Difficult to trust the Patriots' shaky defence
Tampa Bay can exploit New England's problems
Sky Sports Action, 1.25am Thursday night
New England's progress towards a repeat Super Bowl success has been far from serene and their poor defence could leave them with ground to catch up in the AFC East if they fall to their third defeat of the campaign at Tampa Bay.
A 33-30 defeat to Carolina at Foxborough on Sunday has left the Patriots with a 2-2 record and despite the fact they have won their last nine regular-season matches on the road, the trip to Florida is likely to provide a tough test.
Bill Belichick's side have conceded an average of 32 points per game and, in a short week, it is difficult to envisage a rapid enough improvement.
They face a Buccaneers side who have excellent offensive weapons in receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, and who will also be boosted by the return of running back Doug Martin after suspension, so a proper examination is in prospect.
Tampa Bay have won their last six matches at the Raymond James Stadium and should be up to the task if the match turns into the shootout that bookmakers anticipate - the total-points line is 55 and could increase as kick-off nears.
They will have to put more pressure on New England quarterback Tom Brady - the Buccaneers have not forced a turnover or a sack since their opening 29-7 win over Chicago.
But there are just too many questions regarding the Patriots on the other side of the ball to back them to cover a decent-sized handicap with any great confidence.
Tampa Bay +5.5
2pts 10-11 general
The Patriots should be at full strength with no key starters struggling with injuries.
The Bucs welcome back running back Doug Martin after suspension, but linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are set to miss the game. Safety TJ Ward (hip) is another injury concern.
The points total has gone under the line in six of the last seven meetings.
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