Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-3)
The Buccaneers lost last week 19-14 on Thursday Night to the New England Patriots, but they could have easily won the game and gone to 3-1. They had 26 first downs and 2 offensive touchdowns, while the Patriots had just 23 first downs and 1 offensive touchdown. The difference was that the Patriots made 4 field goals, while the Buccaneers missed 3, including two very makeable ones, either of which would have put the Buccaneers in position for a game winning field goal at the end of the game. The Patriots didn’t have Gronkowski in that game, but the Buccaneers were banged up on a short week too, missing safety TJ Ward and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, so it was an impressive performance for Tampa Bay all things considered.
Having played on Thursday Night, the Buccaneers got a long break between their week 5 game and this week 6 game and it couldn’t have come at a better time, given their injury situation. Alexander remains out, but both David and Ward are expected to return this week, which will be a big boost to this defense. With Doug Martin returning from suspension and showing some of his 2015 form, the Buccaneers are a team that could be about to go on a little bit of a run. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are 2-3, but both of their wins came in overtime against the 49ers and Colts, two of the worst teams in the NFL. Their 3 losses have come against the Lions, Cowboys, and Eagles, all of whom won by double digits. Last week was their biggest defeat, as they lost 34-7 in Philadelphia.
The Cardinals were a strong 13-3 team in 2015 and were much better than their 7-8-1 record in 2016, but they are not the same team anymore. They lost five starters on defense this off-season, including safeties Tony Jefferson and DJ Swearinger and defensive end Calais Campbell, who were among the best in the NFL at their position in 2016. In addition to those 3 talented starters, the Cardinals are also without left guard Mike Iupati, running back David Johnson, and outside linebacker Markus Golden, who are currently on injured reserve. They’re missing 6 key players from last season’s team and have one of the worst rosters in the NFL as a result.
This line moved from -2.5 in favor of Arizona to -1.5 in favor of Tampa Bay over the past week, likely as a result of Arizona’s big loss, the Buccaneers’ near victory, and the return of key players from injury for Tampa Bay. Normally I like to go against line movement like that, but it’s all between the field goals, so it’s pretty superficial line movement, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. The Buccaneers really only need to win straight up here to cover, so, as long as this line is less than a field goal, Tampa Bay should be worth a small bet. I have this line calculated at -3 in favor of the Buccaneers, which is likely where it would be if Tampa Bay made a couple extra field goals last weekend and won. With a new kicker in place, Tampa Bay should be able to win this one by at least a field goal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Arizona Cardinals 20
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -1.5