Over/Under lines have never been more conservative and cautious for the NFL – at least not since the 1970s or early 1980s when a 17-3 victory was considered “a nice day” for an offense.
2019’s preseason was especially low-key as coaches suited-up “Al and Steve from the diner out back” as Cheap Seats once labeled a pair of tag-team jobbers in a pro wrestling match. Totals dipped well into the 30s during the exhibition season and then tended to stay low in Weeks 1-7 as run-heavy offenses were reintroduced into what experts swore was a “passing league” just a few years ago.
There are a few healthier Over/Under totals in mid-season, exemplified by rising total-points gambling lines for Atlanta-New Orleans and NYJ-NYG. But the highest-handicapped O/U total of the week belongs to a pair of losing teams playing in Tampa Bay, as the Cardinals and Buccaneers are expected to produce fireworks.
Who: Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When: Sunday, November 10th, 1 PM EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Lines: AZ (+4.5) at TB (-4.5) / O/U Total: (52.5)
Offense, defense, and special-teams units tend to play to a similar level on High School teams because student-athletes play both ways. The same is often true for college teams but for different reasons – recruiting hierarchies mean that a program which stacks 4 and 5-star prospects on the OL can do the same for the DL.
But in the NFL, where everyone’s a specialist who had to earn his keep through a grueling try-out process, there’s nothing stopping a club from having a terrific offense and a lousy defense. Tampa Bay is a prime example -the 2-6 Buccaneers continue to put up points with an attack ranked 4th in the NFL, yet the defense is among the worst units of The Shield, allowing 31.5 points per game. Arizona’s defense has been almost-equally as porous.
Jameis Winston is still a player who can be awesome on 1 day and simply awful on the next. A WR duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans is probably the best combo in the NFL, and the duo has combined to snag 13 of 16 of Winston’s touchdown passes. But he can’t consistently connect with either player on the outside or down the middle, at least not without a big share of incompletions and blunders. Winston has completed just 59.3% of his passes, and has been intercepted 12 times. Once again it’s only Arizona’s defense keeping the Buccaneers favored and the Over/Under high – the Big Red have intercepted just 2 passes this year.
Running back Ronald Jones II received praise from former Cardinals skipper and current Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians after his 18-67-1 performance in an OT loss at Seattle last week. Jones received 18 carries to Peyton Barber’s 4, and it’s clear Tampa Bay wants to see what it has with Jones down the stretch.
Arizona is having offensive line problems, and Kyler Murray continues to be active on his feet, scrambling out of the pocket to move the chains. Due to a rash of injuries in the offensive backfield, the rookie QB’s 300+ rush yards lead the club despite HC Kliff Kingsbury refusing to abide many designed quarterback runs.
Kenyan Drake is helping out. The former Miami Dolphin made an immediate impact following another fire-sale trade, rushing 15 times for 110 yards and a TD last week against the 49ers. David Johnson is set to return for Arizona after practicing all week, and figures to take over the starting spot again.
Johnson is the type of runner who flourishes when a defense is losing the LOS. He’s not big, fast, or powerful enough to generate yards on his own. Drake has practiced and played like a guy with designs on the starting position – we’ll see if he’s got lasting legs or was simply a horse itching to get out of the gate after a dreary half-season in Magic City. But I definitely see shared touches from the RB pair going forward as the Cardinals face tougher defenses, who can batter Johnson when the line isn’t opening holes.
There are not many positives on the defensive side of the ball for Arizona, but that’s nothing against veteran pass rusher Chandler Jones, who looks as dominant as a player on a bad defense possibly could (except for maybe a tackling safety). Jones has 9.5 sacks on the season and destroyed the New York Giants edge-blocking in a win at MetLife Stadium a few weeks ago.
The Over/Under conundrum can be solved (if you prefer to gamble on the O/U) by asking yourself whether it will be a close game in the 4th quarter. There’s no way a pair of brash and exciting QBs will do anything but fire-away in a 2nd-half duel if it comes to that, but either team could also choose to run and protect a 2-TD lead if taken.
I’m more interested in the point spread. Murray can out-play Winston, and the Big Red pass rush might harass the latter enough to force a few more interceptions…especially now that Patrick Peterson is back in the AZ defensive backfield. Almost any non-Giants OL can keep a QB’s feet clean long enough to throw when playing at home, but they can’t get into his head and prevent his risky throws when hurried.
Take the Cardinals and (+4.5) points.