Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) at Los Angeles Rams (3-0)
Probably the most surprising stat from this early season is the Buccaneers ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 30.73%, after finishing 30th at 40.98% last season. The Buccaneers made changes on defense this off-season, but didn’t add any marquee players. They made a lateral move at the defensive tackle position, cutting Gerald McCoy to sign Ndamukong Suh in a cost saving measure. They signed underrated ex-Bronco Shaq Barrett to help their edge rush, but also lost their top pass rusher from a year ago Jason Pierre-Paul to an off-season injury. They used the 5th overall pick on middle linebacker Devin White, but he’s barely played due to injury. Barrett has exceeded expectations, but mostly it’s been young holdovers exceeding expectations so far, in large part due to the addition of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Last year’s first round pick Vita Vea has especially broken out, but their young secondary has been better than expected as well.
Despite that, they are still just 1-2 and it’s fair to question whether their defense can keep it up and definitely fair to question their competition thus far. In week 1, they faced the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo was rusty in his first back, having the 6th worst completion percentage above expected of the week, at -5.4%. In week 2, they faced a severely injured Cam Newton, who had the 4th worst completion percentage above expected the week, at -11.7%. Last week, they faced a Giants team that was starting a rookie quarterback and that was without Saquon Barkley and surrendered over 30 points. The Rams are an obvious step up in talent.
That being said, the Rams haven’t been quite as impressive on offense this year as they have been the past two years, in large part due to their offensive line. They will get right guard Austin Blythe back after he missed last week with injury, but they lost left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan in the off-season and second year replacements Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen have not been impressive.
Their defense has been better this season, but their offense ranks just 17th in first down rate and they are lucky to be 3-0, recovering all 4 fumbles in a 3-point win over an injured Cam Newton and the Panthers week 1, then facing a Saints team week 2 that lost Drew Brees in the first quarter, and then last week they narrowly escaped against a Browns team that was missing eight week 1 starters due to injury, including four in the secondary. They have relatively easy competition this week, but they are in a tough spot with a much bigger game in Seattle on deck in 4 days. Favorites are 56-77 ATS since 2012 before Thursday Night Football and the Buccaneers could definitely cover this 9-point spread if the Rams don’t play their best game. There’s not enough here to bet on the Buccaneers, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Los Angeles Rams 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +9