After beating Atlanta outright as a road underdog in Week 1, Tampa Bay spent the better part of the next two months playing unpredictable football. They were outclassed by Arizona, Denver, and in the second meeting against the Falcons and headed into Week 10 as a home underdog to bottom feeder Chicago. Lose that game and drop to 3-6 with tough upcoming games at Kansas City and home vs. Seattle. Instead, the Bucs cruised past the Bears and then stole one last week with a 19-17 win over the Chiefs. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this mini two-game winning streak coincides with the return of running back Doug Martin. Martin is an excellent multipurpose back that can block and catch the ball out of the backfield. Tampa is now 3-0 SU and ATS with Martin on the field and his presence has provided Jameis Winston with more options both vertically and underneath. Winston had some early season struggles, particularly with bad decision making, but over his last three games he flashes a 7-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Tampa Bay’s time of possession numbers have skyrocketed with the Bucs possessing the ball for 37 minutes against Chicago and 35 minutes against Kansas City. Again, this is a direct result of having Martin on the field. More importantly, it has revitalized what was a beaten down defense. Tampa allowed only 27 points and forced a whopping six turnovers against the Bears and Chiefs. Against Atlanta and Oakland, the stop unit was on the field for 77 minutes. Tampa Bay is now 5-5 and a game behind Atlanta (6-4) for first place in the NFC South. The remaining schedule is stout with the Seahawks coming to town this weekend, a trip to San Diego, followed by three divisional games and sandwiched in between a contest in Dallas. They’ll be underdogs in at least four of those six games but it’s a role the Bucs have thrived under: All five of their pointspread covers resulted in outright wins as an underdog. This is a squad I’ll be looking to back the remainder of the campaign.
The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs five straight seasons but are in grave danger of seeing that streak end. Head coach Marvin Lewis has seemingly always been on the hot seat due to the Bengals’ inability to perform in the postseason. But at 3-6-1, you get the sense that the “lame duck” talk is real, especially considering this team was projected to be a top five AFC outfit. I think they really miss former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and his creative play calling. The yardage is there but Cinci’s scoring average is down six points from last year. And the defense has seen a noticeable down-tick as it ranks 21st in the NFL at 5.8 yards per play allowed. The schedule has no doubt been tough but take a step back and you’ll notice that Cincinnati’s three wins came against Cleveland, Miami (prior to the Dolphins’ recent surge) and the New York Jets. With the exception on a trip to Cleveland, their remaining five games feature teams currently .500 or better. And as if things can’t get any worse, it looks like A.J. Green will be out for an extended stretch of time with a hamstring tear. Cincinnati has one pointspread cover (vs. Cleveland) since he the start of October and when you have an upper-tier squad that continues to underachieve there is simply no reason – especially with its best player now out – to call for a turnaround. The whole situation is eerily similar to what’s going on in Green Bay as the Packers have lost four straight and like Lewis, Mike McCarthy looks to be on borrowed time.