Bucs still trying to recover from rust belt

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

This may have been the worst possible NFL season for a quarterback to serve a September suspension. Rules changes made it much easier to move the ball in the air. While most veteran quarterbacks were enjoying their new-found freedom to fire, Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was in the penalty box getting rusty. 

That rust never wore off. 

Meanwhile, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick was ideally suited to the new rules. He was experienced at reading the field and making quick decisions. He could fire the ball long when openings arose. The bearded bomber made a statement in week one with an upset of New Orleans, and kept right on posting big numbers. 

Tampa Bay “had” to go with high-paid Winston once he was eligible. But rust, and probably other factors too, contributed to sloppy performances. Fitzpatrick regained the starting job in the second half of a Week 8 loss at Cincinnati. He will be in the pocket Sunday when the Bucs visit the New York Giants (FOX, 1 p.m. ET).

These numbers show why Fitzpatrick deserves to start…

The Beard vs. The Bad

Touchdowns: Fitzpatrick 17, Winston 6

Interceptions: Fitzpatrick 9, Winston 10

Passer Rating: Fitzpatrick 107.3, Winston 74.7

Winston has thrown one more interception in 77 fewer passes. And a TD/INT ratio of -4 is inexcusable in this new era of extreme offense.

For a frame of reference, Fitzpatrick doesn’t quite rank with MVP candidates. His passer rating entered the week in the same neighborhood as Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, and Kirk Cousins. Winston’s is barely ahead of overmatched rookies like Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, but behind disappointments Case Keenum and Blake Bortles. 

Sunday, the Giants will likely close around 2.5-point favorites. Betting markets see Tampa Bay “with Fitzpatrick” as the slightly superior side, because home field advantage is generally priced at 3 points in the NFL. New York’s defense must prepare in a short week following a Monday night victory in San Francisco. Tampa Bay is in a bounce-back spot after losing to Washington 16-3 despite winning total yardage 501-286 on 7.5 to 5.2 yards-per-play. (TB was hurt by four turnovers and two missed field goals.)

Time for a quick update of VSiN’s estimated “market” Power Ratings that are based on late-week point spreads. Jonathan Von Tobel of “Betting Across America” and I put our heads together to come up with these…

NFC: LA Rams 88, New Orleans 87, Carolina 83, Green Bay 82, Chicago 82, Minnesota 82, Philadelphia 81, Seattle 81, Dallas 80, Atlanta 80, Detroit 76, Tampa Bay 76, NY Giants 75, San Francisco 74, Arizona 72. 

AFC: Kansas City 87, New England 86, Pittsburgh 86, LA Chargers 84, Baltimore 82, Houston 82, Tennessee 81, Indianapolis 80, Denver 80, Cincinnati 78, Jacksonville 78, Cleveland 76, Miami (with Osweiler) 74, NY Jets 73, Buffalo 72, Oakland 71. 

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