By JOHN FELTMAN
After defeating the Atlanta Falcons 31-24 on the road this past Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a team with a huge chip on their shoulder. The Bucs have not made the playoffs since 2007 (won the NFC South), but they went into the Georgia Dome looking like they were ready to break that drought.
Jameis Winston had a career day; tossing four touchdown passes on the afternoon and remained undefeated against the Falcons in his young career. Mike Evans also had five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown as well.
The Bucs had a very strong offensive performance, racking up 371 total net yards. They did struggle on third down (3-10), but they came out with a victory, which is the most important stat in the book. This was nice to see from the Bucs, as this offense may surprise everyone throughout the course of the season.
Not only was there offensive performance strong, but there defense shined as well. Allowing 24 points certainly isn’t considered a dominant defensive performance, but in the first half, the Bucs did a nice job of containing the Falcons offense. A defense tends to soften up late in the game when they are up a decent amount of points, and this was the case in this game as the Bucs had a 31-13 lead at one point in the third quarter.
The Bucs made key stops all game, only allowing the Falcons to convert three third downs. The overall defensive statistics may not look as strong, but the final score did not indicate the true competitiveness of the game.
With this win, the Bucs will try to carry this momentum on the road in Arizona this upcoming Sunday. This will be another big test for the young team, as the Cardinals are one of the best in the NFL.
Despite this, the Cardinals lost their home opener on Sunday night against the Patriots 23-21. This will make it even more difficult for the Bucs, as it’s tough to imagine the Cardinals losing back-to-back home games. These two teams have an all-time record of 9-9 when versing one another in the regular season.
The Cardinals did not look like the 13 win team they were a year before. They struggled to string together long drives, thus only putting up 21 points on the night. Notably, Larry Fitzgerald recorded his 99th, and 100th career touchdown reception. This moved Fitzgerald into the NFL’s top 10 of career touchdown catches. The Cardinals did have a chance to win the game at the end of the game, driving all the way down to New England’s 23 yard line with under a minute left in regulation. But, a bad snap and bad hold by quarterback Drew Stanton caused kicker Chandler Catanzaro to shank the kick.
If the Bucs want to win this game, they will have to play their best football. Winston will have to almost replicate the performance he put together against the Falcons, as the Cardinals are a team that can put up a lot of points in a short period of time. Their defense will also have to make some key stops like they did last week to try and slow down that high-powered offense.
The Bucs are certainly an underdog heading into this matchup, and there will not be many experts picking them to come out with a win. Not only are they on the road, the Cardinals were one of the best teams at home last season, putting together a 7-1 record.
BREAKING DOWN THE OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
Quarterbacks Jameis Winston (Bucs) and Carson Palmer (Cardinals) both had nice games on Sunday. Unfortunately, Palmer did not play well enough for the Cardinals to come out with a victory. Palmer is a proven veteran in this league, as he had a tremendous 2015 season. Winston, in his second season in the NFL, still has a lot to prove if he wants to be considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league. However, if Winston continues to play as well as he did this past weekend, he will certainly be on his way to becoming an elite NFL quarterback. In this matchup, I have to give the edge to Palmer, only because he is a more proven pocket- passer, has more weapons on offense and the Cardinals are at home.
The wide receiving core of the Bucs just doesn’t match the receiving core of the Cardinals. Mike Evans is the Bucs number one receiver and is an extraordinary talent. But, an old Vincent Jackson isn’t quite the elite receiver that he used to be, thus making him a very mediocre player. The Cardinals destroy the Bucs in this department, lead by future hall-of-famer Larry Fitzgerald. Following Fitzgerald, the Cardinals have deep threat Michael Floyd, speedsters John and Jaron Brown, and J.J. Nelson in their very deep receiving core. There’s a no-brainer here that the Cardinals have the edge in this department.
Now, running backs Doug Martin (Bucs) and David Johnson (Cardinals) are some of the best in the league. Martin had a great 2015 season, and started right where he left off totaling over 90 yards of rushing and receiving yards against the Falcons. Johnson came into 2015 as a backup, but due to injuries in the Cardinals backfield, he claimed the starting job and put up big time numbers including a 229 total yard performance week 15 against the Eagles. This is a lot closer than you might think, but I have to give Johnson the edge here, as his attributes as a player are extremely higher than Martin’s.
Both of these teams have a very strong defense. The Bucs defense might be young but, as you saw on Sunday, they have the capability to make key stops when they need to. They will continue to get even better as the weeks progress, which only gives promise for the future. However, the Cardinals defense is fully loaded with talent. Led by Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson, this defense will feast on opposing offenses. Any small mistake the Bucs make on Sunday, the Cardinals will be all over it. The Cardinals held the Patriots to 23 points on Sunday and they forced two turnovers.
The Bucs allowed the Falcons 374 yards of offense, but they made enough big stops to win the game. It’s just tough to go against this Cardinals defense, as they led the NFL in blitzes last season.
I did give the edge to the Cardinals in pretty much every aspect of this preview. I just don’t think this is a good matchup for the Bucs, as it’s going to be tough to go into Arizona and come out with a win, especially since the Cardinals lost a heartbreaker last Sunday. The Cardinals offense is extremely explosive and will give the Bucs’ defense a huge test. I think if Winston plays well, and doesn’t turn the ball over against that tenacious defense, they certainly will have a chance to win this game. But, I don’t see that happening. I predict the Cardinals to come out with a win by the score of 35-20.
John Feltman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org