Denver Broncos at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3, 43 o/u)
Is there a time of the year that comes and goes as quickly as the NFL season? (Maybe Christmas?) I can’t believe we are already through three games. But now is not the time to dwell over what life is like without football; instead, let’s cherish what we have in front of us: Week 4.
One of the 15 games (yep, we’re already at bye weeks) set for Sunday (October 2) features the Denver Broncos (3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS) travelling to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS) at Raymond James Stadium (4:05 PM ET).
I can’t remember a defending Super Bowl champion that’s been doubted as much as the Denver Broncos. But I do understand why: Peyton Manning retired, and the Broncos were going to start a second-year, seventh-round draft pick who had never thrown an NFL pass. In spite of leading his team to a 2-0 record, which included a win over their Super Bowl counterparts Carolina, Trevor Siemian was still facing the “placeholder” label. However, a four-touchdown performance in Cincinnati last week turned a lot of heads.
Although the Broncos only rank 20th in total offense, 20th in passing, and 14th in rushing, Siemian (63/94 for 756 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions) is moving the ball, and has now started taking his shots down the field to both Emmanuel Sanders (17 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns) and Demaryius Thomas (15 receptions for 238 yards and one touchdown).
You may not be able to see it on the stat sheet, but the Broncos pivot is also aiding C.J. Anderson (54 carries for 203 yards and three total touchdowns) and the run game due to his mobility and the legitimate threat of him pulling the ball and booting to the backside. Denver does rank fourth in points scored (84 points), but they also have their defense, which is responsible for 12 of those points, to thank for that.
Speaking of the defense, the unit ranks seventh in yards allowed, fourth against the pass, second in sacks (12), and eighth in points allowed. But the unit has shown a slight Achilles’ heel, ranking 27th against the run and 25th in yards per carry (4.7).
The Bucs, who will be looking to exploit this weakness, come into this game fresh off a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in their home opener (37-32). Tampa Bay has now dropped two straight, and have committed seven turnovers in those games. Jameis Winston, who is accountable for all eight of the team’s turnovers, is rightfully taking a lot of the blame.
Winston (86/142 for 946 yards, eight touchdowns, and six interceptions) and the Bucs offense came storming out of the gates (beating Atlanta 31-24 in Week 1 on the strength of four Winston TD passes), but have since been slowed due to actual storms. As a unit, they still rank ninth in total offense and sixth through the air, but only 23rd on the ground and 16th in scoring.
Moving forward, the formula is pretty simple: stop turning the ball over. However, that’s much easier said than done.
Defensively, Tampa Bay has the same issues as they did last season: they can’t cover anyone and are being put in bad situations by their offense far too often. This has led to surrendering a league-worst 101 points in the first three games of the season.
With the Broncos coming to town, the Bucs defense will have to continue stymieing the ground game (allowing 3.5 yards per carry – eighth overall), while finding a way to give their corners some help against Thomas and Sanders.
Offensively, they’ll have to take advantage of Denver’s struggles to stop the run. Without Doug Martin, that won’t be easy. Charles Sims is a nice change-of-pace back when Martin is healthy. Whether he can carry the full load week after week remains to be seen. They’ll also have to pray that “Famous Jameis” is starting to learn the importance of ball security.
While Tampa Bay’s offensive line has only given up five sacks on the season (tied for seventh), they have yet to play a team with a pass-rush that can hold a candle to the Broncos’. Winston will be under a ton of pressure all game, and Mike Evans will have to deal with Aqib Talib and/or Chris Harris for 60 minutes.
Siemian will continue to grow as a quarterback, and will have the opportunity for another big week against Tampa Bay’s secondary, which has already given up seven touchdowns through the air, and a defense that struggles to generate turnovers.
Pick: Broncos (-3).
Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].