The Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots into Raymond James Stadium tonight for the national anthem and a little football. Odds makers have installed the Patriots as 5-point favorites, but this year’s model has a few chinks in the armor, especially the league’s lowest-ranked defense.
“They may not have the elite pass rusher they have had in similar seasons, but they still have a heck of a defense and they are well-coached.” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter diplomatically said on All Access.
The Bucs come in with a 2-1 record, while the Patriots are 2-2, having lost to Carolina last Sunday on the game’s final play. Both of their losses have come at home with tonight marking their second road game of the year.
But this is New England and they have shown themselves to be resilient even when things are not clicking. Most expect them to be contenders by season’s end, so it is fortunate for the Bucs to be playing them early in the season.
Tampa Bay has defensive problems of their own, especially in the last two weeks. After nearly shutting out Chicago in the opener, they have given up 57 points to Minnesota and the New York Giants in the last two games.
There are several reasons why either team can win. Here are five.
Why the Bucs should win
- While both teams are playing on a short week of practice, the Bucs are at home while the Patriots had to spend Wednesday traveling.
- Tampa Bay’s running game is fortified with the return of Doug Martin to the offensive backfield.
- The Bucs’ passing game, especially with the Jameis Winston to Mike Evans hookup, is clicking. Throw in a possible big play from deep threat wideout DeSean Jackson and they could put up big numbers.
- New England’s super tight end Rob Gronkowski is a bit dinged coming into this game. He is officially listed as “questionable,” but should play. Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick is well-known for playing games with the injury report. Still, “Gronk” could see a few less snaps tonight, which is always a good thing for opponents.
- Special Teams. According to the ESPN Power Index, the Bucs special teams units combined rank as “the most efficient of any team in the league.” In a close game, that can make the difference.
Why the Patriots should win
- Two words. Tom Brady
- Big plays. New England has already produced 28 plays of 20 yards or more, including 6 of more than 40 yards. The Bucs have made 9 similar plays for an average of three per game while the Patriots average 7.
- The Bucs linebacker corps will again be minus Kwon Alexander and most likely Lavonte David. Throw in the doubtful Keith Tandy and T.J. Ward at safety, and that could give Brady something to exploit.
- No pressure. Despite being sacked 15 times already this year, Brady will likely have some time to pick out receivers. Through three games, the Bucs have a grand total of one sack.
- New England is coming off a loss. Since Brady became the quarterback in 2001, the Patriots are 38-11 after losing a game. In other words, two-game losing streaks are quite rare.
One other factor is the intangibles. The Patriots have seen, and seemingly accomplished, everything. If it’s close late in the game, it is in their culture to win.
The Bucs are an up-and-coming team. If they would win a close game against a team like New England, they might learn to develop a culture of their own.
It’s only the fourth game, but it could set a tone for the rest of the year.