The Patriots opened as 2.5-point underdogs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Thursday night’s preseason game.
Let’s face it, it’s a bit odd seeing the Patriots as underdogs to a team like the Bucs. In 2009, Tampa was little more than a punch line to a Steve Buscemi joke – unfunny and sad. Still, there is plenty of reasoning behind this spread. As I mentioned last week, QB depth is king in preseason, but a coach’s philosophy is nearly as important. Bucs coach Raheem Morris fields a young team and is eager to prove that last year’s 10-win season is not a fluke; the Hoodie fields a bunch of veterans who would rather spend the second quarter yucking it up on the sideline. Tampa QB Josh Freeman and the starters played almost the entire first half of the first preseason game; Brady and several other starters didn’t even see the field. Plenty of Bucs players are fighting for a job and jockeying for a starting gig; it’s easy to name at least 45 New England players who already have engraved nameplates on their lockers. If these two coaches and teams were any more different, MTV would offer them their own reality show.
The big question is how much the starters will play. After leaving Brady on the sidelines last week, Belichick will probably need a chain-link fence reinforced with razor wire to keep Brady out of the huddle in this game. I look for Brady and the starters to play a series or two into the second quarter, particularly to build a little more chemistry with some of the new faces like Ochocinco and the second-year tight ends (and because Chad’s head may explode if he doesn’t get some TV time soon).
In terms of QB depth, Tampa is solid with Freeman and Josh Johnson at the helm. Even third-stringer Rudy Carpenter posted a respectable 92 QB rating in limited action in the first preseason game. Granted, they were playing against a bunch of guys who will be bagging groceries next week, but the entire team turned in an unusually polished performance for such a young squad. The Patriots excellent QB depth will keep them competitive in most preseason games, but they could have some trouble in the second half of this one.
On paper, I think the lineups these two teams will trot out on Thursday night will be fairly close. But the betting public is likely to see New England +2.5 as a no-brainer, and if the public were really that bright, Vegas casinos would be struggling even more than their city’s housing market. In this case, I think the smart money is on the home team. I expect Tampa to win this game in the second half and cover the spread.
2010 record ATS: 25-17-1
2011 record ATS: 1-0