Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 16, 2017 at 1:27 PM
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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (3-6) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-5)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium. TV: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Shannon Spake (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 5-5. The Bucs have won four of the past five. Their last game was a 23-19 win by the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium in 2013. The Bucs are 1-3 in Miami.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs have to find a different way to win without quarterback Jameis Winston. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't have the same arm strength, but he does a better job with touch passes to the running backs. That was on display last Sunday with his 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Charles Sims, which was the difference in the game.

Tampa Bay has had trouble running the football. The Bucs averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry against the Jets and Doug Martin has been largely ineffective, although they were able to find some balance with 31 rushing attempts.

Receiver Mike Evans returns to the lineup after his one-game suspension and receiver DeSean Jackson has drawn raves from coaches about his performance and attitude the past three weeks.

The Bucs average 19.2 points per game, 22nd in the NFL. The bottom line for Miami: Because of a limited offense that averages an NFL-worst 15.2 points per game, it must limit Tampa Bay to perhaps 17 or fewer points.

The Dolphins no longer have running back Jay Ajayi, so they are still trying to figure out how to attack. Jay Cutler is doing a better job at using his running backs in the passing game, something Ajayi wasn't known for. Jarvis Landry is a dangerous weapon and will draw the attention of Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes.

The Dolphins just can't score. And that's a big problem. Both the running and passing games are inconsistent. Tampa Bay needs only to limit big plays. Miami's offense, largely due to its own errors, has struggled to put together 10- and 12-play drives. If Miami can score four touchdowns, it can feel comfortable about earning a victory.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry vs. Bucs CB Brent Grimes. Landry leads Miami in receptions (61), yards (472) and touchdown receptions (5). But he will be locked up against one of the NFL's top cover corners in the 34-year-old Grimes, who still is playing at a high level -- three interceptions despite missing three games.

--Bucs C Ali Marpet vs. Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh. Suh is among the NFL's top defensive tackles and effective against the run or the pass. Marpet has graded out the best each week of any Bucs offensive lineman, but he is still new to the center position and faces a tough test in Suh.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dolphins CB Xavien Howard. In each of the last two games, the second-year player has been called for pass interference in the end zone. Now he faces Tampa Bay WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, a dangerous pair who both use physicality and speed to attack. Howard must use solid technique, including the use of his hands.

FAST FACTS: This was supposed to be a bye week for these teams, but their Week 1 game was postponed until now because of Hurricane Irma. ... Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has 471 passing yards, five TDs and two interceptions in his past two starts vs. Miami. ... Bucs RB Doug Martin has 351 scrimmage yards and a TD in his past four games on the road vs. AFC clubs. ... Buccaneers WR Mike Evans has 585 receiving yards (83.6 per game) and four TDs in seven career road games vs. the AFC. Since entering the league in 2014, he is tied for fourth in the NFL with 31 TD catches. ... WR DeSean Jackson led the Bucs with six receptions for 82 yards last week. ... Bucs TE Cameron Brate has 12 receiving TDs since 2016, tied for most among NFL tight ends. He has a TD catch in five of the past seven road games. ... Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith leads NFL rookies with 50 tackles. He had his first career sack last week. ... CB Brent Grimes spent three seasons with Miami (2013-15) and had 13 INTs and 43 passes defensed. Since 2013, he leads the NFL with 73 passes defensed and is tied for second with 19 INTs. ... Dolphins QB Jay Cutler has a 4-1 record vs. Tampa Bay. He passed for two TDs last week. He aims for his fifth game in a row with two TD passes. ... Dolphins RB Kenyan Drake rushed for 82 yards, including a 66-yard TD, in Week 10. He has 196 scrimmage yards (98 per game) in the past two games. ... Miami WR Jarvis Landry had a TD catch last week. He aims for his third game in a row with a TD. He has a receiving TD in five of the past six games. He leads the NFL with 61 catches. ... Dolphins TE Julius Thomas aims for his third game in a row with a TD catch. Since 2013, he is tied for second among NFL tight ends with 35 receiving TDs. ... Miami DE Cameron Wake has 13 sacks and six forced fumbles in his past 13 games at home. Since entering the league in 2009, he has 87.5 sacks, the most in the NFL. ... Dolphins S Reshad Jones is the only NFL safety with 60 tackles (62) and two interceptions.

PREDICTION: Scoring will be at a premium, but the return of Evans will give the Buccaneers a slight boost.

OUR PICK: Buccaneers, 20-17.

--Ellen Port

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