Sep 132012
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1)

I had the Buccaneers as one of my underrated teams coming into the season. In 2010, everything went right for this team. They had an easy schedule and went 9-1 against sub .500 teams (1-5 against everyone else). They turned the ball over just 19 times and after regressing 6 wins from 2008 to 2009, predictably bounced back. Teams that regress 6 wins win an average of 3.0 more games the following season. The Buccaneers did that and more, going from 3 to 10 wins.

However, in 2011, they predictably declined. Like teams that regress by a big win total, teams that improve by a big win total also tend to go the other direction in the following season. Teams that improve 7 games win an average of 4.5 fewer games the following season. The Buccaneers are very familiar with this principle, going from 9 wins in 2008 to 3 in 2009 to 10 in 2010. It was easy to see how they’d do it. They turned the ball over less than 20 times in 2010, which is an unsustainable stat for a team without a true elite quarterback. There have been 36 teams since 2002 with 20 or fewer turnovers. In their next season, those teams, have had, on average, 9.64 more turnovers and won 2.69 fewer games. They also had a much tougher schedule and proved in 2010 that they couldn’t beat tough competition.

The Buccaneers ended up regressing more than 4.5 wins. They regressed 6 wins and turned the ball over a whopping 40 times, going 4-12 and losing their last 10 after quitting on Head Coach Raheem Morris. They went from playing 6 games against teams that were .500 or better than 11 and didn’t improve, going 2-9 in those 11 games. There is definitely reason to be optimistic for the Buccaneers this season. Teams that regress 6 wins win an average of 3.0 more games the following season and teams that turn the ball over 35 times or more have averaged 9.74 fewer turnovers the next season and have won 1.61 more games. Raheem Morris is gone and is replaced with a much more disciplinarian Head Coach in Greg Schiano and the team finally spent money in the offseason. Though they overpaid each one of them, there’s no doubt that the trio of Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and Eric Wright, overall, will have a positive impact on this team in 2012.

Their young defense should be better with another year of experience and they could get a bounce back year from Aqib Talib. They also get Gerald McCoy back from injury. McCoy is an incredibly valuable player when healthy. When he’s been in the lineup over the past 2 years, they’re 11-8 and allow 22.1 points per game. When he’s not, they’re 3-12 and allow 30.2 points per game. That’s obviously not all him, as those numbers are skewed because he missed most of his time last season when they had a tougher schedule and committed more turnovers. However, the 3rd pick in the 2010 NFL Draft is still a great player and they really missed him when he got hurt last season.

Eric Wright, though he was not worth his giant contract, will be an upgrade at cornerback over Ronde Barber, who has been moved to safety. They also add rookie safety Mark Barron to an improved defensive backfield and rookie linebacker Lavonte David to one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL last year. The new coaching staff will also bring discipline to a team that missed the most tackles of any team since they started keeping the stat. Remember, this team had the 9th ranked defense in the league in 2010, allowing 19.9 points per game. They probably won’t be that good, but fewer missed tackles, additions, bounce back years, maturation of young players, an easier schedule, and fewer turnovers from the offense (which puts a ton of pressure on the defense) should help this defense be more middle of the pack.

Offensively, they have the additions of Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson, as well as potential bounce back years from Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount, key parts of their 2010 team. They also add running back Doug Martin in the first round of the draft. Gone is Kellen Winslow, but that might be a good thing. Of Freeman’s 22 interceptions, 9 were targeted for Winslow, most in the league. Davin Joseph is also gone for the year with injury, but he’s one of the most overrated players in the league so that’s not a huge deal. Josh Freeman probably won’t have the 25 touchdowns to 6 interceptions he had in 2010, but he probably won’t have the 16 touchdowns to 22 interceptions he had last year.

In the opener, they not only proved me right, but they showed they may actually be better than what I thought. I had them right in the middle of 4 and 10 wins at 7, but if their defense continues to play like that (remember, they were the 9th ranked defense in 2010), they’re going to be much closer to 10 wins than 4. The idea with the underrated teams was to bet them until they proved me wrong or the odds makers caught up. They didn’t prove me wrong, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe the odds makers caught up. They’re just +7 here on the road against the defending Super Bowl champs and keep in mind, they are still just 3-14 against teams that finish with a record of .500 or better, which the Giants almost definitely will.

For that reason, I’m pretty torn on this one. They may still be underrated, but not nearly as much as they were last week, when they were home underdogs for a Carolina team that won 6 games last year. However, the Giants are coming off an emotional loss and may come out flat in this one. Super Bowl champs are 2-6 ATS week 2 ever since the NFL started having defending Super Bowl champs play on Thursday Night Football (Wednesday Night Football this year because of some stupid political crap).

Now, the last 8 have all won that opener, but even teams that lose that game are 2-6 ATS the following week. It’s an emotional game for both sides, for the defending Super Bowl champ because they get a big celebration and get their rings and for the opponent because they want to knock off the champs, especially after watching them celebrate and get their rings. Both sides tend to be flat the following week and that could happen to the Giants this week.

However, the Giants are 7-3 ATS under Tom Coughlin as favorites after losing as a favorite. In a very similar situation last year, after having a dud week 1 performance in a multi-score loss to the Redskins, they blew out the Rams the following week as favorites. Besides, this is typically a good team in the first half of the season. They’re 40-26 ATS during the first 9 weeks of the season under Tom Coughlin, and straight up, they’re 47-18 in their first 8 games under Tom Coughlin, as opposed to 27-37 in their last 8. Plus, as I said, the Buccaneers have trouble beating .500+ teams.

So what’s my pick? I’m going with the Buccaneers to continue to prove that they’re underrated, even if they’re significantly less so than last week, and to keep this one close and within the 7 points, but to ultimately lose. The ATS trends seem to suggest that the Buccaneers will cover, even if the SU trends seem to suggest that the Giants will win outright, so that’s what I’m going with. I also am taking this opportunity to not only bet on one of my preseason underrated teams, but also to “fade” the public, something I love to do. It’s not entirely by design, but I’ve actually faded the public in every pick so far this week. It’s not a very big bet though.

Public lean: NY Giants (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Tampa Bay covers)

New York Giants 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Pick against spread: Tampa Bay +7 (-110) 2 units

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