Caution: 5 reasons the Tampa Bay Bucs could upset the Eagles

Caution: 5 reasons the Tampa Bay Bucs could upset the Eagles

It sure seemed like the Eagles were catching a break when I first saw Tampa Bay on the schedule. The Buccaneers will be searching for their first win of the season on Sunday. They’re mostly in the news these days because of a messy divorce with their former franchise quarterback. From an outsider’s perspective, they appear to be dysfunctional both on and off the field.

But as it turns out, the Bucs aren’t as feeble as their record would have you believe, so don’t go marking a W on your oversized Miller Lite Eagles schedule just yet. Going on the road to face a team coming off of a bye is always dangerous, but a team that is probably feeling a bit desperate and disrespected these days? Look out.

This is not as “easy” of a game as it might have appeared. The Eagles are only 2-point favorites for a reason, and fans should be very leery about the possibility for an upset this Sunday.

Playing close games

They may have similar records, but the Bucs are not the Giants exactly.

New York’s rampant turnovers and porous defense have led to their being blown out or at least beaten by multiple scores most weeks this season. Tampa Bay on the other hand has been involved in several close games. Three of their four losses were decided by a combined six points.

The Eagles can’t approach this game as if they are going to walk all over the Bucs. As long as Tampa Bay continues holding opponents to 17.5 points per game—eighth-lowest total in the NFL—they have a chance to beat anybody.

Philadelphia may have one of the most prolific offenses in the league—second in yards (454.8), eighth in points (27)—but as we’re about to delve into, the Buccaneers defense actually matches up quite well. Plus, while Nick Foles may be a high-end backup with starter potential, there’s no denying the Birds lose some of their explosiveness with Michael Vick out of the lineup.

The concern is the Eagles are going to be caught in a low-scoring affair this week, one in which one big play one way or the other could swing the outcome.

Can shut down the opposing team’s running game

Tampa Bay finished 2012 with the top rushing defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 82.5 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. With Vick and LeSean McCoy out of the lineup, the Eagles managed just 29 yards on the ground in a meeting against the Bucs last season—27 of those coming from Nick Foles.

While they’re not ranked number one through four games, it’s basically been more of the same. Tampa is still only conceding 94.2 YPG with an average of 3.7 per attempt, both tied for eighth.

The Eagles may have Shady in the lineup this time around, but it hasn’t been so easy for the All-Pro back the past couple weeks. Denver’s No. 1 run defense limited McCoy to 73 yards on 16 carries in Week 4, then in last Sunday’s win over New York he was held to -2 yards on eight tries once Vick exited the game.

Vick’s likely absence doesn’t mean McCoy can’t have success on the ground, but a mobile quarterback certainly helps to open things up. Even if he plays though, expect Tampa Bay to be stingy against Philly's ground attack.

They have a shutdown corner

When DeSean Jackson is involved in the passing game, the offense looks good. The Eagles are scoring 33 points per game when Djacc goes off for at least seven receptions, 100 yards and a touchdown this season, while the club’s record is 2-1 in those games.

Unfortunately, the offense has not fared as well when Jackson is matched up against better cornerbacks. Kansas City’s Brandon Flowers and Denver’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were able keep the diminutive wide receiver at bay—5 REC, 96 YDS, 0 TD in two games. Not surprisingly, the Birds’ suffered as a result, averaging 14.5 points and losing both.

Now Jackson faces his toughest test to date in All-World defensive back Darrelle Revis, the top shutdown corner in the game. When the two last met with Revis a member of the New York Jets in 2011, DeSean hauled in just two passes for 28 yards.

Without Jeremy Maclin on the opposite side of the field, what we’ve seen when Jackson is erased as an option is Philly’s offense vanishes along with him. Nobody else has stepped up as viable No. 2 target, and if that happens again this week in Tampa Bay, the Eagles could be in serious trouble.

Numerous Pro Bowlers

The Bucs are actually loaded with star players capable of breaking out at any given moment. Revis and safety Dashon Goldson can swing the momentum with one big interception. Chip Kelly thinks Gerald McCoy might be the best 3-technique defensive lineman in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball, Vincent Jackson is third among all active receivers averaging 17.8 yards per reception, which can flip field position or light up a scoreboard in a hurry. And Doug Martin ran for 1,454 yards last season behind an offensive line that features three Pro Bowlers.

How quickly could the Eagles’ fortunes change on Sunday if any one of these stars finds themselves in the zone? If the game is tight, it may only take one or two plays from a special player to put the Bucs out in front.

Mike Glennon had an extra week to prepare

The best thing the Eagles have going for them is third-round pick Mike Glennon will be making his second career start under center for the Bucs. For all we know, Glennon may possess the skill to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but right now he’s just another unimpressive rookie.

In Week 4 against Arizona, Glennon completed 24 of 43 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, but heaved two interceptions late in the fourth quarter to choke the game away. He’s at a point right now where he probably needs to worry about managing games, not winning them.

Then again, Tampa Bay is coming off of that bye, which means the coaching staff has had extra time to draw up a game plan specifically for Glennon. The Bucs’ offense is going to have new wrinkles the Eagles haven’t seen on tape before, and the NC State product may catch the defense by surprise.

After all, while Philadelphia’s D probably isn’t as bad as their rankings would suggest—31st in the NFL—we’re all aware they have shortcomings. Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning both have been able to completely expose the Eagles this season.

I don’t think we’ll see an elite or Hall of Fame caliber performance from Glennon, but if he can avoid turning the ball over, the coaches should be able to put him in a situation where he can succeed. This alone would make the Bucs a dangerous opponent this week, but as you can see they have a lot more going for them than a little extra preparation.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).