NFL 2017 Week 5: New England Patriots vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers preview and prediction

The defending champs try to pick themselves off the mat with a Thursday night road tilt against a team on the rise

Week 5 kicks off with what should be, for a change, a genuinely exciting Thursday Night Football match. The New England Patriots will try to get their season back on track against a much-hyped Tampa Bay side.

The leaky Pats defense once again cost them in a 33-30 week 4 loss to Carolina, which dropped them to 2-2. The Panthers came in struggling with their passing game, yet Cam Newton lit the Pats up with 316 yards and three scores. Tom Brady tried to match him all the way throwing for 307 yards on his end, with scoring passes to Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. The back-and-forth game was tied at 30 in the fourth, but Newton drove Carolina down the field in the closing moments for Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal.

The Buccaneers pushed their record to 2-1 with a 25-23 thriller over the New York Giants. The Bucs looked like they might run away with the game early when Jameis Winston threw first-quarter touchdown passes to Mike Evans and O.J. Howard to jump out to 13-0 lead, but the Bucs couldn’t hold down Eli Manning and faced a one-point deficit late. That’s when Winston calmly led them down the field to set up Nick Folk’s winning field goal as time expired. Winston ended with 332 yards and three scores.

Keys to the game

Defenseless champs: The New England defense is struggling to a degree rarely witnessed in the Bill Belichick era. In the last two games, they’ve faced teams with passing attacks that had been dormant – and gave up over 300 yards to each. They are now dead last in the league in pass defense, and have to try to pick up the pieces against Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and a talented Bucs passing attack on a short week.

Run to help the D: As expected, Tom Brady is having a blast with a full contingent of weapons, leading the NFL in passing yards. The Bucs defense is banged up and has been torched two straight games through the air, so Brady’s stats again should be great in this one., but the Patriots might do themselves a favor by committing a little more to the running game. That would prolong drives and give the much-maligned defense a break.

Take him away: In the past, Belichick’s defensive strategy has always been to concentrate on the opposing team’s main weapon and let others try to beat him. In the past that would have worked wonderfully against Tampa, since Mike Evans was the whole show in the passing game. But the Bucs finally have some nice complimentary weapons around him, including tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard and speedy receiver Desean Jackson, making an already tricky task even more difficult for the Pats.

Matchup to watch: Patriots C David Andrews vs Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy

It’s been well-proven in past years that the best way to bother Tom Brady is to provide pressure against him right up the middle. McCoy does that as well as anybody in the league, and he already has five tackles for losses this season, although he’s still looking for his first sack. The Pats guards will obviously be heavily involved as well, but Andrews anchors this line and must get a good piece of McCoy on each passing play.

Fantasy football tip: Buccaneers WR Adam Humphries

Humphries is one of those guys who are popping up on just about every roster these days. As more and more teams develop shutdown cornerbacks on the outside, the counter is to have slot guys who run routes away from those stoppers on the inside of the field. Humphries is that guy for Tampa and he has Jameis Winston’s trust.

Betting tip

The Patriots are giving six, which seems like an awful lot considering their defensive struggles. They probably win, but it will be a close one, so give the points.

Prediction: New England Patriots 34-31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another week, another Patriot slugfest. But they win this one to get on the right side of .500.

Who do you think will win? Vote in the poll and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Jim Beviglia

Jim is a freelance writer concentrating on music and sports. He is the author of four books and writes for several online and print publications. He lives in Old Forge, Pennsylvania with his wife Marie and his daughter Daniele.