NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints drew the short straw in the Minneapolis Miracle, when rookie safety Marcus Williams completely whiffed when going in for a tackle on Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, which led to Diggs turning up the field and scoring a touchdown as time expired to win the game.  The Saints were rolling all season and were in my opinion the best team in the NFC going into the postseason.

The offense has always been successful with the duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton, but with the emergence of then rookie RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas, the offense was unstoppable at times.  Brees-led offenses often depended solely on the passing game, but 2017 was a different story.  The Saints ranked second in the NFL in total yards per game (391.2), with the team finishing fifth in both passing and rushing yards a game (261.8 and 129.4 respectively).  Kamara and Mark Ingram provided a backfield Drew Brees never had in his time in New Orleans, and Kamara’s ability to make plays out of the backfield makes defenses hesitate.  The rest of the playmakers on offense are not very exciting, but as Brees and Tom Brady have shown us over the years, when you are a top five quarterback, you make your receivers better.  The offensive line earned the highest pass blocking efficiency of any team in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and will give Brees plenty of time to pick apart defenses once again.  The Saints are going to put up numbers, just like every year that Brees has been in New Orleans.

The surprise of last season that propelled the Saints to a NFC south division title was the dramatic improvement of the defense.  It is amazing what happens to a team when a Ryan brother leaves.  The Saints went from being 27th in total defense in 2016 to 16th in 2017.  They also went from ranking 31st in scoring defense in 2016 to 10th in 2017.  Those are two major jumps that, when paired with an offense that scores nearly 30 points a game, can translate to a lot of regular season games.  The defense has playmakers at all three levels.  DE Cam Jordan made the All-Pro team last season, and is paired with DE Alex Okafor, and rookie DE Marcus Davenport, the Saints should have no issue getting to the quarterback.  Linebackers Demario Davis and Manti Te’o are no Pro Bowlers but are serviceable.  The Saints secondary has gone from the fatal flaw of the entire roster, to potentially the most complete group in just two seasons.  Second year DB’s Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams were Pro Bowl talents right out the gate.  The Saints added star slot cornerback Patrick Robinson from the Eagles this offseason, and safety Kurt Coleman from the Panthers.  If these guys can step up, along with third year cornerback Ken Crawley, this secondary is going to be a takeaway machine.  The Saints finished tied for ninth in turnover differential and should improve on that number with the moves the front office made this offseason.

The NFL is all about storylines, and as we all know, Drew Brees is getting old, and Sean Payton leaving the Saints rumors have been popping up in the past couple seasons.  Getting to see one of the ten best quarterbacks to ever play football, and who has been such a crucial member of the New Orleans community, especially through hurricane Katrina, win a Super Bowl to ride into the sunset would be pretty cool.  The Saints traded their first-round pick in the 2019 draft to move up and get Davenport because the front office thinks they are only a few players away from winning a championship.  They are going to win games this season, and with Brees under center, anything can happen come playoff time.  WHO DAT nation should be excited, this might be the year.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  Last year was the year of the Kamara, this season is going to be the year of the Thomas.  Michael Thomas is a freak of nature, and I expect him to be Mossing dudes all over the field.  Also, the Saints had one of the best NFL drafts ever last season, so it only makes sense for Marcus Davenport to be a complete flop.

Prediction: 13-3 (1st in NFC South, 3rd Seed in NFC Playoffs)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

My beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this is going to be a long year.

The Bucs get the privilege of playing in the toughest division in football, the NFC South.  Their quarterback, Jameis Winston, is a bad dude, and continues to not understand the concept of learning from your mistakes.  Winston is suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for an incident with an Uber driver in Phoenix.  During his suspension, the team plays the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers, which will be three losses.  Winston then returns week four against the Bears and Solider Field before their bye week in week five.  There is a good chance that if the Bucs are winless at the bye week, head coach Dirk Koetter will be canned, and the rest of the season will be dedicated to finding out what they have on the roster, and if Winston is the long-term answer at quarterback for the franchise.

Sorry, I needed to get that off my chest, especially after Teddy Bridgewater was acquired by the Saints for a 2019 third round draft pick.  The Bucs wasted a second-round draft pick on a kicker that is not on the team anymore, but could not trade a third-round pick for a quarterback that could have gotten the team out of the messy Winston situation?  The God Damn Bucs.

The Tampa Bay roster is not terrible by any means.  The receiving core is one of the best leaguewide, led by the unguardable WR Mike Evans, old Desean Jackson, and potential breakout candidate Chris Godwin.  Add tight ends Cameron Brate and OJ Howard, and defenses are going to pick and choose who to take away.  With Winston out, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to have to step up if the Bucs want to have a chance this season, and a lack of weapons will not be the reason for his failure.  The bad offensive line and lack of talented running backs might be a different story.  I watched Donavan Smith play on the worst offensive line in Penn State history, and Jason Licht took one of those linemen in the early second round.  The Bucs added free agent center Ryan Jenson, which allows Ali Marpet to move back to his natural guard position.  Demar Dotson has had injury issues, and Caleb Benenoch is a wild card at right guard.  Second round rookie RB Ronald Jones has been disappointing at best this preseason, and the Bucs will rely on Peyton Barber (yes, you read that right), and Jacquizz Rodgers (again, yes, you read that right) to take most of the carries.  Whether it is Winston or Fitzpatrick, the quarterback is going to take a beating all season long and will have no run support.

The defense is built the opposite of the offense.  The front seven, led by DT Gerald McCoy, OLB Lavonte David, and MLB Kwon Alexander is loaded.  The Bucs made it a priority this offseason to address the worst defense in the NFL last season, drafting DT Vita Vea, CB’s Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart, and safety Jordan Whitehead in April, and adding defensive linemen Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre Paul, and Beau Allen in free agency.  These moves add plenty of depth on the defensive line and should give the Bucs the chance to generate a pass rush that was non-existent in 2017.  The concern I have is that the secondary as it stands is not any better than it was in 2017, where the Bucs ranked last in passing defense.  Young defensive backs tend to take years, not months, to develop, and although it was a smart move to add three young players to that group through the draft, they will most likely not make an immediate positive impact.  That is a hard pill to swallow when you are in a division that has Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton playing in it.

I wrote about how much of a dumpster fire the Bucs were going to be this year during the summer, and my feelings have only gotten stronger.  Here is a quote from my earlier post:

“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.” Link: https://officialbigheadsports.com/2018/08/01/the-2018-tampa-bay-buccaneers-are-on-the-verge-of-a-dumpster-fire/

The Bucs just are not good where they need to be good.  They have no positive leadership from the quarterback or head coach.  Licht has been hot and cold with all his moves as the Bucs general manager.  No rookie has stood out during training camp as an instant impact player.  There just have not been many encouraging signs that make me feel like the team can win more than four games this season.  This is going to be a tough year for the Bucs, but I will enjoy every second of it.  Time to eat some L’s.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  As a fan, I’d rather be a bottom five team than be a middle of the road team.  When you are average, you get stuck in no-mans-land, and have trouble adding blue chip players.  If the Bucs are not a playoff team this season, let’s go for 0-16!  Nick Bosa would look amazing in the Red and Pewter!

I am interested to see if Winston plays well all season long after his suspension, will the Bucs hold on to him for one more season, or is the relationship between Winston and the organization broken beyond repair already?  I would not want Winston representing my business, but it always comes back to money for these teams, and the whole “you can be who you can afford to be” concept peaks its head out once again…

Prediction: 4-12 (4th in NFC South)

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