Green Bay Packers (5-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2)
The Buccaneers have a pair of losses in their first five games, but they still rank 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +5.19%. They won the first down rate battle by 8.18% in their first loss to the Saints (losing the game primarily due to a -3 turnover margin, which was not going to happen every week) and they only lost the first down rate battle for the first time all season last week, finishing at -4.21% in a narrow 1-point loss in Chicago. The Buccaneers can definitely keep this up going forward and it should translate to more wins on the scoreboard than it has in their first 5 games, but how they achieve their success might be different.
In their first 5 games, the Buccaneers have been heavily reliant on a 3rd ranked defense that has allowed a 32.46% first down rate, while their offense has actually been pretty mediocre, with a 21st ranked first down rate of 37.65%. Going forward, their defense probably won’t be quite as good, due to the loss of stud defensive lineman Vita Vea with an injury, but their offense should be significantly improved, as not only does new quarterback Tom Brady now have more familiarity with this offense, but he also has arguably the top wide receiver duo in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both finally healthy at the same time. That should at least offset the loss of Vea and if this team can be more balanced and consistently good on both sides of the ball, this is going to be a very tough team to beat.
The Packers, meanwhile, have set the standard for offense so far this season, leading the league with a 45.98% first down rate, but their defense has been a major concern, allowing a 43.35% first down rate, 30th in the NFL. It hasn’t caused them to lose any games yet, but the Packers’ wins have been closer than they should have been, given the otherworldly level the offense is playing at. The defense should be better going forward, even if only by default, but their offense might regress by default as well and even if it doesn’t, the Packers still figure to drop a few games because of their defense, especially in games like this against another top level team.
Given that, we’re getting great value with the Buccaneers as home underdogs. They’re only 1-point underdogs, but if we give the Buccaneers 2 points for being at home with partial fans, that suggests the Packers are three points better than the Buccaneers, when in reality these two teams should be considered at least even. I actually have the Buccaneers slightly ahead of the Packers right now, but even if we call it even, we’re still getting good value with the Buccaneers.
A week ago, this line favored Tampa Bay by a field goal on the early line, which is still currently my calculated line, and it’s unclear why the line moved so drastically, as the Packers had a bye week and Buccaneers could have easily gotten into field goal range for the win at the end in the game against the Bears. I suspect if that had happened, we wouldn’t have such a drastic line movement. The Vea injury could be part of the reason for the line movement, but, as I mentioned, the Buccaneers having their wide receivers healthy is equally important, if not more so.
Tom Brady has also always traditionally done well in situations like this where his team is doubted. His record off of a loss is famous at this point, but his ATS record off of a loss is even more incredible at 43-22 and that becomes 20-3 ATS if you look only at instances where Brady is an underdog or favorite of fewer than 3 points, which is the case here. He’s also a ridiculous 38-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including 27-9 ATS in week 5 or later (when records are more likely to be indicative of talent level).
Those numbers were accumulated in New England with Bill Belichick and Brady is now in his age 43 season, but it stands to reason that Brady still will be at his best when his back is up against the wall, even if that best isn’t quite what it was in his prime. This is one of several games I am considering for Pick of the Week (including BOTH Monday games). I will have a final decision on my Pick of the Week tomorrow after I review the Monday games more thoroughly, but the Buccaneers are worth a big bet either way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34 Green Bay Packers 31 Upset Pick +100
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +1