By Danny Cox
This is not your normal run-of-the-mill NFL regular season. That has been made blatantly obvious by the fact that the New England Patriots are sitting at 2-2 through four weeks and the NFC South is looking incredibly strong. Yes, the Pats defeated the New Orleans Saints, who have won two in a row since that loss, but the other teams in the division are looking ever-so-dangerous.
That has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out to prove something to the rest of the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Season Record: 2-1
The Bucs have only played in three games as their first contest of the season was postponed due to Hurricane Irma. Once they were finally on the field, the Bucs handily defeated the Chicago Bears. After a rather bad loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Bucs bounced back to take out the New York Giants to keep them without a victory on the year.
Buccaneers On Offense
Jameis Winston is having a pretty decent season with 864 yards, six touchdowns, and just three interceptions. He doesn’t rack up a lot of yards on the ground, but he is quite elusive in the pocket and knows how to avoid pressure. The problem for the Patriots is that Winston has a lot of dangerous targets that a weak secondary will have trouble defending. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are two very talented stars who can make any defender look bad.
Jacquizz Rodgers has been the primary running back for the Bucs this season, and he’s done a subpar job, but that’s all about to change. After serving his suspension, Doug Martin is back for Tampa Bay and he could cause a lot of problems for a struggling New England defense.
Buccaneers On Defense
Once again, this could be where the Patriots are able to make up for any lapses on the defensive side of the ball. Tom Brady really may be able to open things up in a hurry, but he can’t sell the defense of the Bucs short. They don’t force a lot of turnovers (four), don’t rack up many sacks (one) and they give up a lot of yards (almost 400) per game, which could make things fun for Bill Belichick.
Still, with the weapons that the Pats have at their disposal on offense, they should be able to rack up a lot of yards and a lot of points on a defense that simply doesn’t know how to get after the quarterback.
Buccaneers Players To Watch: RB Doug Martin and LB Kendell Beckwith
Doug Martin is going to give the rushing attack an instant boost even after missing most of last season with injuries and the first three games of 2017. If he can get back to his rookie campaign or 2015 season, he can be extremely dangerous and one of the better backs in the league. Martin has the capability to run with power and extreme speed, which will have the Patriots needing to be on their toes as there is not much tape of him from the last year.
Rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith is the leading tackler for the Bucs this season and is proving to be a huge third-round steal from this year’s draft. Beckwith stepped in as the starting middle linebacker against the Giants and he showed that he’s ready to be a true leader on the team. While the Buccaneers don’t get into the offensive backfield often, that could change with Beckwith on the field more, and that needs to be a concern for the Patriots’ offensive line.
This will not be an easy victory or something that should be seen as “just another win” for the Patriots. Yes, the Bucs did take out the struggling New York Giants, but who hasn’t done that this season? They also defeated the Chicago Bears in Week 2, but it was done in a rather impressive 29-7 rout. There is a lot to fear coming out of Tampa Bay and to add Doug Martin to the mix makes it an even scarier situation with the way the Patriots defense has been playing.
After losing in the final seconds to the Carolina Panthers, New England is in danger of falling below .500, and it isn’t totally out of the question for that to happen against the Bucs. The Pats have every single ability needed to win on Thursday night as well as throughout the rest of the season, but they need to work as a cohesive unit and not multiple parts.