The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South title last year; just kind of scraping by in what proved to be Tom Brady's last season. So obviously there has been some speculation on the part of BetOnline patrons as to how they would do without Brady in the lineup.
Well, the Bucs are off to a 2-0 start, but they really have a chance to answer the skeptics when they face off against the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in a Monday night game that is set to begin at 7:15 PM ET at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
The Eagles have won their first two games as well, although they haven't been in sensational fashion. In the opener they held a 16-0 first quarter lead and then had to hang on to beat New England 25-20, and followed that with a Thursday night win over Minnesota in which they ran for 259 yards but only created a six-point margin.
Tampa Bay, which won the Super Bowl three seasons ago, beat the Vikings as well, then won 27-17 over the Chicago Bears. Through these first two games, they have not committed a turnover. Todd Bowles, who was retained as head coach even after last year's playoff disappointment, is seeking to get back to the fundamentals. That includes a greater emphasis on the ground game.
Baker Mayfield, who stepped in on an emergency basis in place of Matthew Stafford with the Rams last year, has been 69% accurate so far, and he's been sacked only once.
In the Monday Night Football betting odds posted on this game by the people at BetOnline, the Eagles are the road favorites:
Philadelphia Eagles -5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +5
Over 45 points -105
Under 45 points -115
The Eagles lost Miles Sanders in the off-season, by reloaded with D'Andre Swift, who's averaged over six yards a carry and had 175 rushing yards against the Vikings. Of course, it's the threat of Jalen Hurts running with it that fuels much of this, even though he's only got 72 yards on the ground. Whatever the reason, Philly has a big boy rushing game, as they've done that on 54% of all offensive snaps.
The Eagles have allowed seven passing touchdowns, and that would appear to be something of a handicap. But we have known them to be able to get to the quarterback, and we also know that Mayfield is a different guy under pressure.
For Philly's secondary, the big challenge is somehow neutralizing big play threat Mike Evans, who's already got 237 receiving yards (almost 20 yards per catch). The Bucs may have a more complicated assignment on the defensive end.
Both of these squads have, statistically, done a good job defending against the run - Tampa Bay's given up 3.3 ypc, while Philadelphia has yielded 3.4 ypc. So while the Eagles may not steamroll the Bucs, they will likely bring something Tampa Bay isn't used to.
And speaking to the Bucs' new "balance," they are running the ball 49.3% of the time, compared to 32.1% last year, when Brady took matters into his own hands. But who are they running it with? Rachaad White, an unproven second-year guy out of Arizona State who's posting 3.3 yards a carry.
Let's not forget that Philadelphia is no one-trick pony. If the running game is slowed, Hurts can still turn to AJ Brown and Devonta Smith.
And remember also that the Bucs have gotten off to this 2--0 start while not committing a turnover. What happens if / when that begins to even out?
In this situation, Tampa Bay is the side more likely to implode. And I would rather be on the more reliable side. That's Philly.
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