Chicago Bears (-1, 45.5 o/u) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Close your eyes and think back to the start of the NFL season, back to when a lot of us were naively excited about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5, 0-4 home) as a team on the rise. Now imagine I told you the woeful Chicago Bears (2-6, 0-4 away) would have a more effective passing attack than the Bucs, who are led by promising sophomore Jameis Winston and stud receiver Mike Evans. You’d probably laugh right in my face, because you’re not a very nice person.
But what may have sounded like a ridiculous scenario to start the year has quickly become a reality, as the Bears platoon of Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer is having more success through the air than Dirk Koetter’s offense. With a run game still on the mend, it will be up to Winston and this passing attack to knock off Chicago this Sunday (1:00 PM Eastern) and secure Tampa’s first home win on the season.
The Buccaneers still have a shot at the playoffs in a jumbled NFC, but it’s hard to think about the present when the supposed future of the franchise has looked so bad. Winston has a dreadful 59.2 completion percentage on the year, and his 6.7 yards per attempt puts him 25th in the league. His 17 touchdowns look nice, until you put it next to his 12 turnovers (nine interceptions, three lost fumbles).
Comparatively, the Cutler-Hoyer combination has identical yardage to Winston, along with a 65.7 completion percentage, 7.5 yards per attempt, and eight TDs to two interceptions. Chicago is the second-worst scoring team in the league, and yet their offense ranks ahead of Tampa’s in DVOA.
Granted, whoever has played under center for the Bears has usually had the benefit of an effective run game, whereas the Bucs have struggled to establish one with top running back Doug Martin injured. He could return to the lineup this week and give a much needed boost to this offense. But Chicago’s biggest weakness is a lackluster and inexperienced secondary; that’s the matchup Winston will need to exploit in order for Tampa to win.
Despite the Bears struggles to score this season, they have to feel good about their chances of lighting up a struggling Tampa defense. The Buccaneers surrender 29 points a game, and allow opponents to score touchdowns on 65.5-percent of red zone attempts. In Chicago’s last outing, running back Jordan Howard piled up 202 total yards and a touchdown, and he should see another heavy workload this Sunday.
Though neither team has looked objectively good this season, there’s reason to be optimistic about the Bears defense heading into the second half of the season. Pernell McPhee is back and Eddie Goldman is due to return soon, meaning a front seven that looked so promising on paper in August will finally get the chance to wreak havoc together. With Akiem Hicks, Willie Young, and Leonard Floyd also getting after the QB (13.5 combined sacks), Chicago should be able to harass Winston all afternoon.
The Bears walked into Raymond James last December and left with a 26-21 win, and these teams haven’t changed much since then. Tampa’s also a brutal 3-9 ATS at home in Winston’s career, so sticking with the road team is the play until the young quarterback can turn that trend around.
Pick: Bears (-1).
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].