The 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into last season with high expectations. Fresh off HBO’s Hard Knocks, there was a lot of buzz that the Bucs would be able to improve upon their hot finish to the 2016 season, where they finished 9-7, and potentially make their first playoff appearance since 2008.
The season bizarrely began with their week one game against the Miami Dolphins being postponed to week 11, which was each of the team’s bye week, due to Hurricane Irma coming through the state during that weekend. The team came out strong against the Chicago Bears in their first outing in week two, struggled against the Vikings in Minnesota (which was reasonable) in week three, and defeated the New York Giants on a last-second field goal in week four. There was optimism going into their Thursday Night Football battle with the New England Patriots, but the Bucs left too many opportunities on the table leading to a narrow defeat, 19-14. Everything was downhill from here. The Bucs drop five straight games, and Jameis Winston (more on him later) went down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three games. The Bucs ended the season posting a 5-11 record and landing them the seventh overall selection in the 2018 draft.
After the 2017 season ended, it was almost a given that head coach, Dirk Koetter, was going to be shown the door, but after the Bucs missed their chance of bringing back their Super-Bowl-winning coach, Jon Gruden, they decided to stick with Koetter for the 2018 season. Jason Licht also returned for his fourth season as the general manager in Tampa. I believe the team may have waited one year too long to cut the cord on a coaching staff and front office that completely lost the team this season.
Jameis Winston has also emerged as a potential disaster for the franchise. Winston was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 NFL season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, where he allegedly groped an Uber driver during a trip in Scottsdale, Arizona. To be clear, this is alleged, but Winston’s track record hurts his credibility. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior, but the unfortunate truth of this matter is that the Bucs have invested their whole franchise in Winston and will not cut ties with the quarterback unless horrific video comes out of any incidents that Winston has been accused of. The Bucs have not included Winston in any of their promotional videos, or banners outside of Raymond James Stadium, which has not gone unnoticed. I have no idea how this is affecting the relationship between the Bucs and Winston, especially the season before a large contract extension could be discussed between the two parties, but I am sure it cannot be a settling feeling.
Along with the off-the-field struggles that have been mentioned, there are many holes on the field that still were only partially addressed. I am a big supporter of all the depth added to the defensive line, which ranked last in sacks last season, but the secondary still concerns me. The Bucs used 2018 draft capital to pick cornerbacks Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart (another off-the-field concern guy) along with safety Jordan Whitehead. Tampa will be relying on young, inexperienced defensive backs to provide major contributions to a defense that gave up the most passing yards in the NFL in 2017. The vast improvement on the defensive line should help soften the burden for the Bucs secondary, but sure does not solve the problem.
Another move that the Bucs made that I enjoyed was bringing in former Ravens center, Ryan Jensen. As a Bucs and Penn State Nittany Lion fan, I have had the privilege to witness some all-time bad offensive lines the last 4 years. Luckily for me, Penn State has turned that weakness into a strength with strong recruiting, and the addition of Jensen has the Bucs in the right direction. That still leaves two holes at left tackle and right guard that I do not have confidence in. Left tackle Donovan Smith was a member of the worst offensive line I have ever watch in my life at Penn State, and Jason Licht thought it would be a great idea to select Smith in the second round. The same guy took a kicker in the second round that busted, so I guess I should not be surprised. Smith has shown flashes but has been mostly inconsistent in Tampa. The JR Sweezy signing did not work out as planned, leaving a void at the other guard position beside Ali Marpet.
The Bucs selection of USC running back Ronald Jones in the second round was not a bad one, but I am not confident that Jones is the three-down back that the Bucs needed to allow for Koetter’s offensive scheme to flourish.
On the positive side, I do believe the Bucs have three top-five units in the NFL; wide receiver, tight end, and linebacker. The core of Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, and emerging playmaker, Chris Godwin, will make secondaries nervous on the outside and in the slot. Cam Brate and OJ Howard provide a lot of fire power up the middle of the field, creating mismatches with safeties and linebackers all over the NFL. On the defensive side of the ball, Lavonte David is one of the most underrated and underappreciated stars in the NFL, while Kwon Alexander is an up-and-coming star, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2017.
There is only one problem… having dominant receivers, tight ends, and linebackers does not translate to successful postseason performances. Elite quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lineman, and secondary play do. All of these, excluding the defensive line, are question marks or weaknesses for the Bucs.
As a fan, I am cheering for two things…
- The Bucs completely prove me wrong, reaching the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, and live up to the hype that surrounded the organization last season or
- The whole season is a complete shit show, and the franchise cleans house after the season, including potentially…… Winston.
The over-under win total for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season in 6.5 wins according to Odds Shark. I feel like that might be a generous total, given that Winston is out the first three weeks against three playoff teams including the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers. The Bucs also play in the hardest division in football, where it will be hard to find many wins along the way.
I am waiting to put any bets in for NFL over-under wins until the preseason concludes, but the Bucs under 6.5 wins for the Bucs seems like a bet that could make people a lot of money come January. I have been a Buccaneers fan since I was seven, when the team won Super Bowl XXXVII, but ever since that day, they have torn my heart out each and every year. This coming season has the potential to be the biggest disaster during my fandom, and I am ready to embrace it! Bring on the 2018-2019 NFL season!