursday’s game against the Patriots is sold out, which is a big deal for the Bucs, as they ranked in the bottom third in stadium capacity percentage in 2016. With young talented players like Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, the Bucs have been a sexy preseason sleeper in recent years but have not fulfilled those lofty expectations. After their season was delayed in Week 1 because of Hurricane Irma, Tampa opened their season in Week 2 with a rousing 29-7 win over the Bears. The defense feasted with four turnovers in a big emotional victory after a huge regional disaster. We are willing to forgive the Bucs Week 3 loss in Minnesota, as it looked to be a big letdown spot and we acted accordingly by posting the Vikes as an official play. Last week against the Giants, the Bucs needed a last-second field goal to beat a winless team but it seems that did little to impress the market. However, we liked what we saw from the offense, as Winston threw for 300 yards and three TD’s against a Giants’ secondary that still has respect around the league and that Pro Football Focus ranked number one coming into 2017. Through three games, the Bucs offense is ranked ninth in yards per game (362.3) and Winston is sixth in yards per attempt. The Buccaneers should also get a jump start from returning running back Doug Martin. The two time Pro Bowler is loved by his teammates who he remained close with during his suspension. Fellow runner Charles Sims said, “He brings life and energy. He's a game-changer”. Martin took part in the entire offseason program, training camp and the preseason and it sounds like his presence will bring a boost to the locker room.
On the surface, one doesn’t have to look far to see that the weakness of these Patriots is their defense. New England is 32nd in yards allowed per game and 31st in points allowed per game; only the Colts are worse. Last year, the Pats played a lot more aggressive at the corners mostly in press/man coverage so it looked like the perfect fit when they signed high priced free agent corner Stephon Gilmore from Buffalo, a specialist in that defensive scheme. Instead, this season the Patriots have played far more zone than man leaving Gilmore totally out of his element and in Bill Belichick’s doghouse after he was benched in the third quarter of Sundays 33-30 loss to the Panthers. That score actually flatters the Patriots, who were down 30-16 with 12:58 left in the fourth quarter. It was the second week in a row the Pats were forced to come back in the final frame but this week they came up short. One of the Patriots biggest weaknesses last season was their inability to cover another team’s number one receiver. Gilmore was supposed to be that guy to plug that hole but after four weeks the Patriots are dead last in that category. It’s not just Gilmore that’s been the issue either. The Patriots defense as a group is also at the bottom of the barrel in defensive DVOA (a relevant metric that measures defense-adjusted value over average). The Patriots defense is so bad they drag the number two offense all they down to 22nd in total DVOA behind teams like Tennessee, Baltimore, and Cincinnati, not exactly AFC powerhouses. New England is now 2-2 but has been statistically dominated in three of their four games by Kansas City in Week 1, by Houston in Week 3 and by Carolina four days ago. The Pats should be 1-3 but it will take a lot more than one loss to scare the market off Tom Brady and company.
The case for the Patriots is superficial at best and just having Tom Brady isn’t enough. We’ve heard New England rarely plays poorly after a loss but previous results do not matter. However, a big win over New Orleans in Week 2 after getting crushed by the Chiefs is fresh in the market’s mind helping to support that flawed logic. In reality, the Pats probably shouldn’t even be favored in this spot but they are still way too popular to not be spotting points in just about every game they play. Holding court against the Super Bowl champs is a big game on any team’s schedule but add the bright lights of a prime time game and this could be the breakout game that brings the Bucs to the dance. The Patriots are the more flawed team here spotting road points on three day’s rest. Tampa is very worthy of a money line play here but we’ll play it safe and take the points.
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TAMPA BAY +5 -105 (Risking 2.1 units - To Win: 2.00)