- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were supposed to be vastly improved this year. The standings show a big, fat zero in the win column.

Yes, the talent base looks good on both sides of the ball. New coach Lovie Smith was a winner in Chicago and has brought a freshness to the environment in Tampa.

Yet his team lost two straight at home, both in close calls, but still defeats. Next up is Thursday night’s trip to Atlanta.

“That wasn’t a part of the master plan,” Smith said. “As much as anything for us, if we can just get to 1-2, get that first win. We weren’t able to get it done at home and that’s disappointing.”

Getting the victory could be made tougher by star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s broken left hand. He’ll be a game-time decision.

Atlanta fell flat in Cincinnati one week after a rousing comeback win against the Saints. Whether or not McCoy plays, the Falcons must find a way to better protect quarterback Matt Ryan, who comes off a bad performance.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Matt is going to bounce back,” said the other coaching Smith in this matchup, Atlanta’s Mike. “I know we’ve got to take care of the football. That’s the most important thing.”

The Falcons, tied for 17th in the AP Pro32 with, oddly, the archrival Saints, are 6 1/2-point favorites over No. 30 Tampa Bay. That spread is too big.

FALCONS, 23-20


No. 32 Oakland (plus 14) at No. 7 New England

Raiders get routed before heading across Atlantic.


No. 12 Chicago (plus 2 1/2) at No. 19 New York Jets, Monday night

Did the guys who set the line not see the second half last weekend for both teams?


No. 1 Denver (plus 4 1/2) at No. 2 Seattle

How much did Broncos learn from Super Bowl beating - and Chargers’ upset over Seahawks last week? Enough to cover, if not win.


No. 27 Kansas City (plus 4 1/2) at No. 21 Miami

Battered Chiefs must feel like it is Week 13, not Week 3.


No. 13 Indianapolis (minus 7) at No. 31 Jacksonville

Time for Colts to wake up in Jaguars’ home opener.

COLTS, 23-13

No. 6 San Francisco (minus 3) at No. 8 Arizona

Cardinals can prove they are THE team in tough NFC West. Not quite …

49ERS, 19-14

No. 20 Pittsburgh (plus 3 1/2) at No. 5 Carolina

Panthers’ defense what the Steelers wish they still had.


No. 9 San Diego (plus 2) at No. 11 Buffalo

If Buffalo goes to 3-0, we’ll start believing.


No. 14 Baltimore (minus 1) at No. 25 Cleveland

If Cleveland goes to 2-1, we’ll start believing.

RAVENS, 19-17

No. 24 Washington (plus 6 1/2) at No. 4 Philadelphia

How far can Eagles fall behind this week and still win?

EAGLES, 30-20

No. 23 Tennessee (plus 7) at No. 3 Cincinnati

Slew of injuries for Bengals could slow them down here.

BENGALS, 23-20

No. 22 Dallas (minus 1) at No. 28 St. Louis

We now know DeMarco Murray is most important Cowboy.

RAMS, 26-24

No. 10 Green Bay (plus 1 1/2) at No. 16 Detroit

Packers ride momentum from comeback vs. Jets.

PACKERS, 33-31

No. 15 Houston (minus 2 1/2) at No. 29 New York Giants

Giants fall halfway to last year’s 0-6 in a squeaker.

TEXANS, 17-16

No. 26 Minnesota (plus 9 1/2) at No. 17 (tie) New Orleans

Saints come home limping, but this is a good matchup for them.

SAINTS, 34-20


2014 RECORD: Against spread: This week (6-9-1); Season (13-15-3). Straight up: This week (8-8); Season (18-14)

Best Bet: 1-1 against spread, 1-1 straight up.

Upset special: 2-0 against spread, 1-1 straight up.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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