Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)

The Falcons have had a disappointing season and will be watching the post-season from home, but they’ve played better in recent weeks thanks to the return of dominant every down linebacker Deion Jones. Key defensive players suffering significant injuries early in the season is the primary reason for their disappointing year, as they ranked dead last in first down rate allowed at 43.02% through 11 games, but they’ve allowed a first down rate of 35.54% in 4 games since Jones returned.

Their offense has been strong throughout, ranking 9th in first down rate at 39.40%, as their strong passing offense has made up for an inconsistent running game, so if Jones had stayed healthy all year there’s a good chance the Falcons would at least still be in the playoff hunt right now. Over the past 4 weeks, they rank 8th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +3.40%. Despite that, they are 1.5-point road underdogs in Tampa Bay against a mediocre Buccaneers team, as casual bettors may not realize how important Jones is to this defense.

The Buccaneers rank 18th in the NFL in first down rate differential on the season at -0.16%, which is decent, but they start one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league, they rank 31st in first down rate allowed at 41.00%, and they are missing two key offensive playmakers in wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end OJ Howard. Over the past 4 weeks, they are just 24th in first down rate differential, as injuries have started to pile up.

It’s not just a talent gap between these teams either, as the Buccaneers probably won’t be at their best with head coach Dirk Koetter expected to be let go after the game. Koetter seems to know he’ll be gone and has even said he’s going to try to get 3rd string quarterback Ryan Griffin in the game because he hasn’t gotten a chance to play yet, so it doesn’t sound like they’re treating this as a normal game. Even if Jameis Winston can keep this game close, the Falcons would likely pull ahead when Griffin comes in. I like the Falcons a lot this week.

Atlanta Falcons 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +1.5

Confidence: High

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

The Cowboys were shut out in Indianapolis last week, ending their 5-game winning streak. That was a tough spot for them though, on the road against a strong Indianapolis team, without their top offensive lineman Zack Martin, after back-to-back tough wins over the Saints and Eagles. This week, they are at home with an easier matchup against the Buccaneers, they probably are getting Martin back, and they should be more focused after last week’s loss humbled them.

That being said, I’m still leaning towards the Buccaneers as 7-point underdogs. The Cowboys have had offensive issues all season and that has kept them from blowing out their opponents, with 7 of their 8 wins coming by 8 points or fewer. Even if Martin is back, he likely won’t be at 100%, which could be a major problem for this offense. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have also played a lot of close games in recent years, with 12 of their 20 losses over the past 2 seasons coming by 8 points or fewer.

The Buccaneers have defensive issues (6th in first down rate allowed at 41.02%) and they start one of the more turnover prone quarterbacks in the league in Jameis Winston, but their offense moves the ball well (30th in first down rate at 41.28%) and is more than capable of getting a backdoor cover if needed. There’s not enough here to take the Buccaneers with any confidence and we’re not really getting any line value with the Buccaneers, but this could easily be another close game for these teams, so I like the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

Rookie Lamar Jackson will make his 5th start this week and his first start with Joe Flacco healthy, as Flacco is expected to be active as the backup after missing 4 games with a hip injury. Jackson is 3-1 in his 4 starts, with one loss coming in overtime in Kansas City last week, but the offense has statistically been slightly worse with him under center, moving the chains at a 35.64% rate in 4 games started by Jackson, as opposed to 36.46% in 9 games started by Flacco. That’s not a big difference obviously, but Jackson has had a much easier schedule, as the Chiefs, Bengals, Raiders, and Falcons all rank 27th or worst in first down rate allowed.

The schedule doesn’t get any harder for Jackson this week, facing a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 30th in first down rate allowed at 41.85%, so Jackson should be able to keep Flacco on the sidelines at least another week. The Buccaneers’ offense has been explosive this season, but they also start a turnover prone quarterback and are without two key weapons in DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard. That being said, with the line at Baltimore -7.5, I’d rather take the Buccaneers, who play a lot of close games (11 of 19 losses decided by 6 points or fewer over the past 2 seasons), than the Ravens, who are starting a limited quarterback, as big favorites.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7.5

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

The Saints shockingly lost in Dallas last week, with their high powered offense held to just 10 points in a 13-10 loss, but I’m not really changing my outlook for them going forward. The Cowboys were a capable team at home that played arguably the best game of their season at the same time the Saints had an off night, much like the Patriots’ loss in Tennessee a few weeks ago. The Saints still rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +5.79% and rank 2nd in my roster rankings. This line shifted from New Orleans -10.5 on the early line to New Orleans -9.5 this week and I’ll gladly take that extra line value, as I still have this line calculated at -12.

The Buccaneers have won two in a row, but they’ve had a +5 turnover margin in those two games (+2.5 per game), after being -23 over their first 10 games (-2.3 per game). Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, but the Buccaneers start one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league, so I expect the Buccaneers going forward to be closer to their early season turnover margin than their recent turnover margin. They are also banged up on both sides of the ball, missing tight end OJ Howard and wide receiver DeSean Jackson on offense and safety Justin Evans and cornerback Carlton Davis on defense. Despite last week’s loss, I still expect the Saints, who are 46-31 ATS off of a loss in the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era, to take care of business in this one.

New Orleans Saints 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)

The Panthers, once 6-2, are losers of 3 straight, but they could have easily won each of their past two games. The Panthers lost by 1 in Detroit two weeks ago, in a game in which they missed a field goal, an extra point, and a 2-point conversation late when they didn’t trust their kicking unit to tie the game. Last week, they lost by a field goal at home to the Seahawks, but outgained the Seahawks by 1.9 yards per play in a game in which the Panthers missed another field goal, threw a red zone interception, failed on a 4th down, and allowed the Seahawks to go 2 for 2 on 4th downs.

The Panthers won the first down rate battle in both games, +5.98% in Detroit and +11.53% against Seattle. On the season, they have a first down rate differential of +2.11%, 12th in the NFL, and that number is significantly better if you ignore their blowout loss in Pittsburgh, in game in which the Panthers were caught off guard by a strong team on the road on a short week. The Panthers are just 2-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less, but still are 6-5, as a result of 4 wins by more than a touchdown. They could easily be 7-4 or 8-3 right now, in which case this line would likely be higher than 3.5 in Tampa Bay.

While the Panthers are a solid team, the Buccaneers are a mediocre bunch. Their offense has moved the ball well, thanks in large part to arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL. They have picked up first downs at a 42.90% rate (4th in the NFL) and they lead the league with 3,914 passing yards (on pace for an NFL record 5,693 on the season). However, they’ve also started two historically turnover prone quarterbacks this season in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston and have the most giveaways in the league with 29.

Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and the Buccaneers are unlikely to continue losing the turnover battle at the rate they have been (a league worst -21 through 11 games), but the Buccaneers have two gunslinging quarterbacks that take risks downfield, a style of play that lends itself to a lot of turnovers. It’s part of why they’ve gotten so many yards through the air this season, but there are also obvious downsides.

The Buccaneers have also been hurt significantly by the injury bug. Their receiving corps is one of the best in the NFL at full strength, but they’re missing both tight end OJ Howard and wide receiver DeSean Jackson with injury, so they’re far from at full strength. They are also expected to be without starting right tackle Demar Dotson. Defensively they’re getting healthier, with safety Justin Evans and linebacker Lavonte David due back this week, after defensive end Vinny Curry returned last week, but they’re still without linebacker Kwon Alexander and they could be down their top-3 cornerbacks with injury. Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart have already been ruled out, while Brent Grimes is highly questionable after sitting out Friday’s practice.

Their defense has been horrible all season, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed at 42.18%, but they’re even worse when they’re missing starters. Even at full strength, their offense just isn’t quite good enough to keep up with what their defense is allowing most weeks, especially if the offense commits several turnovers. The Buccaneers rank 17th in first down rate differential on the year at +0.72%, but they’re not nearly as good as that suggests right now.

The Buccaneers are also in a tough spot, with the Saints coming to town next week. Teams are 22-44 ATS since 2014 before being home favorites of 7 or more (Tampa Bay is +11 on the early line), as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction. With back-to-back tough home games, the Buccaneers might not be as focused this week as they need to be to pull an upset over a significantly more talented opponent. There’s not quite enough here for the Panthers to be worth betting, but I’d change my mind if this line dropped down to 3 before gametime.

Update: Carolina -3 has popped up in some places, so, as I said I would, I’m making this is a medium confidence pick.

Carolina Panthers 30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Pick against the spread: Carolina -3

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)

These two teams have had similar seasons statistically. Both have poor records, but rank significantly better than their record suggests in first down rate differential. The 49ers rank 12th at +1.26%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.95%. Both teams have been crushed by the turnover margin, with turnover margins of -15 and -23 respectively, but turnover margins tend to completely unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Buccaneers were -4 in turnover margin last week in New York in 3-point loss to the Giants and, on average, teams with a turnover margin of -4 in a game have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week.

The 49ers’ offense obviously hasn’t been as good since Jimmy Garoppolo went down, but they haven’t been terrible either, moving the chains at a 36.30% rate in 7 games without Garoppolo, as opposed to 41.30% in the 3 games Garoppolo started. CJ Beathard took over the starting job after Garoppolo got hurt, but he missed a start with a hand injury and lost his job to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has been an upgrade in 2 starts.

After Beathard turned the ball over 10 times in 5 starts, the 49ers are just -2 in turnover margin in Mullens’ two starts, with both turnovers bouncing off receivers’ hands. Turnover margins tend to stabilize in the long run anyway, but Mullens has definitely been an upgrade over Beathard. They’ve also been decent defensively, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 36.49% rate, 17th in the NFL, and should force more turnovers going forward.

The Buccaneers have also switched quarterbacks several times this season, but under different circumstances. Ryan Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter, but the Buccaneers have switched quarterbacks mid-game three times this season and are now back to Jameis Winston for his second stint as their starting quarterback this season. Both quarterbacks have committed numerous turnovers, 13 for Fitzpatrick and 12 for Winston, but they’ve also averaged a combined 9.11 yards per attempt (3rd best in the NFL), taking numerous shots downfield to one of the better receiving corps in the NFL. As a result, they have moved the chains at a 43.34% rate, 4th best in the NFL. Regardless of which quarterback they start, they should continue moving the chains at a high rate and their turnover margin should be better, even if only by default, going forward.

The biggest problem for the Buccaneers is that they have the worst defense in the NFL. They rank 31st in first down rate allowed at 42.39% and have been even worse in recent weeks due to numerous injuries, including linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safety Justin Evans, and cornerback MJ Stewart. The injury bug has also spread to their offense, with tight end OJ Howard going down for the season, which is a big hit to their receiving corps. The 49ers, meanwhile, are getting healthier coming out of the bye, with both linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Jaquiski Tartt both expected back this week. For that reason, I’ll give them the edge in this one, but this could easily end up being a push.

Final Update: Foster will not play for the 49ers after being arrested for domestic violence last night. Despite that, sharp action on San Francisco has pushed this line down to 2. Given that, I’m changing my pick, but this is still a no confidence pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 San Francisco 49ers 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) at New York Giants (2-7)

The Buccaneers lost last week at home to the Redskins, falling to 3-6 on the season, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, as they rank 19th with a +0.15% first down rate. They’ve been killed by the turnover margin, ranking dead last with a -19 turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be completely unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Buccaneers had a -4 turnover margin in last week’s loss, the biggest reason why they lost despite winning the yardage battle 501-286 and the first down battle 29-15, but, on average, teams with a turnover margin of -4 in a game have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. As a result of that, they obviously perform a lot better on the scoreboard (48.8% winning percentage, 52.5% cover percentage).

The Buccaneers are an underrated team and because of that we are getting good line value with them here as 2.5 point road underdogs in New York against the lowly Giants. They’re also in a much better spot, as the Giants have a key divisional game in Philadelphia next week, while the Buccaneers have arguably their easiest game of the season, at home against the 49ers. Favorites are just 53-89 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. While the Giants could easily overlook the Buccaneers with a much bigger game on defense, the Buccaneers should be fully focused with no upcoming distractions on the schedule.

The Buccaneers’ defensive injuries concern me, as they will be without linebacker Lavonte David and safety Justin Evans in this one, after already being without linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Vinny Curry. The Buccaneers’ defense has been pretty bad even with those players healthy though and I trust the Buccaneers’ talented offense to win a shootout here on the road against one of the worst teams in the league. This would be a bigger play if they were healthier, but Tampa Bay is still worth a bet this week.

Sunday update: +3s have showed up Sunday Morning. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it’s great to have protection against a New York 3-point win. I’m making this a higher confidence pick as a result.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 New York Giants 27 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3

Confidence: High