Is Bucs-Bolts the most intriguing matchup on Sunday in Week 13 of the NFL season? I suppose an argument can be made for Chiefs-Falcons or Lions-Saints or Texans-Packers or Bills-Raiders or even a playoff rematch between Carolina and Seattle in the prime-time matchup. But we've done plenty on many of those clubs already this year and still might with several in the playoff chase. And Tampa Bay has become one of the most interesting teams in the NFL.
A lot of people thought the Buccaneers' front office made a big mistake in firing experienced and previously successful head coach Lovie Smith after just two seasons and with Tampa showing plenty of improvement in 2015. But the franchise didn't want to lose offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter after the great job he did when then-rookie QB Jameis Winston last year. So Lovie, a defensive-minded guy, got the boot and Koetter was promoted before some other team like the Eagles could interview him.
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That decision didn't look great when Tampa Bay started 1-3, but the season changed when the Bucs pulled off a 17-14 upset on Monday night in Carolina ahead of their bye week. If Tampa heads into the week off at 1-4, there's a bunch of negativity around the team and the playoffs are basically a pipe dream. But 2-4 with a manageable schedule after the bye, and suddenly things looked different -- it certainly helped the Bucs that Cam Newton missed that Week 5 game due to injury. Now the Bucs (6-5) head to San Diego on a three-game winning streak, just a game out of Atlanta's lead in the NFC South and also in the wild-card chase. Tampa hasn't made the playoffs since 2007.
San Diego (5-6) clearly has no chance in the ultra-tough AFC West as it's four games behind first-place Oakland. Is there any realistic shot at the playoffs? I doubt it. But I will say that winning out is not impossible. The Bolts are favored here and finish at Carolina, vs. Oakland, at Cleveland and vs. Kansas City. Obviously the Raiders and Chiefs are both good, but those are in San Diego. The Panthers probably have nothing left to play for by next week, and the Browns are, well, the Browns. I'm not saying San Diego's winning 10 games, but stranger things have happened. The Chargers were 4-6 in 2013 during Mike McCoy's first year as head coach and won five of their last six games to reach the postseason.
Bucs at Chargers Betting Story Lines
A very underrated thing that Koetter did was hire former Falcons head coach Mike Smith as his defensive coordinator, and that unit is really blossoming right now. Since allowing 43 points in a home loss to Atlanta in Week 9, the Bucs have given up a total of 32 in the winning streak. Last week's performance in a 14-5 win over Seattle was one of the best by any defense all season. The Seahawks had 11 possessions and had seven punts, three giveaways and one field goal. The Bucs sacked Russell Wilson six times and knocked him down probably double that number. Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner, playing just 48 hours after his father Robert's passing, intercepted a pass just before halftime.
The Winston-to-Mike Evans combo is one of the best in the NFL as the former Heisman winner hit Evans on two more TD throws, burning Richard Sherman on both. Evans is second in the NFL with 1,020 receiving yards and tied for first with 10 TDs. He is just the fourth receiver in NFL history to record at least 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. Winston still has a lapse or two but has thrown for 2,900 yards, 22 TDs and 11 picks. Doug Martin has gotten better in each game since returning from a long injury absence and had 87 yards vs. Seattle. This is a dangerous team that could be really good (think NFC version of Raiders) next year.
San Diego came out of its bye in Week 12 and handed Houston its first home loss of the season, 21-13. Philip Rivers threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns. WRs Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman both suffered injuries in the game but should be fine for this one. Really the San Diego defense won that game as the Bolts picked off clueless Houston QB Brock Osweiler three times. I believe the Chargers, who have been destroyed by injuries this year, could win probably three other NFL divisions this year. The team is 4-3 since 2016 No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa, a defensive end, got healthy enough to make his season debut. He has 4.5 sacks.
Bucs at Chargers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , San Diego is a 4-point favorite (-110) with a total of 47.5. On the moneyline, the Bolts are -200 and Bucs +170. On the alternate lines, the Chargers are -4.5 (-103) and -3.5 (-117). Tampa is 6-5 against the spread (4-1 on road) and 6-5 "over/under" (2-3 on road). San Diego is 7-4 ATS (3-2 at home) and 8-3 O/U (4-1 at home).
The Bucs are 4-1 ATS in their past five games after scoring less than 15 points in their previous game. The Bolts are 6-1 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. San Diego is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 after a win. The under is 5-2 in Tampa's past seven after a win. The under is 7-3 in San Diego's past 10 after a win.
Bucs at Chargers Betting Prediction
It's Tampa's first visit to Qualcomm Stadium since 2004, and that's also where the franchise won its lone Super Bowl on Jan. 26, 2003, over Oakland. I'm quite certain this will be Tampa's final trip ever to that field since the Chargers are either moving or getting a new building somehow.
If this game were in Tampa, I'd lean the Bucs for sure if it were a 10 a.m. Pacific start time. But going East Coast to West Coast isn't a big deal. I'm still going to take the points -- make it the 4.5 in case it ends 21-17 or something. Go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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