NFL Betting: Bucs Offer Value
by Trevor Whenham - 12/04/2008
I am a huge fan of the way Tampa Bay is playing this year, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I feel a bit like I should be, though. Everywhere you turn you read someone else saying that this team is no good. They are leading their division, and they have the second best record in the NFC, yet Sports Illustrated didn't even pick them to make the playoffs last week. I firmly disagree. This is a very good, undervalued team, and they are going to be playing in January. And causing some problems for opponents when they get there. Why am I so high on this team? Let's take a look:
Jeff Garcia - I have some first hand experience with Garcia, so I am admittedly biased. Before he landed in the NFL, he was the quarterback of my hometown Calgary Stampeders. He was spectacular then, setting records and winning us a Grey Cup. From there he went to San Francisco where he was very good until he was forced out. His times in Detroit and Cleveland were rough, but neither situation can be blamed on him. He was again very solid in Philadelphia when given a chance, and despite some rough times in Tampa Bay he has been very good there as well. Through it all, one thing is consistent - if Garcia is given a real chance to win then chances are good that he is going to find a way to do so. He's very under-appreciated in that sense. His numbers aren't always world class, but two things he has done this year stand out. He completes a high percentage of his passes - more than 67 percent this year - and he has won four in a row, and six of his last seven. He often makes it scary, and he is too fond of a dramatic comeback, but there are few players I would rather have on my team than Garcia.
Running game - The Bucs aren't among the league's elite in running. They are certainly solid, though - 11th in yards per game. More important than how many yards they get, though, is how they get them. Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham are a very solid one-two punch, and the return of Carnell Williams adds another level to the drama. The running game is more than good enough to free up the passing game and give the offense enough room to move.
Defense - This is where the magic really happens. The defense has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game, but that's only part of the story. They can be a truly smothering unit, and the biggest reason is the balance. Led by Barrett Ruud, the best linebacker that no one is talking about, the defensive unit is made up of a balanced group that is remarkably disciplined. The most amazing stat - 11 different players have interceptions. That's stunning in and of itself, but even more so when you consider that fully half the teams in the league don't even have 11 interceptions. That's just one of the signs of how good this unit is, and, in turn, how good Monte Kiffin is as a coordinator. Tampa Bay will miss him desperately when he heads to Tennessee. The oldest cliché in sports is that defense wins championships. Clichés stick around because they have a grain of truth to them.
Staff - Besides Kiffin, this is a staff that is very good when they have a good team. Jon Gruden has done well with this team - particularly when his intense competitiveness is coupled with a front-runner. There is an interesting thing about Gruden - he has never finished second as a head coach. In 10 seasons at the helm he has won his division five times, and finished third or fourth five other times. In other words, if he stands a chance of winning, he wins.
Schedule - The team is 9-3. Given the state of the conference, 10 wins is almost certain to make the playoffs. The Bucs will get 10 wins with their eyes closed. Why so confident? They end the season with home games against the Chargers and the Raiders. If there isn't a win there then I like the wrong team. Before that they play divisional rivals Carolina and Atlanta - two teams that they beat handily the first time they played. SI may not think they are headed to the playoffs, but I think they are heading to a bye.
What they have done so far - The Bucs have done the first thing that good teams absolutely have to do - they have won all of their home games. Their three wins have been by a combined total of just 11 points. Their losses have all come against playoff contenders, so they win the games they need to win. They may not have played the toughest schedule in the world, but then the NFC doesn't exactly have a lot of teams that are significantly better than what they have faced, either. It also doesn't hurt my opinion that they are profitable both ATS and on the under - precisely what a good defensive team should be.