TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-5)
at DENVER BRONCOS (8-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EDT
Line: Denver -7, Total: 50.5
Denver tries to extend a long win streak when it faces a Tampa Bay team that leads the NFL with an 8-2-1 ATS mark on Sunday.
The Broncos are in search of their seventh SU win in a row, though they’ve failed to cover in their past two games. Both of these teams have red-hot quarterbacks. Peyton Manning has a 108.2 rating, 294 passing YPG, 15 TD and 5 INT during the win streak, and the running game didn’t miss a beat with Willis McGahee out, as Knowshon Moreno ran for 85 yards on 20 carries at Kansas City. For the Bucs, Josh Freeman has a 104.1 passer rating, 16 TD and 3 INT over Tampa’s past seven games, but the Bucs defense hasn’t held up of late. They’ve allowed 400-plus yards of offense in three of their past four, and four of their past six games.
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Freeman has played pretty well in his past three road games, leading his team to 35.0 PPG in the three wins and throwing for 757 yards (252 YPG), 8 TD and 2 INT. Top WR Vincent Jackson (959 rec. yds, 7 TD) has been strong in the past two games with 190 yards on 11 catches. He is very familiar with the Denver defense having played in San Diego for seven seasons before coming to the Bucs. But he has been limited, big-time, by future Hall of Fame CB Champ Bailey over the past eight meetings, catching just 28 passes for 380 yards (47.5 YPG) and 1 TD during these matchups with the Broncos. Tampa needs to get RB Doug Martin back on track to stay in this game. Martin had just 50 yards on 21 carries (2.4 YPC) in last week's loss to Atlanta, a huge drop from the 148 rushing YPG on 6.1 YPC he averaged during his team's four-game win streak preceding the Falcons defeat. But no matter what the game plan is, Tampa knows it will have to be sharper than usual, as Denver ranks fifth in the NFL in passing defense (210 YPG allowed) and ninth in rushing defense (99 YPG). The Bucs have done a good job with ball protection though, committing just four turnovers combined in the past six games.
Manning has been outstanding in the thin air, posting a 110.2 passer rating and a 13-to-1 TD/INT ratio in his five home starts. He's had identical 101.9 ratings in two career meetings with Tampa Bay, but hasn't faced the Bucs since 2007. One player Manning doesn't have to worry about on Sunday is Tampa's top cornerback, Eric Wright, who was suspended four games for using performing-enhancing substances. That should allow both WRs Demaryius Thomas (1,015 rec. yds, 6 TD) and Eric Decker (685 rec. yds, 8 TD) to have huge games against a Bucs passing defense allowing a league-high 315.5 passing YPG. The running game could certainly struggle more this week though, as Tampa Bay leads the NFL with 81.5 rushing YPG allowed, holding eight of 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards this year. Another problem area is that Denver's offense has not had a single turnover-free game in 2012. The Broncos have 21 giveaways this season, including 14 over the past seven contests. The Bucs have generated 11 takeaways in the past five weeks, so they are perfectly capable of doing some damage here.