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Mon., Mar. 30, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Tue., Mar. 31, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:55 AM EDT
Tue., Mar. 31, 2015 11:55 AM to 2:00 PM EDT
Buccaneers at Patriots Pregame Six-Pack
4. 10-day redemption - New England's rookie receivers have been the story, and not a good one, to open the season. There have been too many drops and too much frustration from Brady. But it's probably not surprising that they struggled against the Jets coming off a short week that included only walk-throughs and no actual practice time. Now, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce have had a full 10 days between games to get things going in the right direction. They should have a better chance of getting on the same page with Brady. They should have gotten any opening day or debut jitters out of their systems. Now, they have to respond to the challenge at hand and prove they're better than what we've seen through the first two weeks. It's not imperative that all three rookie receivers make plays against Tampa, but at least one of them has to prove himself a capable complementary option for Brady to put to use. And we could even throw rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld into the mix. After missing a game with a hamstring injury, he should be back to help out in the passing game.
6. Turnover control - It's rather obvious just how important turnovers are in the NFL. Force them and your defense can cover up a lot of ills. Give them up and it can shoot even productive offenses in the foot. Right now the Patriots aren't nearly good enough to get away with losing the turnover battle. That means Brady, his receivers and his backs must take care of the football as much or more than ever. It also means that the defense needs to continue to give the offense extra opportunities while simultaneously shutting down would-be scoring drives. Even a single field goal could be the difference in winning and losing these days. That's what the margin of error is. If the Patriots can win the turnover battle against Tampa Bay it's almost a certainty that will lead to another home victory. But if it's even, or if it happens to go the other way, New England will be in a fight to remain undefeated.
While the Patriots have struggled and had to fight to the wire through the first two weeks to win, Tampa Bay has been the other end of that equation. It's not pretty right now in New England or Tampa. Brady may be struggling a bit and frustrated. But he's still the better quarterback in this game, in a league where contests are often decided by that position. That was a big difference in the win over Geno Smith and the Jets. I fully expect New England to handle if not shut down Martin. That means Jackson and his deep balls are the wild card. That and turnovers are the only way I could see the Bucs pulling off the upset. Given 10 days to prepare I expect the Patriots to be a better football team than the one we saw punt 11 times against the Jets. It probably still won't be pretty but I expect some improvement from the passing game and the young receivers. In the end I can see something in the range of a 24-13 victory for the Patriots.