4:25 PM EST, FOX – Line: Lions -3.0, Over/Under: 44.0
A pair of surprising division leaders looking to extend their respective leads clash this evening on the Gulf Coast, as the surging Detroit Lions battle the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from Raymond James Stadium. Coming into this season, a trendy pick to not only advance to the playoffs but win their division was the Lions (4-1, 1st in NFC North), who with five games in the books look to be well on their way to meeting both goals. Simply put, Detroit has clearly been the class of the North, while staking their claim as the next team in line behind the NFC’s elite tier of clubs (San Francisco and Philadelphia). Though his tenure in Motown got off to a painfully slow start, (Head Coach) Dan Campbell has overseen a wealth of growth over the last year and some change, and is now reaping the benefits of a talented, young group that is physically imposing on both sides of the football. On offense thus far, these cats rank fourth in points scored (29.6) and sixth in total offense (394.0), including ninth in passing yards (253.0), fourth in net yards per attempt (7.33), seventh in rushing yards (141.0), and seventh in red zone percentage (63.2%). Campbell managing to retain the services of (Offensive Coordinator) Ben Johnson is looking smarter and smarter with each passing week, as the attack has produced thirty-one or more points in three of their last four outings. After experiencing a renaissance campaign last Fall, (veteran Quarterback) Jared Goff has flourished in this second act of his career, completing an efficient 69.8% of his throws for 1,265 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions, all the while enjoying excellent pass-protection in suffering just seven sacks in five games. (Veteran Tailback) David Montgomery arrived via free agency from Chicago and has thrived behind one of the league’s best Offensive Lines, rushing for nearly 100 yards per game (98.2) and six touchdowns despite missing a contest with a knee injury. The 26-year-old has established himself as RB1 despite the presence of (2023 12th Overall Pick) Jahmyr Gibbs, who has yet to really find his footing within Johnson’s scheme, as Montgomery’s (pictured below) tough running between the tackles has brought a tangible sense of balance to the attack, in turn creating a wealth of opportunities for Goff in terms of play-action. When we last saw the Lions, they absolutely hammered the winless Panthers in a 42-24 thumping at Ford Field last weekend. The hosts established their superiority quickly in this one, folks, racing out to a 14-0 lead before making it 28-7 before the visitors tacked on a field goal prior to intermission. In the end, Campbell’s troops amassed 377 total yards on twenty-three first downs, including 159 of the rushing variety on thirty carries, as Montgomery barreled his way to 109 yards and a touchdown on nineteen rushes. Goff completed 20-of-28 passes for 236 yards and three scores, while rushing for another touchdown on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Seven different players caught at least two passes, with (veteran Wideout) Josh Reynolds leading the way with seventy-six yards and one of those touchdowns on four receptions, while (Rookie Tight End) Sam LaPorta continued to impress with three catches for forty-seven yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 31-yard score on a trick play late in the first half. Defensively, (Sophomore Edge-Rusher) Aidan Hutchinson keeps wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage, logging an interception and a sack of (2023 1st Overall Pick) Bryce Young, headlining a unit that capitulated more than Campbell and (Defensive Coordinator) Aaron Glenn would like, shipping 342 yards on twenty-six first downs, including 247 yards through the air. They did however, force three turnovers on the day, picking off Young on two occasions. As we’ll get into shortly, Detroit has lost the services of not one, but two starters in the Secondary for significant time, which will force Glenn to adjust his coverages moving forward. The Panthers don’t possess a potent passing attack by any means, which does create concern for when these felines matchup with more experienced Quarterbacks and dangerous Receiving Corps. In fact, they have been largely fortunate in avoiding many such teams in that regard; Kansas City was without Travis Kelce due to injury in the season opener, while the rest of the team was plagued by drops, and the likes of Atlanta, Green Bay, and Carolina are hardly menacing through the air. However, in a loss to Seattle back in Week Two, they were torched for 328 yards and two touchdowns (including the game-winner in overtime) on 32-of-41 passing, sacking and hitting Geno Smith just once despite both of his Offensive Tackles being on the mend. It will be interesting to see how Detroit fares in today’s matchup with Tampa’s formidable Receiving Corps, with their size and experience potentially causing major issues for this shorthanded Defensive Backfield…
From a betting perspective, the Lions are 4-1 straight-up and against the spread, with their lone loss in that latter regard being in their home opener, a 31-37 overtime affair against Seattle (+4.5). Since then, Detroit has covered three consecutive games, all as favorites, with last weekend’s thumping of the Panthers coming as a sizeable 9.5-point favorite. Dating back to last season, this has been one of the best teams versus the spread, covering eight of their last ten games overall, including seven of their past ten away from Ford Field. While they have failed to cover either of their last two meetings with the Buccaneers, they were successful in their last trip to Raymond James Stadium, emerging with a 24-21 victory as a 1-point underdog back in 2017. Goff has yet to face Tampa since he was traded to Motown, but has split two career meetings, completing an efficient 70.6% of his passes for an average of 446.5 yards on 7.27 net yards per attempt with as many touchdowns (5) as interceptions. Furthermore, this is a team that has covered the spread in SIX consecutive games against opponents with winning records, while riding a 5-game streak of covers after amassing over 350 total yards of offense, which is the case this evening. On the injury front, these Lions are dealing with their share of bumps of bruises coming into this contest; (Offensive Linemen) Taylor Decker (ankle) and Jonah Jackson (ankle), (Rookie Safety) Brian Branch (ankle), (Linebacker) Julian Okwara (knee), and (Pro-Bowl Receiver) Amon-Ra St. Brown (abdominal), along with the aforementioned Gibbs (hamstring), and LaPorta (calf) are all listed as questionable. However, there are more significant issues here, as Campbell & Co are going to be shorthanded in the Secondary, where (versatile Defensive Back) C.J. Gardner-Johnson and (veteran Cornerback) Emmanuel Mosely are both out of action for the foreseeable future. The former was placed on injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle in Week Two and the latter suffered a torn ACL in last weekend’s affair. Both veterans were notable additions via free agency, and Detroit has been forced to scour the market for reinforcements, adding Anthony Averett earlier in the week. Looking ahead, the Lions will remain on the road for a trip to Baltimore next weekend to face the Ravens, before returning to the Motor City to battle the Raiders prior to entering their bye week.
Meanwhile, one of the many surprises of the season that literally nobody seems to be talking about are the Buccaneers (3-1, 1st in NFC South), who have easily outperformed low expectations this Fall. Following the retirement of Tom Brady, this is a team that has really pounded the reset button in terms of their personnel, turning over their roster with a whopping TWENTY-TWO players who weren’t on the team a year ago, including FOURTEEN rookies, the second-highest total in the league this Fall. Furthermore, (Head Coach) Todd Bowles and (General Manager) Jason Licht have really leaned into the whole youth movement approach, with THIRTY-FOUR or their troops aged twenty-six years or younger. Simply put, this is what needed to be done for a club that looked old and slow last season, two years removed from earning their second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Sure, there are still a number of veteran mainstays to be found here, including (Pro-Bowl Receivers) Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, (Pro-Bowl Linebacker) Devin White, (massive Nose Tackle) Vita Vea, and (menacing Edge-Rusher) Shaquil Barrett, but there are also some notable new faces, none more so than (polarizing Quarterback) Baker Mayfield. To say that this man’s career has been a rollercoaster would be an insult to Six Flags; drafted number one overall in 2018, the Heisman-winner helped lead the Browns to their first playoff appearance in eighteen years, though eventually fell out of favor with the franchise, his teammates, and the fan base due to injuries, erratic play, and his outspoken personality, leading to his exit in 2022. Mayfield would play for both the Panthers and Rams last Fall, before entering free agency and finding a landing spot on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Under the direction of (new Offensive Coordinator) Dave Canales, Mayfield (pictured below) has quietly put together the most efficient stretch of play of his career, completing a personal-best 69.6% of his throws for an average of 220.5 yards per game on 6.65 net yards per attempt (his highest since he was a rookie), with seven touchdowns opposed to just two interceptions, and a QBR of 69.9, which would also stand as a career-high. As was the case last year, the running game has continued to be ineffective despite ranking tenth in attempts (29.3), but credit Canales, Mayfield, and the rest of the offense for keeping the chains moving (47.4% on third down) and taking care of the football (just 3 turnovers thus far). Defensively, Bowles is proving once again that he is one of the league’s best tacticians and teachers on that particular side of the football, as the Bucs have relinquished just 17.0 points per game (8th Overall) on 318.6 total yards (11th Overall), while ranking second overall in both takeaways (10) and red zone percentage (27.3%). When we last saw them, Tampa really took it to New Orleans in this regard, relegating the Saints to a scant 197 total yards on sixteen first downs in a 26-9 victory two weeks ago. The hosts were held to seventy rushing yards on nineteen carries, while their Quarterbacks could complete 24-of-39 passes for just 140 yards, with their starter, Derek Carr, knocked out of the game with a sprained shoulder. The visitors racked up three sacks, five hits and pressures apiece, and three takeaways, including a pair of fumbles. Vea was a wrecking ball in the trenches, with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble, while (journeyman Cornerback) Dee Delaney snared his second interception of the season. Offensively, it was a balanced effort for the Bucs, who totaled 353 yards, including 114 on the ground, while Mayfield calmly completed 25-of-32 attempts for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception despite losing Evans to a strained hamstring in the first half. Eight different players caught a pass in this one, led by Godwin, who hauled in eight receptions for 114 yards, while (Sophomore Tailback) Rachaad White logged seventy-eight yards from scrimmage on eighteen touches. Against one of the better defenses in the NFL, these pirates kept the chains moving throughout the afternoon, converting a healthy 8-of-15 third downs despite being potentially slowed by eleven penalties for a whopping ninety-one yards in losses. Now coming off their bye, this is a real opportunity to test their mettle against one of the better teams in the league, and as we stated earlier, they should find some favorable matchups to exploit in Detroit’s depleted Secondary. If Bowles’ Offensive Line can keep protecting Mayfield against a strong defensive front, then the likes of Evans & Godwin should find plenty of space to operate downfield.
From a betting perspective, the Buccaneers are 3-1 straight-up and against the spread, with their lone defeat in that latter regard coming in an 11-25 loss at home on Monday Night Football against the Eagles (-5.5). Tampa Bay did manage to bounce back in that aforementioned trip to the Big Easy, where they dominated the Saints despite being a 4.5-point underdog on the road. Dating back to last season, this is a team that has slowly mended their relationship with the betting community, covering four of their last ten outings overall, including three of their past ten tilts at Raymond James Stadium. As we touched upon earlier, the Bucs have handled their business in their last two meetings with the Lions, outscoring them by SIXTY-ONE points in two trips to Motown. With that being said, there are very few members of the team still on the roster for either side since their most recent encounter, as 47-7 thrashing at Ford Field back in 2020. Mayfield has faced off with these felines just once in his career, struggling mightily in a 13-10 win as a member of the Browns, completing 15-of-29 passes for 176 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. However, this is a team that has often found it hard to cover after a strong defensive performance; the Bucs are just 1-5 against the spread in their last six outings after relegating their opponent to fewer than ninety rushing yards, which is the case this evening. On the injury front, the Buccaneers are largely healthy coming off the bye week, though the majority of the attention has been paid to the aforementioned Evans, who left the win over the Saints with a tender hamstring. The Pro-Bowler was limited in practice on Thursday and is thus listed as questionable for this evening’s tilt at the Big Sombrero. Furthermore, (Veteran Cornerback) Jamel Dean (shoulder), (Rookie Linebacker) SirVocea Dennis (hamstring), and (Rookie Defensive Tackle) Kalijah Kancey (calf) are all listed as probable with various bumps and bruises, while (veteran Guard) Luke Goedeke (calf) and (Safety) Ryan Neal (concussion) are questionable. Looking ahead, the Bucs will attempt to strengthen their grip on the NFC South next weekend as they host the Falcons, before hitting the road for a tough matchup with the Bills and a potential pitfall against the feisty Texans.