For the second week in a row, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves facing off against a backup quarterback who has made single-digit starts in his professional career. Against Denver last week it was fifth-year QB Jeff Driskel making his ninth NFL start, this week it will be Los Angeles Chargers rookie sensation Justin Herbert making his third start.
Oddly, the Chargers out-rank the Bucs in yards per game — an average of 425 to 334 — but Tampa Bay makes it pay off by doing more scoring — 27.3 points per game vs. 17.3. Go figure.
Need an indicator as to which team will win? Look at the Carolina Panthers. Because the Buccaneers beat the Panthers 31-17 in Week 2 and the Chargers lost to them 21-16 in Week 3. And considering the Buccaneers will be at home and all, well… their being the favorite in this game stands to reason, no doubt.
Only thing is, football never goes according to reason.
Los Angeles at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Tampa Bay -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The gray beard and the greenhorn
Like one of those buddy cop films, this game will feature a starchy old veteran and a slick, naive rookie with promise. Tom Brady has a mystique about him, being the winner of six Super Bowls and going for his 252nd career win in this game. He has led this Buccaneer offense capably so far, hitting on 65 precent of his pass attempts for 753 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. We all know Tom. On the other side is Justin Herbert, a strong-armed strapper who has already impressed the league by throwing for 641 yards in his first two starts and accounting for an impressive QB rating of 90.5. The big key will be who will be better protected. Both offensive lines have done a decent job of keeping the wolves at bay, Brady has been sacked five times, Herbert four times (compare that with Joe Burrow who has been taken down 14 times). But keep in mind the Chargers are already without center Mike Pouncey and could now be without their best lineman in right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who hasn't practiced this week because of a back injury and probably will be listed as Questionable on the injury report. If the Bucs keep up the pressure (11 sacks in their last two games, 10 hits on Driskel last week), advantage Mr. Brady.
2. In the red zone
While the Chargers' D did a decent job in the red zone vs. Carolina, holding the Panthers to just one touchdown on six possessions, their luck may not be so fortunate this week. The Buccaneers enter this game fourth in the league in touchdown rate in the red zone at 80 percent. By contrast, the Chargers are one of the weaker offenses once they get inside their opponent's 20-yard line, scoring TDs at a 56 percent clip. Whichever team hits paydirt compared to kicks field goals will probably win.
3. Watch for a fast start
One thing about these Buccaneers; they strap it up tight and go full-blast from the first whistle. The Pewter Boys have outscored their opposition 31-0 in the first quarter over their first three games. Meanwhile, the Chargers have scored just one touchdown in the opening quarter of their three games. Last week, Tampa's stellar defense allowed Denver just 12 offensive plays in the opening frame. One of the keys to this early success is that Brady does such a good job of distributing the ball to a wide variety of skill position players. Wide receiver Chris Godwin is expected to miss this game because of a hamstring injury, but Brady still has Mike Evans and old buddy Rob Gronkowski to throw to. Brady also isn't afraid to spread it around, as he connected with eight different receivers last week vs. Denver.
The Chargers have played all three games down to a single score, so you know they love a white-knuckler. But last Sunday Teddy Bridgewater completed 78 percent of his passes against the already-depleted Chargers secondary, which has been without All-Pro safety Derwin James. The bad news got worse when cornerback Chris Harris Jr. went down with a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve where he will miss at least four games. He's one of five defensive starters currently on IR for the Bolts. Ugh.
The Chargers committed eight penalties and suffered four turnovers in the loss to the Panthers last Sunday. If that trend continues — especially with an already banged-up defense — this one is an easy pick. I still think this will be more of a defensive struggle but take the old codger under center over the brazen newbie.
Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Chargers 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
(Top photo courtesy of buccaneers.com)