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 NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).