NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-2)
at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-1)
Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, FL
Kickoff: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET
Line: New England -5.5, Total: 55.5
The Patriots will be trying to get back on track with a win over the Buccaneers in Tampa on Thursday.
New England is coming off of a 33-30 loss as a nine-point home favorite against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots seemed like they had all the right pieces to repeat as Super Bowl champs this year, but they are having some serious issues on defense right now. The Patriots are last in the league in total defense heading into this game, and the 32.0 PPG they are allowing is only better than the lowly Colts (34.0 PPG). If the Patriots can’t figure it out soon then they are almost definitely going to be knocked out before even reaching the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are coming off of a big victory over the Giants last week. Tampa Bay won that game 25-23 on a last second field goal and should be feeling confident heading into this one. It’s worth noting that New England is an impressive 6-0 ATS in games played on a grass field over the past two seasons, and that’s exactly what they team will be playing on here. The Patriots are also 7-0 ATS in road games after playing a game where 50 or more points were scored over the past three seasons. One bit of good news for Tampa is the fact that RB Doug Martin (Suspension) will be back in this one.
The Patriots are going to really need to figure things out on the defensive end in this one, and a lot that falls on DBs Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gillmore. The two of them were supposed to form one of the league’s best pass-defending duos, but they have actually been one of the league’s worst. New England’s pass defense made Alex Smith look like an elite quarterback and then helped a struggling Cam Newton get back on track last week. If the Patriots can’t figure this out soon then they are going to be in some serious trouble. On offense, QB Tom Brady (1,399 yards, 10 TD, 0 INT) is still playing at an extremely high level. Brady was ridiculous in leading his team back in each of the past two weeks, as he was able to help New England defeat Houston two weeks ago and then helped the team tie it up before losing to Carolina last week. He should be able to light up this Buccaneers defense on Thursday. When Brady goes to the air, the two guys he’ll be looking for most are TE Rob Gronkowski (20 rec, 318 yards, 2 TD) and WR Brandin Cooks (13 rec, 294 yards, 2 TD). Gronkowski has been his usual dominant self this season, and Cooks has gotten more comfortable in this offense by the week. He should be able to keep getting better and better moving forward. And when the Pats decide to run the ball, they’ll utilize their entire stable of backs. RB Mike Gillislee (194 yards, 4 TD), however, is the one worth mentioning here. Gillislee has been great between the tackles and will be able to punch it into the end zone if New England gets close.
The Buccaneers are coming off of a solid victory over the Giants, but they now face the defending champions on Thursday. This game could be a serious statement for Tampa, but the team will need to play a very good game here. The player that will truly be under the microscope is QB Jameis Winston (864 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT). Winston must take good care of the football in this game or the Bucs are not going to win this one. Winston did, however, do well against the Giants last week, as he threw for 332 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. If he can have another game like that on Thursday then you could probably assume that Tampa had a good chance to win. Winston just needs to make sure that he does everything he can to toss the ball in WR Mike Evans’ (19 rec, 227 yards, 2 TD) direction. Evans had five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown against a good Giants secondary last week. He’ll be chopping at the bit to get his shot at this weak Pats secondary here. Tampa Bay will also do what it can to mix RB Doug Martin in. Martin should be fresh after having a few weeks off, and that actually might help him considering he has been injury prone in his career. As for the defense, the Bucs will need to get some pressure on Brady in this game. If he is able to just sit in the pocket then he will pick them apart.