This article is part of our NFL Picks series.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Betting Preview and Expert Picks for Sunday Night Football
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The Cardinals (4-10) welcome in the Buccaneers (6-8) for a Christmas Night conference clash at State Farm Stadium.
The game has no significance for the Cardinals other than pride, and they'll be operating with their third quarterback of the season in first-time starter Trace McSorley due to the absence of Colt McCoy (concussion).
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers will have to treat the contest as a must-win game as they fight for their only seemingly realistic path to the postseason, the NFC South crown. Tampa Bay took a costly loss to the Bengals in Week 15 and then saw the Carolina Panthers notch their sixth win Saturday over the Lions to keep the heat on.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Week 16
*Best lines at time of writing listed
Moneyline: Cardinals +300 (DraftKings Sportsbook)/ Buccaneers -365 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Point spread: Cardinals +8 (PointsBet Sportsbook)/ Buccaneers -7.5 (BetMGM Sportsbook)
Total: Over 39.5 points (FanDuel Sportsbook)/ Under 40.5 points (DraftKings Sportsbook)
The spread for this game already opened with the Cardinals as three-point underdogs, and their projected disadvantage has only grown following Week 15 results and confirmation that McCoy wouldn't play in this game. The number was progressively bet up over the course of the week, peaking as high as eight points at some sportsbooks before landing on 7.5 in many as of Saturday afternoon.
The total has remained modest throughout, and it's actually come down since opening at 42. It took its biggest dive in recent days to 39.5 after the announcement regarding McSorley before bumping back up to 40.5 at some sportsbooks as of Saturday afternoon.
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Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Betting Picks This Week
The Buccaneers, and Tom Brady in particular, would probably be the first to admit they've done nothing to warrant being listed as over a touchdown favorite over virtually any other team, but this scenario actually shapes up as one where Tampa Bay could deliver.
I'll ultimately stay away from taking a stand on what could be a tricky spread, but a victory here with some points being scored on the Bucs side is certainly in play. Tampa Bay showed some encouraging signs of life in its loss to the Bengals, with Brady throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also threw a pair of picks and lost two fumbles, but anyone who's followed Brady's career can attest to how rare that lack of ball security is.
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich appeared to be employing a lot more play action and motion against Cincinnati, especially in the first half. Those types of wrinkles should be back in the game plan this week against a Cardinals defense that's allowed 391.1 total yards per home game at 6.2 yards per play, the second-highest figure in the league.
Brady should have more time to work with in this game as well, considering Arizona sports the fifth-lowest adjusted sack rate (6.1%) per Football Outsiders while recording only nine interceptions in 14 games. Brady may not have Julio Jones (knee) again this week, but his chemistry with Russell Gage, who put up eight catches and two touchdowns with Jones out against the Bengals, should more than make up for that absence if it comes to pass.
Meanwhile, McSorley will certainly have a talented array of skill-position players at his disposal, but Tampa Bay's ability to apply pressure and Todd Bowles' experience should allow the Bucs to cook up plenty of schemes to disrupt a Cardinals offense being helmed by a first-time starter who'll operate behind an offensive line that was tied for the sixth-most sacks allowed (40) going into Week 16.
Cardinals vs. Buccaneers Best Bet: Buccaneers moneyline and Over 39.5 points (+127 at FanDuel Sportsbook)
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Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Prediction
Buccaneers 27, Cardinals 17
As already discussed, the Buccaneers showed some encouraging signs on offense against Cincinnati last week and therefore have a solid blueprint for how they should likely continue to attack. The Cardinals' defense has some big names, but they've also been more vulnerable at home. McSorley won't have what it takes to keep pace with Brady, leading to a relatively comfortable Bucs win.