The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a major opportunity when they host the New England Patriots Thursday night.
The Bucs view themselves as a contender for the NFC South title, and they can give that claim some legitimacy with a good performance against the defending Super Bowl champions.
New England's defense has struggled badly in the first quarter of the season, as the Patriots have given up a league-worst 32 points per game. The Bucs' greatest strength is their ability to attack with quarterback Jameis Winston finding big-play wideout Mike Evans, deep threat DeSean Jackson and tight end Cameron Brate.
Based on the way that New England has played thus far in the 2017 season, Winston should be able to find success against the Patriots. However, it may not be that simple.
Head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will not sit idly by and let that defense get strafed.
The Patriots have the top-ranked offense in the league, and they should be able to move the ball and score on the Tampa Bay defense. Wide receivers Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks should be able to get open, and TE Rob Gronkowski (thigh) is the big weapon.
If Brate does anything positive for the Bucs, Gronkowski will respond to the challenge and put up even bigger numbers, assuming he can play in the game.
The Patriots are 5.5-point road favorites, and if they were not coming off a home loss in Week 4, the point spread would likely be seven points or more. Those backing the Patriots can get them at a bargain price.
However, the belief here is that the Bucs will get inside the spread and this game should come down to a field goal either way.
Week 5 point spreads and predictions
(Matchup, line, prediction)
New England at Tampa Bay, NE -5.5, Tampa Bay*
Buffalo at Cincinnati, Cin. -3, Buffalo
New York Jets at Cleveland, Even, NYJ
Carolina at Detroit, Det. -2, Detroit
San Francisco at Indianapolis, Ind. -1.5, Indianapolis
Tennessee at Miami, Tenn. -3, Tennessee
L.A. Chargers at N.Y. Giants, NYG -3.5, LAC*
Arizona at Philadelphia, Phil. -6.5, Philadelphia
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, Pitt. -8.5, Pittsburgh
Seattle at L.A. Rams, LAR -1, Seattle
Baltimore at Oakland, Oak. -2.5, Baltimore
Green Bay at Dallas, Dall. -2, Green Bay
Kansas City at Houston, KC -1, Houston
Minnesota at Chicago, Minn. -3, Chicago
*-will cover spread but fail to win the game.
Carolina at Detroit
The Panthers looked like one of the most offensively inept teams in the first three weeks of the season. They appeared to be auditioning for "The Walking Dead" when they went to Foxborough, Massachusetts, to play the Patriots in Week 4.
However, the Panthers shocked the NFL with a road win at New England, and quarterback Cam Newton keyed the triumph with 316 passing yards and three TDs. Newton had been struggling with his accuracy and looked like a shell of the quarterback he had been during the Panthers' Super Bowl season of 2015 previous to that.
Have the Panthers found their offensive legs, or was this just a one-game aberration? That's the question that handicappers will have to answer prior to making a play on this game.
The Lions have won three of their first four, and nearly beat the Falcons in Week 3. The Lions have an aggressive defense, and they should be close to their best as they return home for this game.
The defense appears to be improving steadily, while Matthew Stafford is playing at a high level. The quarterback always had the physical tools, but now he understands the subtle aspects of leadership and can wait the extra split second before throwing the ball.
The Lions are two-point favorites in this game, and they are being undersold. The line should be five or six points, so we are taking the home favorite to easily cover the spread.
Seattle at L.A. Rams
The Seahawks were not an impressive team through 30 minutes of their Week 4 home game against the Indianapolis Colts.
They were losing at home to a team that was playing without its All-Pro quarterback Andrew Luck. Worse than that, the Seattle offense could not do anything against one of the softest defenses in the league.
That changed at the start of the third quarter when the real Seahawks made an appearance at CenturyLink Field.
They erupted for 36 points in the second half, and quarterback Russell Wilson ignited the offense with his running and accurate passing.
Once Wilson got started, Bobby Wagner hit the gas pedal with the Seahawks defense, and the game became a one-sided rout.
Seattle will try to take that momentum to Los Angeles against the improving Rams. While we have full respect for the growth in second-year quarterback Jared Goff's game and the quickness on the defensive line with Aaron Donald, the Seahawks are clearly one of the league's top teams when they bring it the way they did in the second half against the Colts.
The Seahawks are one-point underdogs, and they should be able to win this game. Look for the Seahawks to take control of this game by halftime.