The defending champion New England Patriots visit Tampa Bay to kick off Week 5 of the NFL season Thursday night. It is the Pats’ first trip to Tampa Bay since 1997. No other team in the league has gone as long without playing a game in a foe's home building.
An indication that this game should be high scoring is the over/under that early Thursday morning stood at 55.5, which matches the highest for a game this season – when the Patriots won at New Orleans 36-20 in Week 2.
It all makes sense since the league's 30th-rated defense (Tampa Bay) takes on a New England unit that not only is ranked last but on pace to yield more yards per game than any team in history (456.8).
Now for a closer look at the game. The odds listed are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas:
New England Patriots (2-2) at Tampa Bay Bucs (2-1)
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Line: Patriots by 5.5 (55.5)
Facts: The Tom Brady/Bill Belichick combo has gone 7-0 (5-2 ATS) in midseason Thursday games dating to 2002. The Bucs are 0-2 (SU/ATS) the past two years with QB Jameis Winston, but he had five TD throws and only INT in those games... Bucs PK Nick Folk, who replaced the fired Robert Aguayo this summer, botched two FG tries and a PAT attempt last week in a 25-23 win over NYG, angering bettors who had TB minus 2.5... The last game with a higher O/U total was the Super Bowl when the number was 58 as NE beat Atlanta in OT 34-28... The Bucs are off to their fastest start since 2011, when they opened 2-1. They finished at 4-12... TB gets back RB Doug Martin after a three-game suspension.
Analysis: A key for the Bucs will be how well Martin, who was second in the league with 1,402 rushing yards in 2015, responds after his layoff. If he's like Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, he may need a few games to get up to speed. Winston, meanwhile, surely will pile up the yards against a defense that's looked flabbergasted in recent outings at home against Houston and rookie QB Deshaun Watson (a 36-33 win) and last week in a 33-30 loss to Cam Newton and Carolina. However, Brady should skewer a Bucs secondary that allowed Minnesota backup Case Keenum to throw for three TDs (no INTs) and 369 yards two weeks ago. FYI: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (thigh) and LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) are questionable.
Forecast: Patriots 40, Bucs 27