NFL 2018 Season - Week 14
 

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Banking at the Bank
by Dennis Ranahan

Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be mentioned with the likes of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League such as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers or a handful of other starters considered superior to the Harvard Grad. But, would it surprise you to know that the 14-year veteran has played on seven NFL teams and rose to the starting role in multiple games for all those squads and has been the primary starter for campaigns in ten of those years?

He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2005, and has since played for the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, New York Jets and his current team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Like so many other seasons during his career, he was considered a reliable backup in camp but then rose to starter status. This year, he only started the first three games for the Buccaneers because franchise quarterback and the first pick in the draft four years ago, Jameis Winston, served a three games suspension to open the year.

Fitzpatrick made the most of his opportunity, putting up 48 points on opening day to lead the Buccaneers to a huge upset win against the New Orleans Saints on the road. He followed that effort with a second week victory engineered against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

His third start, and last one before Winston was back with the team, was a narrow loss to the highly regarded Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-27. When Winston returned to the Bucs in Week Four he was left on the bench and Fitzpatrick held onto the starting role … and the Bucs got pummeled by the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, 48-10.

That loss, and a bye week to work Winston back into the lineup, sent Fitzpatrick to the bench. In Winston’s first start, against the Atlanta Falcons on the road, Winston kept the Bucs competitive but led a loss, 34-29. In his second season start, Winston engineered a narrow home win over the Cleveland Browns, 26-23. But, last week, in Cincinnati, Winston surrendered four interceptions during three quarters of work and head coach Dirk Koetter replaced the franchise quarterback with Fitzpatrick who led the Bucs back from an 18 point deficit to a tie late in the fourth quarter.

The Bucs defense wasn’t able to prevent the Bengals a last minute drive that ended with Cincinnati kicking the winning field goal on the game’s last play. Still, the dramatics posted by Fitzpatrick prompted Koetter to once again turn to the veteran to start this week when Tampa Bay meets the Panthers in Carolina.

While Fitzpatrick has been the starter during most seasons he’s played in the league, he has never led a team or played on a team that cracked the playoff field. That string of no playoff appearances appears to be on a path to continue this year … and it is not Fitzpatrick’s fault alone.

While he may spark some offensive fireworks, the Bucs defense is a major problem. In all seven of their games this year Tampa Bay has allowed more than 20 points, more than 30 points three times and more than 40 points twice.

Cam Newton and his Panthers are no doubt licking their chops for a crack at the Bucs swinging gate defense, and likely confident of putting up big numbers this Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

But, before you run out to bet on the Panthers this week, know this, they are in a horrible motivational spot. Their five wins this season include last week’s home upset victory over the Baltimore Ravens, and next week Carolina has their eye on a tough game at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

You can’t blame Newton and his men for overconfidence this week when the Bucs come calling, but you can cash a ticket while betting against them.

Qoxhi Picks: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6½) over Carolina Panthers