Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS) vs. Minnesota Vikings (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS)
NFL Week 3
Date/Time: Sunday, September 24 at 1:00 PM EST
Where: US Bank Stadium
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TB -2.5/MINN +2.5
Over/Under Total: 39
It seems so early in the 2017 NFL season but there are already a few teams that are looking down the barrel of a long season if they cant get a win this week. The Minnesota Vikings opened up the season with an impressive win over the Saints but an injury to Sam Bradford has serious question marks attached to their playoff chances. Bradford is out again this week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town and Case Keenum will be at the helm as the Vikings look to avoid a 1-2 start. After starting the year with a hurricane-induced bye week, the Bucs will play sixteen weeks in a row and got things off to a nice start with a 29-7 win against Chicago. A 2-0 start will put Tampa in the early conversation as a playoff contender, which was the expectation entering the season.
The line for this game was held up by Bradfords injury status. The Vikings signal caller got in a couple of limited practices this week so there was some thought that he would be able to go but the call to sit him came Friday. Most online sportsbooks opened with Minnesota as a skinny 2-point favorite but the early betting was nearly 75% in favor of Tampa at that line and the point spread has swung to Tampa Bay -2.5 as of Saturday. The guys in the desert are predicting a low scoring affair with a 39 point over/under total so this one might not be the most interesting watch but no one thought the Thursday Night game was going to be good either. Tampa Bay enters as ATS winners in five of the last six games on the road and 7-2 against the spread in the last nine overall. Minnesota has struggled against winning teams with a 1-4 ATS mark in their last five against an opponent that enters with a winning record.
It was clear to see that Tampa was a little bit off in the timing department as they opened against the Bears but it turned out to be a good day for the Bucs anyway. They jumped out to a 29-0 against Chicago and nearly cruised to a shutout before giving up a solo score late. The Buccaneers defense held the Bears to just 20 rushing yards and while they did give up 300 in the passing game, they were able to net two interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown. Jameis Winston threw for just 204 yards but passed the test of not turning the ball over and that is likely going to be the biggest key for Tampas success all season. Mike Evans grabbed a touchdown and Jacquizz Rodgers found paydirt on the ground so all systems appear normal for a Bucs offense that could sneakily be a top-10 unit by the end of the year. Winston was not able to hook-up with DeSean Jackson for a big play in their first go-round but that could change this week as the Vikings have given up a big pass play in each of their first two games. Chicago is a bottom-10 offense in the league but the Bucs defense was good in all phases last week and should be good again against a limited Minnesota offensive offer.
It has been a roller-coaster for Minnesota after two weeks. Sam Bradford threw for 346 yards and three scores in the opener while rookie running back Dalvin Cook went over 100 yards in his debut. A bone bruise for Bradford let all the wind out the sails in week two as Case Keenum was able to manage just 167 yards passing and Cook ran for just 67 yards against Pittsburgh in a 26-9 loss. The Viking defense has been very good as they held New Orleans to just 12 points through four-and-a-half quarters. That defense also kept Ben Roethlisberger under 300 yards passing while keeping LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown from reaching the century mark. That D has the making of being one of the best week-to-week units in the NFL but they are scheduled to be on the field too much unless the offense can sustain some drives and keep the field position neutral or in Minnesotas favor.
I think it is clear that Tampa is going to maintain a conservative approach until they need to so look for Minnesota to be right in this game despite the key injury. Another full week of Keenum taking the first team reps should help the continuity and Keenum should be able to do a bit better in that short passing game that Bradford used to set an NFL completion percentage record. Stefon Diggs is good at taking the underneath stuff and turning it up the field and Kyle Rudolph is a tough matchup for the Bucs linebacker level. If the Bears passed for three bills against the the Tampa secondary, I would expect the Vikings to get enough production there to move the ball and score. Cook becomes a very important factor as well as the Viking offensive line play. If Minnesota can run the ball well, they can play keep-away and rest their defense.
Ultimately, I am not a full believer in the Buccaneers just yet. Winston hasnt shed that turnover-prone label after just one game and playing away from Raymond James will test his poise. Tampa likely has the talent edge at most key positions this weekend but Minnesota is a steadier team overall, and one that will be prepared to win even without Bradford. Betting the home dog is a time-honored tradition and this game is a great opportunity to do just that. I think the Vikes rally around their back-up QB and put together a gameplan to get Cook, Diggs and Adam Thielen the ball in the right spots. The Vikings defense will bend but not break against the Buccaneers offense and they should get a turnover or two by putting Winston in risky spots. I think Minnesota is a sneak moneyline bet but I will definitely take the Vikings and the points.
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