Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) at New England Patriots (2-0)
Tom Brady completed under 50% of his passes in a game last week for the first time since 2009 and it took a perfect storm for that to happen. It was a combination of the worst receiving corps he’s ever worked with, a Thursday Night game, and terrible weather. Two of those situations will be gone this week as the Patriots actually have extra time to prepare for this one and the weather is expected to be fine. Unfortunately, their receiving corps probably won’t be much better. Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen remain out and, while you never know with the Patriots, if I had to guess right now, I don’t think Rob Gronkowski is going to play.
I definitely underestimated Tom Brady’s ability to get this new receiving corps assimilated before the season started. Brady has had success with receivers that haven’t been that good in the past, but they’ve always been veterans. The Patriots’ system is incredibly complex because of all the timing routes and it’s very understandable that it would be overwhelming for rookie receivers, who tend to take a while to get adjusted to the NFL anyway. Even Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez didn’t put up huge numbers as rookies. They’ll have to hope that extra time to prepare and another week under their belts will lead to superior play from their rookies, which is certainly possible.
Fortunately, the Patriots have been given a very easy schedule to start their season, starting with the Bills and Jets and now with the 0-2 Buccaneers in New England, who actually lost to the Jets week 1. The Buccaneers are in shambles right now. Josh Freeman has now completed 131 of 262 (50.0%) for 1639 yards (6.3 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in his last 7 games, dating back to last season. Couple that with all of the reports coming out about him and it’s very hard to trust him to move the ball, especially against a Patriots defense that, at least early on, looks as good as it’s been in years.
As a result of Freeman’s struggles, the Buccaneers are converting just 60.5% of 1st and 10s for a subsequent first down, which is only ahead of Jacksonville. Their defense is playing well, allowing just 72.9% of 1st and 10s to be converted for subsequent firsts, but the disparity is still the 3rd worst in the NFL, ahead of only Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. The Patriots, as bad as they’ve been offensively, actually rank 6th in this disparity, largely because their allowing opponents to convert just 55.6% of 1st and 10s for a subsequent first down, 2nd behind only the Jets in the NFL. Facing the Bills and the Jets helps, but the Buccaneers have also faced the Jets so it’s not like these two teams have played completely different schedules.
I think the Patriots have a very good chance to break out this week. The Patriots have had just 1 three game stretch without a 7+ point win since 2006. Meanwhile, after games in which he has 16 or more incompletions, Tom Brady is 26-15 ATS, including 18-6 ATS off a win. I’m not willing to put a lot of confidence on it, but I really feel like this is the week they finally sort of resemble the Patriots. This season really reminds me of 2006.With a new receiving corps, Brady started the season completing 50% of his passes, even less than this year, in near upset losses to the Bills and Jets, but the Patriots eventually got their act together and went 12-4, before eventually losing in the AFC Championship. That narrative could repeat itself.
New England Patriots 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13
Pick against spread: New England -7.5