Some people don’t believe in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite Raheem Morris’ claim his team is the best in the NFC.
They are doubters despite Tampa’s 5-2 record, as good as any team in the conference.
They scoff despite the Bucs’ penchant for being at their best late in games as quarterback Josh Freeman, his offensive line, unheralded receivers and a big-play defense rapidly develop.
Those skeptics are the oddsmakers, who still see the Bucs as a middling team and have made them 9 1/2 -point underdogs at Atlanta in a Sunday meeting for the NFC South lead.
"This is not trash-talking. It’s a mentality," Morris said of his bold proclamation. "It’s a mentality before it’s a reality. If you don’t believe you can win, you probably won’t. And I believe, and my team believes, in us."
The Falcons need to believe, too, because even with their 5-2 record, they’ve had one stinker (a loss at Philadelphia) and two close games at home against inferior opponents (49ers and Bengals).
Atlanta comes off a bye — the Falcons are 11-10 after an off week — and ranks only 27th in pass defense. It’s uncertain if CB Dunta Robinson will be back after suffering a concussion in that brutal collision with Eagles WR DeSean Jackson on Oct. 17.
Bucs can make us true believers with a win. They are good enough to cover, but …
New England (minus 4) at Cleveland
For anyone who says the Patriots don’t run the ball effectively and that their defense is in transition, look at last week’s win over Minnesota. New England is a team on the rise, and it already has the league’s best record. BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 28-12
Chicago (minus 2 1/2 ) vs. Buffalo at Toronto
After two close defeats to good teams on the road, the time has come for the winless Bills — even if it isn’t at Ralph Wilson Stadium. UPSET SPECIAL: BILLS, 14-13
N.Y. Giants (minus 5) at Seattle
As good as the Seahawks are at home, when they are this banged-up it’s just not the same team. Matt Hasselbeck was dinged against Oakland, and now Charlie Whitehurst must face a defense that has knocked out five QBs. GIANTS, 27-10
Indianapolis (plus 2 1/2 ) at Philadelphia
Philly doesn’t lose after a bye under Andy Reid, who is 11-0 in such situations. There has to be a first time. COLTS, 21-20
Kansas City (plus 1) at Oakland
Once again a classic matchup, with AFC West supremacy potentially on the line. The Raiders suddenly are potent on offense, and the Chiefs could struggle to keep up in a shootout. RAIDERS, 27-21
Dallas (plus 7 1/2 ) at Green Bay
Once a classic matchup, now a team with playoff designs against the most underachieving bunch in pro football, if not pro sports. PACKERS, 30-16
Pittsburgh (minus 3 1/2 ) at Cincinnati, Monday night
A year ago, the Bengals swept the Steelers and the AFC North to finish first. In prime time, the Steelers sweep the Bengals out of all playoff conversation. STEELERS, 20-10
New Orleans (minus 6 1/2 ) at Carolina
Saints have no qualms about going on the road — they routed Tampa on their last trip. Panthers don’t match up. SAINTS, 27-13
Arizona (plus 8) at Minnesota
With all the madness in Minnesota, getting back on the field will be a relief. Brett Favre, injuries and all, still is a far better choice than Arizona’s Derek Anderson or Max Hall. VIKINGS, 23-13
N.Y. Jets (minus 3 1/2 ) at Detroit
Jets often play clunkers after a bye. If they lose this one, though, it’s time to worry, and the Lions have plenty of bite at home. A tempting choice for upset special, but … JETS, 14-13
Miami (plus 4) at Baltimore
If the Ravens are as good as they were pegged to be when the season began, they’ll begin a string of wins here — and hand the Dolphins their first road defeat. RAVENS, 20-13
San Diego (minus 1 1/2 ) at Houston
Did the Chargers right the ship against the Titans? Have the Texans shot their load, as it seemed in the loss to the Colts? No and No. TEXANS, 27-24
Versus spread, 8-5 (overall 60-49-1); Straight up, 6-7 (overall 73-44).
Best Bet: 4-4 against spread, 6-2 straight up. Upset Special: 6-2 against spread, 6-2 straight up.
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