We last saw the San Diego Chargers embarassing their division rivals on prime-time Thursday, but they face a much stiffer challenge when they travel to Tampa Bay this week. Don't look now, but the Buccaneers are on the verge of becoming a very good team. Let's take a look at why I like them to win and cover the number in Week 10.
I had this game circled in the middle of last week. The look ahead line was Tampa Bay -2 and I was hoping that it would open under -3, but that didn't happen after they took care of business in Oakland.
Nevertheless, I think the Bucs should be favored by more than a field goal in this matchup. In fact, I think we are getting over a full point of value at -3, if not more. The books haven't adjusted enough for either of these teams (odds from SBRforum).
Doug Martin Express Train?
There's no doubt that Doug Martin is getting all the headlines in Tampa Bay these days, but there's a lot more to like about this Buccaneers team than their emerging rookie running back.
The Chargers rank near the middle of the pack in run defense so I don't see Martin as a big advantage. Instead, I'm focusing on what the Chargers defense is doing in the make-or-break moments. Getting off the field on third down was the major back-breaker of this team last season and it appeared like they were making some modest improvements in that area, but last week they allowed the Chiefs to go 7-of-12! Once again, this San Diego team is coming up gutless when it matters most.
Making things worse is their ranking in the red zone. They are not only bad in this area, but they rank dead last keeping people out of the end zone. It just so happens that they match-up against a top five red zone offense this week in Tampa Bay. The Bucs might not be the most consistent on offense and they don't have the greatest drive success ratings, but they do know how to capitalize on their chances when they get them.
In the last four weeks Josh Freeman has thrown 11 TDs and only 1 interception. The receivers are finally emerging as the down-field threats they were supposed to be to start the season. And speaking of receivers, Vincent Jackson must be hyped up for this game against his former team. There's no question he'll be featured heavily on Sunday.
The Chargers will have to pick their poison because if they decide to blanket coverage the outside, Martin will have some nice opportunities on the ground.
All Good in San Diego?
What a difference a week makes. It wasn't that long ago that things were in crisis mode for the Chargers. The coach was going to get fired and Philip Rivers was on the brink of being washed up.
The reality is nothing was magically cured with a win over the lowly Chiefs. The same questions are going to be asked after they lose this week in Tampa Bay. I don't put all the blame on Rivers because he simply doesn't have the weapons he used to. Mike Mayock made a good point on last week's broadcast when he emphasized the lack of weapons at Rivers disposal.
You can take Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles out of any offense and you can be sure there will be a dropoff in production. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal may or may not play because they are coming off injuries, but I don't anticipate them being big difference makers either.
Tampa's defense ranks above average in every important category, with the exception of pass defense. It almost cost them a big lead last week against the Raiders, and it might hurt them again vs the Chargers. Norv Turner loves the vertical passing game, and say what you want about him, but he is a great play-caller.
Having said that, San Diego has faced a pretty weak group of defenses this year which only makes their statistical rankings look even worse.
I don't understand this point spread whatsoever. The Buccaneers offense is clearly playing better than San Diego's. Tampa's pass defense might be poor, but they sit side-by-side the Chargers pass defense in the rankings. They also do a much better job against the run and in the crucial moments. Throw in an early cross-country trip and we have a collection of advantages in Tampa's favor. Lay the points with confidence.
NFL Pick: TB -3.