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New England Patriots vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Point Spread - Pick ATS

New England Patriots (2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS)
NFL Week 5
Date/Time: Thursday October 5th 8:25 PM EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium
TV: CBS
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: NE-5 / TB +5
Over/Under Total: 55.5

The Patriots head south to take on the Buccaneers for a primetime battle on Thursday Night Football. The teams have met three times over the past eleven seasons, with New England winning all three matchups by a combined score of 86-10, though the last time they played was back in 2013 when Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was still in college in and in the process of winning the Heisman Trophy and leading his Florida State Seminoles to a National Championship.

While the play of Tom Brady is usually what gets the most attention on the Patriots, unfortunately for their fans the talk of New England this season has instead been about the lackluster porous play of the defense. The Patriots currently rank at the bottom of the barrel in every major defensive category and now sit at marks of 32nd against the pass, 31st in scoring, 26th against the rush and 32nd in total defense. They have allowed all four quarterbacks theyíve gone against so far to complete 70% of their passes and each to throw for at least 300 yards, with Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in week one throwing for the second most amount of yards in a regular season game since his career began back in 2005 and just last week Cam Newton throwing for his highest amount of yards since week two of 2016. In case you arenít convinced to their terribleness so far, New England has also allowed the most amount of receiving touchdowns (11), are 30th in yards per catch, 31st in yards per carry and just last week forced Carolina into only one punt thanks in large part to letting them convert 6 of 9 third down attempts.

The most surprising part of their struggling play thus far has been their defensive backfield, which to start the season was considered one of the best in the league. After signing high priced free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore, many expected him to team with fellow corner Malcolm Butler to help shut down opposing receivers but instead Gilmore has been lost through the first four games and Butlerís play has been inconsistent at best as he tries to get over his hurt feelings from the Patriots not having offered him a lucrative contract extension in the offseason. While the corners have played poorly they are far from alone as defensive leader and Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty has been playing the worst football of his now eight year NFL career and will need to turn his play around and lead by example as the backfield around him continues to let opposing offenses march back and forth down the field on them at will. The most frustrating part about their struggles through the first month is that it is clear that the talent is there, which makes their inconsistent, lackadaisical play thus far that much more inexcusable and disappointing to watch.

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Thankfully all hope is not lost as the Patriots still have Tom Brady, who continues to play at a ridiculously high level and put his team in position to win every time he steps on the field. On the season Brady has thrown ten touchdowns and zero interceptions and has now put up a 51/2 TD-INT ratio over his last twenty regular season games. He has formed a consistent connection with Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, though it is running back James White that is currently the team leader in receptions and also the only back on the team to be averaging over 4 yards per carry. Unfortunately for the offense though Brandin Cooks has yet to make the impact many expected when the Patriots gave up multiple early round picks to trade for him, and is just fifth on the team in receptions with thirteen and the Houston game in week three the only one he has scored in so far this season. The offense as a whole will need their line up front to start playing with a lot more consistency as well, as they have continued to allow Brady to take multiple hits per game and have now given up the sixth most amount of sacks in the league with 13.

New Englandís line on offense isnít the only one struggling, as their defensive one hasnít been playing at a particularly high level either and are just 26th in the league in sacks. This does not bode well for them against the Buccaneers and especially their quarterback Jameis Winston, who is playing some of the best football of his career thus far and just last week threw for 300 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions for the first time since joining the NFL. Winston had thrown for over 300 yards just five times in his first 32 pro games, but this season has already eclipsed that mark twice in his first three matchup and now gets to look forward to taking on the Patriotsí sieve of a pass defense.

Winstonís favorite target continues to be wide receiver Mike Evans, who has nearly twice as many receptions as the next highest player on the team and on the season has put up 19 catches for 227 yards and two scores. Evans has been a consistent force for the Bucs over the past couple of seasons and has scored 14 touchdowns and his past 19 games while also putting up at least four catches in 22 of his last 23 matchups. Free agent wideout Desean Jackson has started somewhat slow for Tampa, but given the Patriots particularly issue of allowed speedy players, or sometimes just Fozzy Whitaker, to find holes to exploit in their defense, they along with embattled defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have to pay particular attention to Jackson or risk getting beat on a big play yet again this season.

The Bucs running game will get a boost on Thursday with the return of expected starter Doug Martin from a four game suspension for PEDís that he started serving at the end of last season. Jacquizz Rodgers had done a serviceable enough job as his backup thus far averaging over four yards per carry, but the team as a whole ranks just 26th in rushing yards per game and has scored on the ground just once all season, so getting Martin back can only help as they attempt to add more balance to their offensive attack and in turn take some of the added pressure off of Winston.

While Winston has the offense clicking to start the season and currently ranked at 3rd in passing and 9th in yards per game, their defense has been near opposite and playing more at the bottom of the barrel level on par with the defense they will going up against this week with the Patriots. The Bucs D currently rank 30th in yards, 31st against the pass and 17th in scoring, and this is all while playing against lower tier competition and getting their wins from two teams that have combined for a record of 1-7. With both teams unable to put up much of a fight on defense, itís easy to understand why the over/under of 55.5 is the highest of any game this weekend and even with the elevated amount wouldnít at all be surprising to see the game hit the over for the 9th straight game played by New England.

Every year the Patriots seem to have at least one game where they have struggled going into it, most people doubt them, and then they play dominant football and put their fans worries to rest. After watching them through the first month of the season though, itís hard to have much confidence in that happening with such a quick turnaround considering just how terrible and uninspired their defense has played through nearly all 240 minutes of game play thus far. Each week is essentially a race between Brady and the offense against their very own defense to see if they can put as many points as the other side of the ball is allowing and now this week draw a young Bucs team playing strong football and have the personnel to be able to exploit the Patriots waylaid D. I have no doubt in Bradyís ability to light up the scoreboard against a Bucs defense that has struggled against lesser quarterbacks so far and wouldnít be much at all surprised if the Patriots start playing the sort of football most expected before the season started, but with their defense playing as poorly as they have been itís likely a safer investment to take the head start and back Tampa with the points at home against New England. Despite that, I am still taking New England in this and the reason is Bill Belichick. As bad as Patricia and the defense have been, I would put my money behind Belichick doing what he has done throughout his career in New England, and step up when things look their bleakest and turn things around for the team and lead them to a much needed win in Tampa.

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