Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) at Denver Broncos (8-3)
The Buccaneers lost last week, snapping a 4 game winning streak, but it was once again a close game. The Buccaneers are still 5-2 since the bye and they’ve really looked like a different team since then. Josh Freeman is 134 of 220 for 1971 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions in his last 6 games. He has a cannon for an arm, but he wasn’t using it last year, throwing 20 yards downfield or more on just 6.5% of his throws, by far least frequent in the NFL, despite being the 3rd most accurate deep ball thrower in the NFL. This year, with a reliable deep threat in Vincent Jackson, he’s going deep on 15.7% of his throws and, more importantly, he’s having a ton of success, going 23 of 55 for 932 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
Their makeshift offensive line is run blocking and pass protecting well. The Freeman to Vincent Jackson combo is deadly (47 catches for 959 yards and 7 touchdowns) and opening things up for Mike Williams and Doug Martin, who is running much better since the bye thanks to improved blocking and the defense fearing the pass. Defensively, as bad as their secondary is, they have a great front 7 led by the finally healthy Gerald McCoy and rookie of the year candidate Lavonte David.
Even before the bye, they were better than their record. They were 1-3, but all 3 losses were by a touchdown or less and all 3 were against quality opponents, the Giants, the Cowboys, and the Redskins. They have not lost a single game by more than a touchdown all year and on the flip side, they have 4 wins by double digits. Because of this, they are +56 in points differential and they are either 9-2 ATS, 8-2-1 ATS, or 7-2-2 ATS, depending on the line you had in the Tampa Bay/NY Giants game (either +7 or +7.5) and in the Tampa Bay/Atlanta game (either +1 or +1.5). On the road, they are either 4-0-1 or 5-0 ATS (Giants game).
Going off that points differential, they actually rank 10th in the NFL in net points per drive. The Broncos, meanwhile, rank 4th. If you take the difference between the Buccaneers’ (0.35) net points per drive and the Broncos’ (0.66) and multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game) and add 3 points for home field advantage, you get that this line should be right around Denver -6.5, meaning that we’re getting line value with Tampa Bay, who should, at the very least, keep this within a touchdown once again and once again cover, as this line is right at that magic -7 point.
I say at the very least because I think the Buccaneers have a very good chance to win straight up. This game means different things for these two teams. The Buccaneers are dogs before being favorites and teams are 98-56 ATS in this spot over the last 2 seasons, including 42-20 ATS when both are non-divisional. They have no distractions on the horizon with the lowly non-divisional Eagles on their schedule next and this is a huge game to extend their season. They have to go to New Orleans, Atlanta, and Denver in their last 5 games and they have to win 2 to make the playoffs. I think it’s more likely they beat the Saints (inferior team to the Broncos) and the Falcons (week 17, they could be resting starters), but they could win here.
The Broncos, meanwhile, will go to Oakland and play the divisional Raiders on Thursday Night football next week. The Raiders are lowly as well, but because that’s a Thursday Night divisional game, it’s a different story. Since 1989, favorites are 25-37 ATS before a divisional Thursday game, 15-24 ATS before being favorites. Teams do tend to cover as non-conference favorites before being divisional favorites, as those teams are 52-33 ATS before being divisional favorites, but they’re 4-6 ATS before a Thursday night game. The Buccaneers are much more likely to be 100% focused for this one. It’s a significant play on the Buccaneers to at least keep this within 7.
Public lean: Denver (50% range)
Sharps lean: DEN 14 TB 5
Final update: No change.
Denver Broncos 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27
Pick against spread: Tampa Bay +7 (-110) 3 units