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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Arizona Cardinals: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Arizona Cardinals: Prediction, preview, pick to win
Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback Carson Palmer warms up before the start of the Cardinals-Chicago Bears game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on August 19, 2017. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-2) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (2-3)

GAME SNAPSHOT

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KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, University of Phoenix Stadium. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 10-9. The Cardinals blew out the Bucs 40-7 in Glendale last September. Prior to that game, the previous eight contests were all decided by a single score -- five by four points or fewer.

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KEYS TO THE GAME: Look for Adrian Peterson to be involved, but don't expect him to get 20 carries in his debut game with the Cardinals. What's more likely is Peterson gets a few carries and is used more as a decoy on play-action calls.

The Cardinals haven't been very successful in that area because opposing defenses haven't been concerned about Arizona's running game. Coach Bruce Arians still wants to take his shots down the field and Jaron Brown has joined speedsters John Brown and J.J. Nelson to give Arizona three viable deep targets. If the offensive line can give Carson Palmer just a little more time, Arians can dial up more stretch plays and find the right mismatches. The left side should improve with the expected returns of tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Alex Boone.

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Defensively, the Cardinals need to try to rattle Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. He has had three straight 300-yard games, tying Vinny Testaverde for the longest streak in Tampa history. He finally got DeSean Jackson heavily involved in a game, which could be bad news for the Cardinals. If Patrick Peterson shadows Mike Evans, Justin Bethel will have to track Jackson -- and Bethel has been burned a handful of times already this season.

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Safety Tyrann Mathieu also needs to clamp down on Tampa tight end Cameron Brate, who has scored in his last three games and has 11 touchdowns since the start of last season to lead all NFL tight ends. Arizona has allowed just one TD to a tight end this season.

The possible return of linebackers Kwon Alexander and/or Lavonte David from injury would give the Bucs a big lift. They played well Thursday, allowing just 19 points to Tom Brady and the Patriots, sacking the QB three times and intercepting him once. That kind of pressure will be needed on Palmer, but the Bucs have just four sacks this season.

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MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

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--Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson. Most teams generally shy away from throwing anywhere near Peterson, one of the league's best shutdown corners. But in Evans, the Bucs have a definite size advantage -- Evans is 6 feet 5, Peterson 6-1 -- and they figure to try to exploit it. Peterson has a great vertical jump and can challenge for 50-50 balls, but Evans is difficult to defend. If Winston throws to Evans often, Peterson could very well pick up his first interception of the year. He will need to be physical at the line in press-man coverage and try to slow Evans down off the snap.

--Cardinals RB Andre Ellington vs. Buccaneers S Justin Evans. Though Peterson is sure to get most of the outside attention on Sunday, look for Ellington to remain a focal point of Arizona's offense. He has caught nine passes in each of his past two games. Most of Ellington's receptions have been on short dump-offs from Palmer. Evans, a physical rookie, has performed well near the line of scrimmage. He had nine tackles and an interception in his first start during Tampa's last game and figures to see more time against the Cardinals as injuries linger in the Buccaneers' secondary.

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FRIDAY INJURY REPORT

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

--Out: LB Kwon Alexander (hamstring), S Josh Robinson (concussion), DE Ryan Russell (shoulder), S Keith Tandy (hip)

--Questionable: DE Robert Ayers (back), LB Lavonte David (ankle), C Ali Marpet (illness), S T.J. Ward (hip)

ARIZONA CARDINALS

--Out: DT Olsen Pierre (ankle)

--Questionable: LB Karlos Dansby (hamstring), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf), DT Corey Peters (knee), CB Patrick Peterson (quadricep), T Jared Veldheer (knee)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bucs K Patrick Murray. The Bucs lost to New England in no small part because of their disastrous kicking situation. After releasing Roberto Aguayo in training camp, the Bucs hoped veteran Nick Folk could do the job. But Folk missed seven kicks in four games -- two extra points and four field goals -- and was released. The Bucs signed Murray, who hit 24 of 28 field goals for them in 2014. A torn ACL sidelined him in 2015 and he played two games for Cleveland last season before suffering a torn patellar tendon in the same knee. The Bucs are counting on Murray to fix their biggest problem area.

FAST FACTS: Bucs QB Jameis Winston passed for 334 yards and a score last week and has gone over 300 yards in his past three games. In his past three games vs. the NFC West, he has 894 passing yards, eight TDs and three INTs. ... Bucs RB Doug Martin rushed for 74 yards and a TD in Week 5. He has scored a rushing TD in three of his past four games. ... Bucs WR Mike Evans has four receiving TDs in his past six games. In his past 11 road games, he has 65 catches for 976 yards and six TDs. ... Tampa Bay TE Cameron Brate has a TD catch in three straight games and four straight road games. Since 2016, he leads NFL tight ends with 11 TDs. ... Tampa DT Gerald McCoy has 34.5 sacks since 2013, most among NFL DTs. ... Arizona QB Carson Palmer passed for 304 yards, three TDs and no interceptions in the last meeting. In his past four at home, he has averaged 325 yards per game, with eight TDs and one INT. He has 291 career TD passes, tied for 12th all-time with Hall of Famer Warren Moon. ... Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald has 17 catches for 217 yards and four TDs in the past three meetings. He needs 16 yards to surpass Steve Smith (14,731) for seventh in NFL history. ... Arizona LB Chandler Jones aims for his third game in a row vs. Tampa Bay with a sack. In his past seven games, he has eight sacks and two forced fumbles. He has 28.5 sacks since 2015, tied for second in the NFL.

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PREDICTION: Arizona has been struggling to score and the Bucs should be averaging about three more points than they are. They'll get the field goals this time.

OUR PICK: Bucs, 23-17.

--Chris Cluff

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