Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New York Giants: TB +9 (Bodog)

Markets

The early line on this game was -9 for the G-men and it opened again at the same number after Week 1.  Am I missing something here?  You can now find the Buccaneers at anywhere between +7.5 and +9 with a tad extra juice, but I like anything over a touchdown.  I expect sharp money to bring this down to -7 by kickoff, but it's also in that uncomfortable teaser window for those liking the Giants.

Spotlight on the Secondary

It wasn't too long ago that the Giants prided themselves on pounding the ball on the ground and being equally stout stopping it with their run defense.  How times have changed.  Now New York is officially a passing team and when you have guys like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks on the outside, it's hard to blame them.

Yet, in this matchup I see a distinct divide in each team's secondaries.  The Bucanneers were heavy spenders in free agency and one of those pick-ups included Eric Wright to line up beside Aqib Talib.  In the draft, the Bucs proceeded to take Mark Barron with their 7th overall pick.  We don't need Week 1 to know that this was going to result in a marked improvement on the back end. Anytime you are able to disrupt the rhythm and timing a passing game it frees up the entire front seven.

Last week we saw a glimpse of this in both games as the revamped Cowboys secondary did a great job limiting the damage done by Eli Manning.  The same thing happened when Cam Newton lined up to face Tampa Bay.

The Bucs don't have the greatest set of linebackers in the league and it might prove to be a weakness before too long, but Lavonte David has been a big bright spot over the middle.  Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn look to be on track for a bounce back year up front as new head coach Greg Schiano has preached a return to fundamentals.

At the same time this is still a young nucleus so there will be lapses throughout the year (and games), but I'll be surprised if they wind up as gutless as last year.

On the flip side, Prince Amukamara and Michael Coe are banged up, but both are taking part in practice this week. Whether they'll be in the lineup or not I don't know, but what I do know is they are coming off injuries that tend to linger (high ankle sprain and hamstring) and are easily re-aggravated.

Look for Corey Webster to get Vincent Jackson duties, and he'll want to bounce back after an uneven opening week.  I'm sure the Giants will roll some coverage his way because Webster isn't quite a shutdown guy.

2010 Josh Freeman or 2011?

The jury is still very much out on Josh Freeman.  He tends to run hot and cold and makes some mind-numbing mistakes at times.  If he's forced to lead a comeback, the Bucs could be in trouble depending on what version of Freeman we see.  His main concern will be Jeremy Trueblood at RT who can be a downright liability at times.  This will be a monster challenge against a dynamic front line.

The good news is two-fold:

1) Freeman has better weapons than he did a year ago.  Vincent Jackson stretches the field on the outside and serves as a great option in "make-or-break" situations.  Doug Martin has stormed out of the gates as the starter in the backfield and should do a decent job keeping the Giants defense honest.

2) Despite Freeman's regression in 2011, he was actually one of the better QB's in the league when facing "pressure".  According to Football Outsiders, he finished 7th in the league in this category.  That kind of poise is a bit reassuring in a matchup like this, but he'll need to prove that it wasn't an abberration.

Super Bowl Point Spread Hangover?

One thing I don't understand is just how much respect the Giants continue to get from the sportsbooks. Perhaps they have no choice but to rank New York high, but in reality they were 7-7 after 14 games last year and didn't impress anybody until they got hot.  The regular season identity of this team is going to continue to be one marked with inconsistency.

Could they blow the Bucs out?  Sure, you know the saying "Any Given Sunday", but I don't think they should be favored by over a touchdown against a team on the upswing.  Perhaps one more loss (or non-cover) will see the books re-adjust in the coming weeks.

Bottom Line

I believe the Bucs can do enough on defense to keep this game close until the 4th quarter.  I realize the Giants have had extra time to prepare, but I have this game graded around -6 in favor of New York.  With such a discrepancy below a key number, it's a no-brainer play on the dog on "overreaction week".

NFL Pick: TB +9.

The rest of my Week 2 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.