WHERE THEY PLAY: Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Ma
Last Season: 5-11 record, finished in last place in the AFC East.
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (5-2 preseason record with the Patriots).
Offensive Coordinator: Charlie Weis
Defensive Coordinator: Romeo Crennel
Special Teams Coach: Brad Seely MATCHUP TO WATCH: Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber vs. Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe is coming off of a disappointing season, where he threw 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His offensive line has allowed 99 sacks in the past two seasons. Bledsoe has proved he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when he has adequate time to throw. But facing Tampa Bay's relentless pass rush will not allow Bledsoe much time to throw in the pocket.
Meanwhile, Barber is coming off of his best season as a pro, where he recorded a career-high 5.5 sacks and 20 passes defended. Barber will pose a threat to Bledsoe in both blitz packages and in pass coverage. Although Tampa Bay was able to put tremendous pressure on Bledsoe last preseason, the Bucs' defense was not able to record a sack. But when Barber and company faced Bledsoe in the regular season last year, Barber sacked Bledsoe on a corner blitz and the defense recorded three other sacks.
RUSH HOUR: Tampa Bay held Cleveland to 44 yards rushing on 26 carries (1.7 avg.) last week. But New England will surely be an even bigger test. The Patriots rushing attack has averaged 142.5 yards rushing in their first two preseason wins over the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers. The Buccaneers' No.1 priority this season is to improve against the run, but this will be a difficult task against the Patriots.
STARTERS WILL BREAK A SWEAT: After seeing limited action in their first two preseason games, Tampa Bay's first teams will play into the third quarter. This means the players will actually be able to build a rhythm instead of coming out of the game just as they were starting to get going. After talking with some of the Bucs' offensive players this week, one can tell they are excited about playing at least one series into the third quarter on Saturday night against the Patriots. Since the Bucs' starters will see very little action in their preseason finale against Atlanta, it will be important for the first team offense to score some points and gain some confidence.
SURVIVOR: This will be the last chance for some Bucs' players to make a good impression on Tampa Bay's coaching staff. The Buccaneers have their first roster cut down of the preseason on the Tuesday following the Bucs-Patriots game. Tampa Bay will have to cut their roster down to 65 players and then final roster cuts will come after the Bucs-Falcons game on Sept. 2.
FLYNN'S FINAL: Tampa Bay's first team offense has yet to score a touchdown in two preseason games. Look for the Bucs to try and get on the board in a hurry against the Patriots defense. The longer Tampa Bay's offense goes without a touchdown, the uglier their performance could be become.
Although the defense was solid last week, Tampa Bay will certainly have to be on guard against a potentially explosive Patriots' offense. New England has put up 37 points in two preseason games. In comparison, Tampa Bay has scored 20 in two preseason games.
The third preseason game is always the most interesting and most critical, especially for the Buccaneers' offense. This will basically be Tampa Bay's units' only chance to build some type of momentum heading into their regular season opener on Sept. 9 at Dallas. Their preseason finale is a wash since the starters will only play a series or two. Tampa Bay's offense does not have to come out and light up the scoreboard against New England, but the first team must finally reach the end zone in order to gain some type of momentum.
FLYNN'S PICK: Buccaneers 20 Patriots 9
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