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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Arizona Cardinals Preview and Prediction

Bruce Arians

Bruce Arians

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Arizona entered Week 1 as a 9.5-point favorite at home against an undermanned New England team. Thanks to a botched game winning-field goal attempt by Chandler Catanzaro that sailed wide left with just 41 seconds to go, the Cardinals now sit at 0-1 on the young season. Arizona will attempt to get back on track in Week 2 and avoid its first 0-2 start in 11 years, as they Cardinals play host to a scrappy Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.

Week 1 was much more kind to Tampa Bay, resulting in a 31-24 victory over NFC South rival Atlanta. Four touchdown passes from Jameis Winston led the way, giving the Buccaneers their first winning record since 2012. They now head west to face the Cardinals with an opportunity to move to 2-0 for the first time since 2010.

The Cardinals and Buccaneers may not have a well-documented history against one another, but it is hard to imagine two teams that have been more evenly matched over the years. Not only are the two teams tied with nine wins apiece in the all-time series, each of the last seven games has been decided by seven points or fewer, most of them coming down to the wire. Sunday afternoon’s matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium has all the ingredients for yet another closely contested battle.

Tampa Bay at Arizona

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4:05 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Arizona -6.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Arizona Secondary vs. Tampa Bay Passing Game
Despite featuring a pair of All-Pros in cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals are extremely thin in the secondary. Mathieu is still trying to make his way back from a torn ACL, and everyone else not named Peterson is a liability in pass coverage.

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In particular, starting rookie cornerback Brandon Williams has a rough indoctrination into the NFL. The Cardinals’ second-round pick in this year’s draft has a high ceiling, but his lack of experience showed up in a big way in Week 1. Williams was picked on early and often by New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, allowing four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. Jameis Winston will surely go after the rookie cornerback, and it could be argued he has bigger and better weapons at his disposal than Garoppolo.

Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher has already stated that Peterson will not be shadowing Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans for the entire game. That means that there will be times when Evans is paired up against either Williams or Justin Bethel, neither of whom match up particularly well. The Cardinals’ secondary also will have to contend with big-play targets Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Evans, Jackson and Seferian-Jenkins represent a trio of tall (each stands 6-5) targets that could pose a matchup nightmare for an undersized and undermanned Arizona secondary.

2. Tampa Bay Secondary vs. Arizona Passing Game
Like the Cardinals, the Buccaneers’ biggest weakness on defense also lies in the secondary. Tampa Bay made two significant offseason moves to help shore up its biggest deficiency, adding free agent cornerback Brent Grimes and making cornerback Vernon Hargreaves the 11th overall pick of the 2016 draft. While the future may be bright for the Bucs’ secondary, great position groups need time to gel, and it was fairly clear in Week 1 that this group has not reached that point. Only five teams in the NFL allowed more passing yards in Week 1 passing yards than the Bucs (322 vs. Atlanta). In week 2, Tampa’s secondary will be in for an even bigger challenge against one of the top passing offenses in the league.

Grimes may be an upgrade for the Bucs at cornerback, but he loves to gamble, which doesn’t bode well against a big-play passing game. While Hargreaves played well (for a rookie) in Week 1, his inexperience was exposed on a couple of occasions. He will probably be targeted often Sunday afternoon, and will have his hands full against a polished Cardinals receiving corps, especially when he is matched up against Larry Fitzgerald. Alterraun Verner may be the Bucs’ biggest liability at cornerback. Carson Palmer and the Arizona passing attack may not have been dominant in Week 1, but this matchup against a shaky Tampa Bay secondary looks promising.

3. More David Johnson and the Arizona Ground Game?
Arizona has one of the best backfields in the NFL, and Johnson may be the most talented player on an offense loaded with star power. So, why the Cardinals only ran the ball a total of 19 times in Week 1 is a little baffling, although Arizona was playing catch up most of the night against New England. But relegating your best weapon to just 16 carries seems a little bit ridiculous. Even more absurd is that talented backups Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington spent most of their night as spectators.

Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has never been one to shy away from throwing the football. Luckily, David Johnson excels as a pass catcher too, so he will get touches one way or another. But even Arians has to know the value of an exceptional running game and more Johnson couldn’t hurt. That said, any Cardinal ball carrier could have his work cut out for him against a run defense that looked particularly stingy in Week 1, allowing just 52 rushing yards on 22 carries to Atlanta.

Final Analysis

There are plenty of factors that will go into deciding the outcome of this game. Obviously, the passing game looms large for both teams, and with talented running backs such as David Johnson, Doug Martin and Charles Sims on the field, the ground game will undoubtedly play a big role for both teams as well. However, the x-factor will probably come down to attitude. The Buccaneers may have momentum on their side, but the Cardinals enter Week 2 with a really big chip on their shoulder after missing out on a golden opportunity in the opener against the undermanned Patriots. Arizona’s nasty disposition, plus home-field advantage should be enough to give the Cardinals the edge.

NFL Power Rankings: Cardinals

Prediction: Cardinals 28, Buccaneers 24

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.