Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Tampa Bay -7.5
Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
When: Sunday, 12/25 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Tom Brady has made 330 career starts in the NFL, but Sunday’s game in Arizona will be his first on Christmas Day.
The Buccaneers are looking to snap a two-game losing streak and cling to first place in the NFC South. Arizona is riding a four-game skid and has already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Oddsmakers opened Tampa Bay as a 3-point favorite in this matchup, but the betting action has pushed the line up to -7.5 due to Arizona having to play with a third-string quarterback. Trace McSorley, who was drafted by the Ravens in 2019, is making his first career start following injuries to Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy. McSorley stepped in last week after McCoy left with a concussion—he has completed 15 of 29 passes for 166 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
The total has seen some downward movement throughout the week, dropping from the opener of 42 to 40.5, as of Friday afternoon. Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed 69 points in their last two games, including when the Buccaneers blew a 17-0 lead against Cincinnati last week.
Brady has been struggling as well, turning the ball over six times in those two losses. Tampa Bay did record its highest point total (23) since Week 4, though. The Buccaneers are one game ahead of Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans in the NFC South standings heading into the weekend, being priced at -400 to win the division at DraftKings as of Friday.
“Any division you win, regardless of whether you’re 17-0 or whether you’re 4-13, you win the division and you have a division banner,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said. “Then you try out for your next goal to get to the Super Bowl. Our first goal is to win the division, so we’re trying to do that.”
Brady, the league’s all-time passing leader, turned the ball over just four times in the first 11 games of the season. He will be trying to clean things up following his uncharacteristically bad two-game stretch when he faces an Arizona defense that is dead-last in scoring (26.6) but is in the middle of the pack in takeaways (17).
Veteran lineman J.J. Watt leads the team with 9.5 sacks, while safety Budda Baker was voted to the Pro Bowl and has 102 tackles. The Cardinals will be needing a strong effort from their defense to assist McSorley in the first start of his career. He went 7 of 15 for 95 yards and two picks after McCoy exited against the Broncos.
“I hate to use the term gamer, but he’s got a lot of moxie,” Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. Teammates respond to that well. He’s mobile and can move around. He had a couple of throws that he’d like to have back, but he had a couple scoring drives and like I said after the game, I just want to see how he does with some reps.”
McSorley should have three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, running back James Conner and wide receiver Marquise Brown available on Sunday. Hopkins missed the first six games of the season due to a performance-enhancing substance policy, but he could still hit 1,000 yards this year.
Conner has rushed for 268 yards over his last three games and should have his number called early and often in this game. He is facing a Tampa Bay defense that ranks seventh in the NFL, allowing 314.7 yards per contest.
Arizona is 1-12 in its last 13 home games, while Tampa Bay is winless in its last four road games. The Buccaneers have gone ‘under’ the total in seven of their last nine road games and have only covered the spread once in their last 12 contests.
The pick: Tampa Bay -7.5
It is extremely difficult to back the least profitable team in the NFL when the line is -7.5, but I feel like I owe Brady one more opportunity here. The Buccaneers are certainly capable of being a quality team this season, as evidenced by their early 17-0 lead against Cincinnati last week. They should also be the more motivated team on Sunday night, as they can take one step closer to clinching a playoff berth. Arizona is already out of the postseason picture and has a third-string quarterback making his first career start against the GOAT on Christmas Day in a stadium where the Cardinals have one win in their last 13 games. None of those factors make Arizona an attractive betting option, even against a struggling Tampa Bay squad.