TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-3) AT BUFFALO BILLS (3-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Buccaneers lead series, 7-3. Five of the first six meetings between these teams were decided by seven points or less while the last four have been double-digit margins.
The Bucs won the most recent contest, 27-6, at Raymond James Stadium in 2013.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills run the football with LeSean McCoy and give QB Tyrod Taylor some run-pass options on the perimeter. They have also done a very good job of protecting the football, as evidenced by their plus-eight turnover margin, which is second in the NFL.
Tampa Bay has to do a much better job of playing the run and setting the edge this week. They had poor gap control against Arizona and Adrian Peterson ran wild. McCoy is certainly capable of that as well.
Offensively, it will depend on whom the Bucs play at QB. But in either case, they have to find a way to stay in the game and run Doug Martin. The Bills are very, very opportunistic in the secondary and are winning the 50/50 balls against receivers. Micah Hyde leads the NFL with four interceptions.
It looks like Ryan Fitzpatrick will get the start for the Bucs, meaning he'll be going against his old team for the second year in a row. Very few players remain in Buffalo from Fitzpatrick's days with the team, but the Bills know Fitzpatrick as he played for the Jets last season. He is known as a gunslinger who will take chances, and the Bills will try to force him into mistakes with pressure and disguised coverages.
On offense, the Bills have to figure out a way to get their running game going because they simply aren't capable of threatening teams through the air with a depleted passing game missing tight end Charles Clay. Changes on the offensive line could be coming, and perhaps that will help, but the line will have to neutralize defensive tackle Gerald McCoy up front and make sure to get a body on linebacker Lavonte David.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Bills CB Tre'Davious White. White endured his first subpar game of his rookie season in the last game against the Bengals as he was schooled by A.J. Green. Evans may not be in the same category, but he's still a physically gifted player who will have a noticeable size advantage on White. Evans has been targeted 48 times in five games by Bucs QBs and has 27 catches for 371 yards and three TDs.
--Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. Bucs LBs Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. David returned from an injury last week, and Alexander is expected back this week. They would give a big lift to a Tampa Bay defense that is already solid against the run -- ranking eighth in yards per play. McCoy is struggling through a tough year, a victim of a weakened offensive line and a passing attack that gives him no help, but he's typically the key to the Bills' offensive success.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bills TE Nick O'Leary. He will take over as the every-down player in the absence of injured Charles Clay. O'Leary was a pass-catching tight end at Florida State and was Buffalo's sixth-round draft pick in 2015. He was close to getting cut from the team in both 2015 and 2016, but Rex Ryan spared him each time, and by the second half of last year, he was starting to find his way, especially as a blocker because that had been a major weakness. This season, O'Leary has been on the field for about 57 percent of the offensive snaps, and that will only increase with Clay out. O'Leary had five catches for 54 yards after Clay left the Cincinnati game, production he will need to maintain moving forward.
FAST FACTS: Bucs RB Doug Martin has 402 rushing yards (80.4 per game) and four TDs in his past five games vs. AFC teams. ... WR Mike Evans had 95 receiving yards and a TD in Week 6. In 6 career games on road vs. AFC, has 32 catches for 497 yards (82.8 per game) and three TDs. He has 15 TD catches since 2016, third most in the NFL. ... WR DeSean Jackson aims for a third straight road game with a TD. In two career meetings, he has 11 receptions for 239 yards (119.5 per game) and two TDs. ... TE Cameron Brate aims for a fifth game in a row with a TD. He has 12 receiving TDs since 2016, most by an NFL tight end. ... DT Gerald McCoy had six tackles and a sack in the last meeting. He has 9.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in his past 11 games vs. AFC teams. ... LB Lavonte David had nine tackles, a sack and two interceptions in the last meeting. He has a career-high two forced fumbles last week. ... Bills RB LeSean McCoy has 197 scrimmage yards (98.5 per game) in the last two games. He gained 171 yards (116 rushing) in his last game vs. Tampa Bay (2013 with Philadelphia). ... S Micah Hyde leads the NFL with four interceptions. He has three picks in the past two games and 10 since 2015, fourth most in the NFL.
PREDICTION: The team with the better running game seems likely to win this one, and Martin should take the pressure off Fitzpatrick (or Winston) and keep the Bills from getting the ball like they have been.
OUR PICK: Buccaneers, 20-17.