New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (11-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)

The Buccaneers had high hopes coming into this season, with former #1 overall pick Jameis Winston going into his 3rd season in the league and several additions coming in through free agency, but they have had a very disappointing season and sit at 4-11 going into the final week of the season. Injuries have been a big problem for this team, as they’ve had among the most games lost to injury of any team in the league this season, but, despite injuries, they have been better than their record suggests.

Seven of their 11 losses have come by 7 points or fewer, including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer. Their -54 point differential is 21st in the NFL and more indicative of a team that should have about 6 or 7 wins, despite the fact that they’ve struggled to produce big plays this season (5 plays of 40+ yards). Big plays like that tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them much. In terms of first down rate differential, they enter this game 12th at +0.94% and they have 15 more first downs than they’ve allowed on the season.

The amount of games they’ve played that have been decided by a touchdown or less is especially relevant, considering they are 7-point home underdogs this week against the Saints. The Buccaneers were blown out in New Orleans earlier this year, losing 30-10 in one of their few losses by more than a touchdown, but this one is in Tampa Bay and the Buccaneers did not have a healthy Jameis Winston in that one. Winston now seems to be over his early season shoulder trouble and has been playing his best football of the season in recent weeks.

In fact, since that loss in New Orleans, the Buccaneers have just one loss by more than a touchdown in 7 games and that came in Atlanta by 14 in a game in which they actually won the first down rate battle, but couldn’t generate any big plays. They’ve come within a field goal of beating both the Falcons and Panthers in the past two weeks and should be able to keep it close with the Saints this week. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -3.5, so we’re getting good line value with the hosts. The Buccaneers are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)

The Buccaneers are just 4-10, in the middle of a disappointing injury riddled season that started with strong playoff hopes, but they’ve competitive in most of their games and they have been better than their record suggests. Just 4 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or more and they rank 12th in first down rate differential at 0.92%, as they have 15 more first downs than they’ve allowed. Their big issue has been their inability to create big plays (just 4 plays of 40 yards or more, 2nd fewest in the league), but that tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much.

Last week, the Buccaneers kept it close with the Falcons, losing by 3 in a game they won the first down rate battle by 6.65%. That was despite the fact that the Buccaneers were without outside linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, two of their best defensive players, who could both return from 1-game absences after getting in some limited practices this week. The Buccaneers could easily keep it close this week in another tough divisional matchup against the Panthers, especially if one or both of McCoy and David are out there.

The Panthers have a strong record of 10-4, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, as they have just 3 wins by more than 8 points and are 7-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer. They’re also going to be without linebacker Thomas Davis and right guard Trai Turner this week, a pair of important players. Given that and how many close games these two teams have played this season, I have this line calculated at Carolina -7, even factoring in the uncertainty with David and McCoy.

The Panthers are also in a tough spot, with a huge divisional game on deck in Atlanta, a game that could have implications in both the NFC South and the NFC Wild Card races. Divisional home favorites are just 26-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which the Panthers definitely will be next week. On top of that, double digit favorites are just 58-78 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Buccaneers have a tough game next week too, as they host the Saints, a game in which they are 8.5-point underdogs on the early line. Teams are just 25-50 ATS before being home underdogs of 7+, as it’s tough to be fully focused with a tough home game on deck.

I like their spot a little bit better than Carolina’s tough, especially with the Panthers coming off back-to-back tough wins over the Vikings and Packers. They could definitely be a little flat this week. I also like the line value we’re getting with the Buccaneers a lot, as they are 10.5-point underdogs. This is just a small bet because of the uncertainty with McCoy and David, but the Buccaneers should be the smart play this week. If this line stays put and both McCoy and David play, I will consider raising this bet.

Sunday Update: Both McCoy and David are active, but this line dropped to 10, so I will not be raising this bet.

Carolina Panthers 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

The Buccaneers have been better than their 4-9 record suggests, as they enter this game 15th in first down rate differential at 0.59%, with 17 more first downs gained than allowed this season. They are just 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less and could easily be 6-7 had a couple things gone their way. Their losses to the Patriots, Packers, and Lions (by a combined 14 points) all came in games in which they won the first down battle, but came up just short on the scoreboard.

However, the Buccaneers also enter this game incredibly banged up. Jameis Winston returned at quarterback a few weeks ago, but hasn’t looked quite right with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He is also missing his top-2 offensive linemen, center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson, who are out for the season. On defense, the Buccaneers are missing arguably their best two players, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David, as well as defensive end Noah Spence and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who have been out for weeks.

This line has moved from Atlanta -3.5 on the early line to -6 this week, but, with McCoy and David both going down, I think that’s fair. The Falcons have a top-5 roster on paper and are relatively healthy and finally playing more like they did last season. I can’t be confident in the Falcons though. We’ve seen the Steelers and Patriots both have flat games on Monday Night Football in tough situations against divisional opponents in the past two weeks and we could see something similar this week, as this game is sandwiched between a pair of games against the division leading Saints on Atlanta’s schedule. The Falcons are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes as long as this line is less than 7.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

The Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs last season and they are 6-6 and in the middle of a playoff race again in the NFC, but they haven’t been as good as their record in either of the last two seasons. In 2016, they won just one game by more than a touchdown, didn’t win any games against playoff teams, and finished with a first down rate differential of -1.90%. This year, they are winning by bigger margins, but their first down rate differential is even lower at -3.83% and they are 1-6 against teams with winning records. Five of their wins have come against the Cardinals, Giants, Packers, Bears, and Browns and they lost the first down rate battle in 3 of those games.

Fortunately for the Lions, their opponents this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have more in common with the teams that the Lions have beaten this year than the teams they’ve lost to. That’s very relevant, given that the Lions only have to win this game to cover this even spread. After a big off-season, the Buccaneers entered the season with high expectations, but sit at 4-8 in the middle of an injury ruined season. Quarterback Jameis Winston has returned from his shoulder injury, but does not seem 100% yet.

Winston is also missing his top-2 offensive lineman, with center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson out for the season, leaving him with one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. On defense, the Buccaneers lost edge rusher Noah Spence for the season early in the year and are also without rotational defensive tackle Clint McDonald, starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and starting safety TJ Ward. The Lions are banged up too, with quarterback Matt Stafford playing through a hand injury and talented right tackle Ricky Wagner out of the lineup, but they are still the better of these two teams.

The Lions are also in a better spot, as the Buccaneers are coming off of a road overtime loss in Green Bay and then have to turn around and host the Falcons next week. They could easily look past the Lions a little as a result. Teams cover at just a 43% rate off of a road overtime loss (as long as they aren’t road underdogs in their second of two road games) and teams are just 39-67 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, which the Buccaneers likely will be next week. The Buccaneers probably aren’t talented enough to win this game if they aren’t focused, so the Lions seem like the smarter side, but we aren’t getting any line value with them and it’s hard to be confident in them since we don’t know the state of Stafford’s hand injury. The Lions are the choice for pick ‘em purposes only.

Detroit Lions 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit PK

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) at Green Bay Packers (5-6)

The Buccaneers get Jameis Winston back from a 3-game absence with a shoulder injury this week, but that’s about the only good news for them in terms of injuries. Center Ali Marpet and right tackle DeMar Dotson were both placed on injured reserve this week and they are by far their two best offensive linemen. Left guard Evan Smith returns from a one-game absence, but he hardly replaces Marpet and Dotson. Starting running back Doug Martin will be out as well, so, while Winston has a good receiving corps to work with in his return, he doesn’t have a good offensive line or running game, so they may struggle to set up big plays downfield. Winston also might not be at 100% because his injury is to his throwing shoulder. He wasn’t playing that well prior to being shut down.

On defense, they are without starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (3rd missed game), rotational safety TJ Ward (3rd missed game), rotational defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (1st missed game), and their top-3 defensive ends Robert Ayers (2nd missed game), William Gholston (3rd missed game), and Noah Spence (6th missed game). The Ayers injury is the biggest one, as he is by far their best defensive end. They couldn’t stop anything against the Falcons last week in his first missed game. The Buccaneers allowed the Falcons to pick up first downs at a 42.19% rate last week and now they’re missing McDonald and Ward too. With all of their injury issues, the Buccaneers rank 26th in my roster rankings, even with Winston returning.

The Packers are still missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they rank 21st in my roster rankings and are getting healthier on defense. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, outside linebacker Nick Perry, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, safety Morgan Burnett, and defensive end Mike Daniels are arguably their 5 best defensive players. They’ve played together in the same game just 4 times this season and just once since week 5. All 5 are healthy this week, so they could easily have their best defensive performance in weeks. I have this line calculated at -4, so we’re getting some line value with the Packers. It’s not enough for me to bet on Brett Hundley confidently, but the Packers should be victorious here at home against a banged up Tampa Bay team.

Green Bay Packers 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -2.5

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

The Falcons have had an up and down season, but they have consistently ranked in the top-5 of my roster rankings all season. They are not as well coached as last season, when they were the best team in the NFC, but they still have essentially the same core as last season and they could be ready to go on a run, following back-to-back quality wins over the Cowboys and Seahawks. This week they have an easy home game against the Buccaneers, which they have a good chance to win by double digits. They have flopped as big home favorites against the Bills and Dolphins earlier this year, but they’ve also won big as small home favorites against the Packers and Cowboys this season, so they should be able to blow out Tampa Bay if they are focused.

The Buccaneers have won back-to-back games, but they have come against the Jets and Dolphins and neither was an easy win. Prior to those 2 games, they lost back-to-back games by double digits to the Panthers and Saints, comparable teams to the Falcons. Their offense took a big hit when Jameis Winston got hurt, but their defense is very banged up as well. They are missing starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and their top-3 defensive ends, including top edge rusher Robert Ayers, who will miss his first game of the season this week. They should have a very tough time with Atlanta’s passing attack this week. Given all that the Buccaneers are missing, I have this line calculated at -13, so we are getting significant line value with the Falcons at -9.5. As long as you can get lower than 10, the Falcons should be the pick this week.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-5)

I am kicking myself for not taking Tampa Bay +3 when it briefly showed up at the beginning of the week. A line of -3 in favor of the hometown Dolphins suggests these two teams are about even, which is not true. The Dolphins, despite a 4-5 record, are one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their 4 wins have come by a combined 14 points, while their 5 losses have come by a combined 101 points, giving them a point differential of -87 on the season. That’s the 4th worst point differential in the NFL. They also rank 3rd worst in first down rate differential.

The Buccaneers are not a great team, especially with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they’re significantly better than the Dolphins. They rank 19th in first down rate differential on the season, as 3 of their 6 losses have come by 5 points or fewer. Obviously losing Jameis Winston hurts them, but, given the way he was playing before he went down, it doesn’t hurt them that much. Fitzpatrick is definitely not a great starting option, but he’s experienced and he’s overall an above average backup.

Fitzpatrick also has a fair amount of talent around him on offense, with Mike Evans returning from suspension. Third round rookie Chris Godwin played well in his absence and now the Buccaneers go 4 deep at wide receiver, in addition to having a talented tight end duo. Defensively, they’ve played better in recent weeks as they’ve gotten healthier in the back 7. Outside linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Brent Grimes, and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander missed 2 games, 3 games, and 4 games respectively early in the season, which hurt this defense.

Unfortunately, this line has shifted from 3 all the way to a pick ‘em. That’s exactly where I have this line, so we’ve lost all line value with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is still the pick for pick ‘em purposes because they have a tough game against the Patriots on deck, in which they are 14 point underdogs on the early line. Teams are 48-78 ATS since 2002 before being 10+ point underdogs. It’s definitely a possibility that the Dolphins don’t give their best effort for a 3-6 non-conference opponent with a huge divisional game on deck. I just don’t have a ton of interest in betting on Fitzpatrick on the road without getting field goal protection.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 Miami Dolphins 15

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay PK

Confidence: Low