Buccaneers, Raiders ready to pillage and plunder out in Sin City
There are only two teams in the entire NFL that feature a pair of swords in their official logo. You've seen their helmets and you know them well. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Las Vegas Raiders are two teams whose mascots are known for thieving. (Note that Steelers doesn't have an "a" in it).
So this will be like a good old-fashioned sword fight on the deck of the pirate ship (even if the game is at Allegiant Stadium rather than Raymond James Stadium, which actually does have a pirate ship in it). Avast ye matey. Grab your yo ho ho and a bottle of rum and settle in on a Sunday afternoon of high seas marauding.
I'm not sure how Tampa Bay (4-2) can go from losing to Chicago to looking like a Super Bowl team in demolishing Green Bay 38-10. That's a mystery for sure. The previously unbeaten Packers were stifled by the Bucs' defense (more on that in a bit), and Tampa's offense got unleashed as well. The Raiders (3-2) come off a bye week following an impressive 40-32 win over AFC West-leading Kansas City and are a game behind the Chiefs in the standings.
Tampa Bay at Las Vegas
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 25 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Buccaneers -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Tampa's defense
The Buccaneers are coming off a game in which they intercepted Aaron Rodgers twice (one being a pick-six), sacked him four times (had five total), and limited him to a 45.7 percent completion rate (16-for-35, 160 yards). After overcoming a 10-0 deficit, the Bucs' defense dialed it up another notch. Tampa blitzed Rodgers on 29 percent of his dropbacks, and he went just 2-of-8 for 10 yards on those plays.
After the first quarter, Rodgers was 9-of-13 for 104 yards and had that 10-0 lead. But Jamel Dean's pick-six ignited the Pewter Boys' defense and from there Rodgers went 7-of-22 for 56 yards and was outscored 38-zip. Give some big props to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who has turned his career around since reuniting with Bruce Arians in Tampa.
2. The Jekyll and Hyde of Tom Brady
When the Bucs' offensive line protects Brady, he tends to play very well. When they don't, he begins to show all of his 43 years of age. In Week 1, Brady was pressured 25 percent of the time in the loss to the Saints. Against the Packers, he was pressured on just 14 percent of dropbacks, assisting in Tampa's easy win. In the 25 dropbacks when he had time to throw, Brady's QB rating was 95.8 in delivering his best performance of the season.
It's up to the Raiders' defensive line and blitz packages to decide which Brady will show up Sunday. But that's been a struggle so far, as they rank 24th in the league with a 4.9 percent adjusted sack rate and are second-worst in the AFC with seven sacks. Maxx Crosby (4.0) is the only player with more than one sack this season.
3. Raiders' O-line
On Thursday, the Raiders placed five more players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list just a few days after right tackle Trent Brown tested positive. These players were identified through contact tracing, and it should come as no surprise that four of them were fellow offensive linemen (safety Johnathan Abram was the other). So unless something changes prior to kickoff (which could be in jeopardy to begin with considering the NFL already moved this game out of the "Sunday Night Football" time slot because of the Raiders' current COVID-19 concerns), Las Vegas will be without its entire starting O-line: Brown, along with Kolton Miller, Gabe Jackson, Denzelle Good and Rodney Hudson. The team has just five other linemen on the active roster with two more on the practice squad.
Should this game go on as scheduled, Las Vegas' line will be razor-thin and really green. Can you say, "no in-jur-rees?" That's what the Raiders must avoid in this one if they are to even have a chance to finish the game, much less win it. And even if any of the starters are cleared to play, they will do so with minimal practice this week. Look for Tampa's front seven to eat their lunch.
It's almost criminal that this preview didn't mention much about the Raiders' Derek Carr and that jet-black attack, which is ranked sixth in the league in scoring (30.2 ppg). If the saying "the best defense is a good offense" applies here, the Raiders have a puncher's chance or better. Carr is hitting on 73 percent of his passes with an 11:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 115.9 passer rating.
While Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense can be a little inconsistent, the defense is what makes the Bucs special, as they lead the NFL at 282.0 yards allowed per game. The Raiders are ranked 24th in total defense (393.6 ypg) and 27th in scoring defense (30.4 ppg).
Buccaneers? Raiders? Mutiny on the high seas? A pirate's booty to the winner? This will be a lot of swashbuckling fun, but the old adage is "defense wins championships." And defense will win this one too.
Prediction: Buccaneers 21, Raiders 12
— 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.