STAR PREVIEW Sun: Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears
ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.
Given the spread quoted on this game where the reigning Super Bowl Champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are -11.5 point favourites it looks a contest that should be easy for them especially off a longer rest than the 3-3 Bears. The Bucs are double-digit favourites for the fourth time this year but have to survive a rash of injuries (especially in their secondary) and they have actually only overcome one top-ten defence (the Patriots) and that was against a rookie quarterback.
Tampa Bay are though 5-1 and face a Bears side that have managed to beat some of the mid-tier NFL teams but find themselves coming up short when faced with quality opposition having been defeated by Green Bay, Cleveland, and the L.A. Rams by a combined score of 84-34. For all their defence has played well it’s in those aforementioned games that they have been gradually worn down and found it hard to put points on the board offensively often stuttering in scoring positions and struggling to find any creativity on offence.
Given the injuries within the Tampa Bay defence this will be an opportunity for Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields to make his mark but the question has to be asked as to whether he has the skill and knowledge yet to capitalise. Fields is without doubt going to have to throw the ball in this game as the Bucs run defence has been almost impossible to gain yards on and the front seven of Tampa Bay should be able to apply pressure all game, and Fields has struggled when pressured.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fields has been under pressure on 40.8% of his dropbacks and has a passer rating of 27.2 on those 53 dropbacks. It won’t surprise me to see Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles bringing the blitz on a regular basis; Bowles has already called that scenario on 39% of their opponents dropbacks this year, the highest in the NFL.
If Fields can negotiate the pressure then Darnell Mooney will be his main target; Mooney leads Chicago in catches (16), yards (246), and first-down conversions (10) on throws from Fields, while Tampa Bay has surrendered the NFL’s third-most 20-plus-yard completions (28). Mooney is the Bears top deep threat although it won’t be a surprise to see Allen Robinson with whom Fields has found zero chemistry so far bounce back to form against a weakened Bucs secondary if Fields can negotiate the inevitable pressure that the Bucs will bring.
To have any success at all in this game the Bears will have to hustle and harry Bucs quarterback Tom Brady and that won’t be easy and the task has been made harder by having one of their leading pass-rushers Robert Quinn on the Reserve/Covid-19 list. Brady despite suffering a thumb injury last week controlled the game against the Eagles possessing the ball for nearly 40 minutes and using the ground game to good effect. The Bucs tallied 102 yards on 31 carries and Chicago had problems last week quelling the Packers ground game giving up 154 yards on 31 Green Bay carries.
With the Bears having played stout pass defence lately the Bucs will have been pleased to have got their ground game going via Leonard Fournette who appears to have established himself safely as the lead running back. Posting 81 yards on the ground in the win over the Eagles plus a couple of close range touchdowns Fournette will be looking to add to those numbers against the Bears and he carries plenty of upside in the props market.
Antonio Brown will be missing from the Bucs wide receiver rotation but Mike Evans and Chris Godwin give Brady two excellent receiving targets.
With Evans likely to draw the Bears top cornerback Jaylon Johnson in coverage it could well be Godwin who is the main receiving threat. Godwin leads the Bucs in catches and has a team-high 12 red zone targets but no touchdowns for the last four weeks. This could well be the spot for Godwin to “get right” and return to the touchdown scorers list.
Unders are 5-1 in Bears games this year (tied first with Chargers and Bengals) and it’s their lack of scoring prowess that see this dip under the 48.5 total. Given his play so far it’s hard to trust Fields until he shows that he can handle and read defences such as he will face here against the Bucs. With Fournette likely to get plenty of chances to score and rack up yards on the ground I’ll push the chips on the running back with momentum to have a big game against a defence that struggles versus the run with Brady more than happy to replicate the Eagles game and control the clock again.
PROFIT/LOSS (OCTOBER 2021): PROFT 10.81 points
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