Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay was 3-0, the best team in the NFL -- or at least the co-best with St. Louis. The defense was as good as ever, and the Bucs had an offense averaging 31 points in their first three games.
Two weeks later, the Bucs are 3-2 going on 3-3, facing a critical Monday night game in Minnesota. The Vikings have surprised the football-speaking world by starting 4-0 behind a quarterback, Daunte Culpepper, who hadn't thrown an NFL pass in anger until Week 1.
But the oddsmakers still believe the early-season lines.
This game opened as a pick 'em and Minnesota is now favored by 1, meaning the Vikings don't even get the home dome advantage. That's normally 3, although in the Metrodome, the crowd noise can be enough to add six points.
The oddsmakers know.
Give Tampa the desperation factor that worked for Washington the last two weeks.
Give the Tampa defense an edge over Culpepper.
Give the Bucs the X factors: A team that isn't good enough to start 5-0 (the Vikings) won't. And a team that's too good to lose three straight (Tampa Bay) won't do that either.
And finally, give Tampa the revenge factor -- Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel were cut loose by Minnesota and now start for the Buccaneers.
Even so, this Minnesota team has the electric kind of look it had two years ago, when it finished 15-1.
BUCS, 20-17 (overtime)
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