Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1, 1-2 ATS) at New England Patriots (1-2, 1-2), 8:20 p.m., SNF
Implied Team Totals: Bucs 28, Patriots 21
Spread/Total Movements: 6 to 7, 49.5 to 49
Weather: 60 degrees, 45% chance of rain, light wind
Buccaneers Injuries to Watch: TE Rob Gronkowski (ribs, doubtful), CB Jamel Dean (knee, out), RB Giovani Bernard (knee, out), OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder, questionable), WR Scotty Miller (toe, IR)
Patriots Injuries to Watch: RB James White (hip, IR)
Brolley’s Buccaneers Stats and Trends
Tampa Bay had its 10-game outright winning streak snapped last week.
The Buccaneers are 5-0 toward overs in their last five games as a favorite.
The Buccaneers are averaging the second-fewest rushing yards per game (56.3) ahead of only the Steelers.
Tom Brady is the story of the week in the NFL. He’s 68 yards away from becoming the NFL’s all-time passing leader and he’ll do it in his first game back in New England since he left in free agency after the 2019 season. The G.O.A.T. has posted between 28.7-30.7 FP in each of his first three games, but he snapped his 13-games streak with multiple TD passes last week (postseason included) — he did score a rushing TD. Brady and Bill Belichick certainly know each other well, and the Patriots will be tested for the first time this season as they’re giving up the seventh-fewest FPG (15.5) to QBs this season.
Rob Gronkowski will be returning to New England too, and his recent form is reminiscent of his peak years with the Patriots. He managed 4/55 receiving on seven targets last week and he played just 62% of the snaps because of a big hit to his midsection. It snapped his run of two touchdowns in each of the first two games. The Patriots have given up just 4/36 receiving to TEs through three games but they’ve yet to be tested by a player of Gronk’s caliber.
Antonio Brown will also be returning to New England for the first time since he played one game with them back in 2019 before owner Robert Kraft pulled the plug. He missed last week with COVID and he had just 1/17 receiving in Week 2 on a 44% snap share after opening the year with 5/121/1 on 65% of the snaps. AB could see more routes and snaps with Scotty Miller (toe, IR) out for at least the next three weeks.
Mike Evans is just fine with 13/181/2 receiving in the last two weeks after he managed just 3/24 against Trevon Diggs and the Cowboys in Week 1. TB12 is back to spreading the ball all around the field with Evans sitting at 19% target share as Chris Godwin has just one more target than him through three games. Godwin has been the most consistent Bucs’ WR in the early going with 4+ catches, 60+ yards, and 16+ FP in every game. The Patriots are giving up just 10.0/131.3/.7 receiving per game to WRs through three weeks.
Giovani Bernard saw his first major work last week in a negative gamescript with 9/51/1 receiving on 10 targets, but he banged up his knee late in the game. Leonard Fournette has been this backfield’s top option when the Bucs are in neutral or positive gamescripts like they’ll be in this week against the Patriots. Lenny averaged 14.5 touches and 67.5 scrimmage yards without a touchdown in Weeks 1-2 — Brady and Godwin scored Tampa’s first two rushing touchdowns last week. The Patriots are giving up 4.2 YPC and 102.7 rushing yards per game to RBs, but everyone expects Brady to be throwing it a lot this week.
Brolley’s Patriots Stats and Trends
Rookie QBs are 1-9 outright and ATS so far. Mac Jones is the only rookie quarterback with an outright win and an ATS cover and they both came against Zach Wilson in Week 2.
The Patriots are 13-5-1 toward unders since Tom Brady left.
Mac Jones has seen his YPA fall in each of the first three weeks (7.2>6.2>5.3) and he now has more INTs (3) than TD passes (2) after throwing his first picks against the Saints in Week 3. The Buccaneers’ secondary is giving up a league-high 338.3 passing yards per game after Matthew Stafford hung 373/4 passing on them last week.
Jakobi Meyers was the biggest winner from the James White (hip, IR) injury last week. He led the Patriots with 9/94 receiving on 14 targets, and he’s seen at least a 20% target share or better every week. Slot CB Ross Cockrell has given up a healthy 1.46 yards per slot coverage snap as Sean Murphy-Bunting’s replacement.
Nelson Agholor has just 5/38 receiving on 11 targets in the last two games after a promising opening performance (5/72/1). He’s still run a route on 91% of Mac’s dropbacks but his team-high aDOT of 15.4 yards hasn’t translated into fantasy success with his struggling rookie QB. DeSean Jackson ripped the Buccaneers’ secondary for 3/120/1 receiving last week, and they signed Richard Sherman this week with Jamel Dean (knee) joining the injured CBs on the sidelines.
Kendrick Bourne played a season-high 76% of the snaps last week with the Patriots chasing points, and it resulted in 6/96/1 receiving on eight targets. He had just 3/27 receiving on six targets in the first two games, and he could be active again this week with the Patriots entering as seven-point home underdogs.
Hunter Henry has pulled ahead of Jonnu Smith for the time being after Jonnu caught just one of his six targets last week, including a dropped pass that turned into a pick-six. Henry lapped Smith in snap share (72% to 42%), routes (38 to 15), catches (5 to 1), and yards (36 to 4) in Week 3. The Buccaneers have given up 10+ FP in three straight games to Tyler Higbee (5/40/1 receiving), Kyle Pitts (5/73), and Dalton Schultz (6/45).
Damien Harris will get another tough matchup this week after he posted just 6/14 rushing in a negative gamescript against the Saints. The Buccaneers are giving up only 3.2 YPC and the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game (57.3) to RBs.
It will be interesting to see what the Patriots do at running back in passing situations this week. Special teams ace Brandon Bolden stepped in and played a position-high 25 snaps in the second half against the Saints. J.J. Taylor brings the most passing-game juice but he’s struggled mightily in pass protection, and Rhamondre Stevenson could dress but he’s unlikely to play in those situations. It wouldn’t be stunning to see Bill Belichick pull a page from Kyle Shanahan’s playbook by using Jonnu Smith at RB this week in obvious passing spots — Shanahan used Kyle Juszczyk in passing situations against the Packers.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Week 1-3 – Pace (seconds in between plays): 25.7 (5th)
Week 1-3 – Plays per game: 68.7 (12th)
Week 1-3 – Pass: 76.4% (1st) | Run: 23.6% (32nd)
Week 1-3 – Pace: 28.7 (18th)
Week 1-3 – Plays per game: 69.0 (10th)
Week 1-3 – Pass: 65.4% (9th) | Run: 34.6% (24th)
If there was any question about how Tom Brady wants to play this week, take a look at how crazy these tendencies are. Through three games, the Bucs are:
The most pass-heavy team in neutral situations (71.1%)
The second-most pass-heavy team when trailing (79.1%)
The most pass-heavy team when leading (71.6%)
The most pass-heavy team on early-downs (75%)
The most pass-heavy team in the red-zone (74.2%)
You had better believe Brady is going to try and put 4-5 TDs on Belichick. That’s all I’ve got.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
When I am able to help it, staying away from the “REVENGE NARRATIVE” has served me well. But this is one I can’t avoid. It’s gonna be a bonanza for Tom Brady.
t’s understood that the Patriots have permitted the sixth-fewest FPG to QBs this season. But they put that impressive number together facing Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, and Jameis Winston. In terms of the coverages the Patriots are likely to play in this one, Mike Evans’ history of coverage success aligns the best out of Brady’s WR options.
The Bucs are down two of their top three CBs in this one, Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow) and Jamel Dean (knee). Richard Sherman will be active, but he just joined the team. But, even with Tampa Bay’s struggles defending the pass, Mac Jones has simply not shown us enough to get that excited about exposure in this spot.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Look, I’ve done a bunch of analysis this week, and I always get tired at the end of the week. I really try not to get lazy about things.
But on what planet would I get away with not recommending starting your Buccaneers? I mean seriously. Not only is it a #RevengeGame for Tom Brady, but it’s also one for Antonio Brown. Rob Gronkowski, unfortunately, is doutbful with his ribs injury.
As Wes alluded to above, we mostly just joke about revenge narratives in fantasy. But you can’t possibly tell me that Brady doesn’t want to chuck 5 TDs in this game. You can’t tell me that Gronk isn’t devastated he likely won’t be out there to spike the ball through the Earth’s crust. You can’t tell me that Brown doesn’t want to show off after he played just one game in a Pats uniform. If Gronk (ribs) plays, he may be limited, but that limitation will likely still have him in red-zone situations. (If you’re dying for a TE streamer, Cameron Brate has outsnapped OJ Howard in every game so far this year.)
And frankly, you can’t sit Mike Evans or Chris Godwin either. Just start ‘em all.
The one other guy I’d consider here is RB Leonard Fournette, who could benefit from the absence of Giovani Bernard (knee). Fournette has run 7 routes on third and fourth downs this year, which is far behind Bernard — 21 — but Ronald Jones hasn’t run a single route on those downs. He’s in the FLEX conversation given that, but I anticipate he’ll need a receiving TD to really come through in this game… because Brady.
The Patriots really don’t have much to get excited about.
It will be interesting to see what the Pats do in order to cover for the loss of James White (hip) for the season. While White’s receiving chops made him an underrated fantasy player for years, that might not be the biggest loss to the Pats.
It’s also wild that James White and Rex Burkhead, when healthy, are the only running backs they’ve really trusted in pass protection since I started covering the team in 2018. White’s loss today was a big one.— Andrew Callahan (@_AndrewCallahan) September 27, 2021
A lack of pass protection, in addition to fumbling problems, were why Rhamondre Stevenson has been a healthy scratch, and it’s why Damien Harris barely played last week. JJ Taylor is 5’6” and all of 185 pounds, so he doesn’t exactly look the part of an elite protector. So that’s why Brandon Bolden played 33 snaps last week. My guess is, for now at least, Bolden is the primary passing-down back, which is absolutely putrid for fantasy purposes. Bolden is a plodder who has never been anything but a nuisance for fantasy, but with the Pats likely to play from behind, he’ll probably play a lot in this one.
The Bucs have allowed the 10th-fewest FPG to opposing RBs this year and are surrendering a 4th-lowest 3.1 YPC on the ground. That’s bad news for Harris, who becomes a middling FLEX option, at best. Otherwise, I want to see how this rotation shakes out.
The Patriots’ pass catcher I’m most “excited” to play this week is obviously slot master Jakobi Meyers. Here’s Scott Barrett from Start/Sit:
Excluding a Week 2 (positive) blowout against the Jets, Meyers is averaging 11.5 targets per game (25.6% target share). As 7.0-point underdogs, and with RB James White out, look for Meyers to see similar or even better volume this week. And his production and efficiency numbers should all be quite a bit better too. That’s because the Buccaneers have given up a league-high 66.9 FPG to opposing WRs (25% more than the next-closest defense). Although they’ve technically been a little more vulnerable on the outside (where Meyers runs just 19% of his routes), they’re still bottom-5 against slot WRs, after surrendering 26.4 fantasy points to Rams WRs out of the slot last week. And, per PFF, SCB Ross Cockrell is the team’s worst-graded CB in coverage.
Indeed, Cockrell has given up 8 catches (tied for 3rd-most in the NFL) and 2 TD (tied for the most) out of the slot, per SIS. Meyers is a strong WR3 option this week. You could talk me into Nelson Agholor as a flier play too, given the Bucs’ QB situation and their struggles with DeSean Jackson last week.
The Patriots’ TE-heavy offense has not worked at all. So far this year, Hunter Henry has run a route on 88-of-136 passing play, compared to just 49/136 for Jonnu Smith. And Smith had an awful game last week, with multiple drops, including one that bounced into a defender’s hands for a pick-six. I wonder if Smith, who has played some snaps at tailback this year, will get some third-down pass pro work in the backfield. But until we see an improvement he (TE28 on the year) is not a fantasy option. Henry (TE23) is slightly better, but I’m not too enthused to play him.