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Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots - prediction, team news, head to head

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Premier League clash between Queens Park Rangers and Reading, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

The matchup fans circled on their calendars when the NFL schedule came out takes place on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the New England Patriots.

Last weekend the defending Super Bowl champs suffered their first loss of the year, dropping a 34-24 decision to the Los Angeles Rams, while the Pats fell to 1-2, losing 28-13 to the New Orleans Saints.

Match preview

The New England Patriots celebrate a Nick Folk winning field goal against the Arizona Cardinals on November 29, 2020© Reuters

This could very well be the most hyped and anticipated game in sports since Lebron James made his return to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat, and Bill Belichick will hope to get the better of his former prized prodigy.

After capturing six Super Bowls in a dominating era between 2001 and 2019, where they won the AFC East 17 times, New England are still searching for their identity in the early stages of this season.

So far, they have struggled to get things going at home, losing their first two contests this year, the first time that has happened to this team since 2000, which was Belichick's first season in charge.

If they are to upset the Bucs, being defensively sharp for 60 minutes will be critical, and that is an area in which we have seen them play well this year, currently ranked fifth in points and yards allowed.

The Pats are struggling offensively, putting up only 54 points after three games played, which is slightly more than half the amount their opponents on Sunday have generated so far (103), while Josh McDaniels and his offence have only thrown two touchdown passes.

They are finding themselves in plenty of second and third and long situations averaging around 4.3 yards per play, while their efficiency on third down has gotten worse with every game, going only three for 12 versus the lowly New York Jets and converting less than half of their third downs last weekend against the Saints.

Tom Brady pictured for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in December 2020© Reuters

On Sunday, the Bucs travel to greater Boston looking to get back in the win column against the Patriots in a game that you would think means a whole lot more to some of their players than just two points.

Last week Bruce Arians' offence put up 446 yards against a talented Rams team, and they still lost by 10 points as they dropped to second in the NFC South behind the Carolina Panthers.

Through their first three games, the Bucs aerial assault has dismantled secondaries, racking up 1,049 yards so far, including 411 against the Rams, who possess some of the most talented corners in the game including Jalen Ramsey.

When you look at the numbers offensively for Tampa, there is a vast disparity between their efficiency throwing the ball as opposed to running, with only 169 yards on the ground so far.

With that in mind, you would think that the game plan would be simple for New England to focus on pass coverage, but Tampa have so many dangerous pass catchers that have made it a nightmare for opposing teams to handle them.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Bucs secondary is an area that the Pats might be able to exploit given that Tampa are 27th in points allowed and 29th on third down, with the Rams converting 10 of their 15 third downs against them last week.

New England Patriots form:
  • L
  • W
  • L

Tamp Bay Buccaneers form:
  • W
  • W
  • L

Team News

New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) and cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) celebrate in the end zone during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 16, 2019© Reuters

Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones struggled to make a lot of throws versus New Orleans last weekend, with the former two-time NCAA national champion going 30 of 51 for 270 yards, a touchdown and three picks with a completion percentage of 58.8 and a passer rating of 55.2.

Patriots free safety Devin McCourty has eight interceptions since 2019, and he and Cody Davis will have their hands full trying to contain the dynamic Bucs receiving crew, while linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Matthew Judon will hope to get some pressure up the middle, as Judon leads the team in sacks with 3.5.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is questionable with a groin issue, running back James White is inactive due to a hip injury, Trent Brown is questionable with a calf strain, linebacker Josh Uche could be a game-time decision with back spasms, former Bucs kicker Nick Folk has a knee injury and Ja'Whaun Bentley is questionable due to a shoulder injury.

The man in the spotlight on Sunday will be Tom Brady, the former Patriots QB, who helped created a dynasty with Belichick, winning six Super Bowls behind centre for New England, and Brady needs only 68 yards through the air in this game to surpass Drew Brees for most all-time passing yards, which currently stands at 80,358.

Brady has had several weapons to throw the ball to, including Chris Godwin, who has a touchdown in six consecutive games, which puts him in a tie with Mike Evans and Earnest Graham for the longest streak in Tampa Bay history.

Bucs tight-end Rob Gronkowski, who has captured four titles with Brady, three of which came with New England, is doubtful for this game with a rib injury, running back Giovani Bernard is out with a knee injury, Jason Pierre-Paul has not recovered from his shoulder issue and cornerback Jamel Dean is not expected to see the field, due to a knee injury.

Head To Head

In over four decades, these two teams have only met nine times, with the Patriots holding the edge 7-2, winning the first three and last three meetings against them, with Tampa capturing two in a row in between.

Five of the victories by the Patriots have been by at least 17 points, with the most recent win coming in 2017 when Brady threw for 303 yards and a touchdown for New England, with Stephen Gustowski connecting on four field goals, while former Bucs kicker Nick Folk, currently with the Pats went 0 for 3.

The last time the Bucs won versus the Pats came in 2000 when Mike Alstott ran for a pair of touchdowns for a 21-16 victory.

SM words green background

We say: New England Patriots 24-30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

On paper, the Buccaneers should win this contest easily, however one has to wonder what kind of emotions Tom Brady will feel as he is likely to get a few video tributes and perhaps a few ovations from the Boston faithful which could give the Patriots a slight psychological edge in this game.

Even with all of the emotions that we are likely to see, the Tampa offence only need a couple of big plays to turn the tide, whereas the Pats will have to play sharp for the entire 60 minutes to have any hope of coming out on top.

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Rob Gronkowski pictured in 2019
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