The 2018 Buccaneers season begins with a showdown against the Saints in New Orleans. But before we discuss the team’s chances of success, the NFL point spread assigned to this game, and whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick will be able to lead this team in Jameis Winston’s absence, shouldn’t we talk a little about Jameis Winston himself?
The year is 2015 and the Bucs have the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. We know that Tampa Bay chose Winston with that selection, ahead of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who was selected second overall by the Titans, but was he the right choice and has he lived up to his billing?
Of the seven quarterbacks taken in that draft, Winston is the only one who has been selected to a Pro Bowl (2015) but a penchant for turnovers has kept him from achieving greatness and getting the Bucs into the playoffs. Winston passed for 22 touchdowns and ran for six more in his rookie campaign, but threw 15 interceptions. He threw for a franchise-record 28 touchdowns the next season, but his INT rate increased to 18. An injury-shortened season last year saw Winston throw 19 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions, but he fumbled 10 times.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Winston was turnover-free in the preseason, which was encouraging, but will serve a three-game suspension to kick off 2018. When Winston returns in Week 4 it will be incumbent upon him to lift his team from the depths of the NFC South, where it found themselves last season, and into the postseason. How he conducts himself off the gridiron will go a long way towards predicting how he will fare on it. Because as Winston goes, so too go the Bucs.
As we evaluate this Week 1 contest, where the SBR NFL point spread is currently showing the home team as 9 1/2 point favorites – although that line could move up or down depending on the whims of the betting public – we see that the Bucs are at a disadvantage in several ways. First and foremost, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the man under center and his preseason stats are illustrative of his career – plain ol’ vanilla. In the three exhibition games in which he participated, Fitzpatrick went 17-of-28 with 183 passing yards and no touchdowns or interceptions, but did lead the Bucs on two touchdown drives.
The 35-year-old veteran is more of a game manager as opposed to a game changer. He will keep the seat warm in Winston’s absence and is little chance of continuing to sit on the throne when Winston returns.
The Bucs did a nice job of revamping the defensive line with the trade for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, signing defensive end Vinny Curry and defensive tackle Beau Allen along with the drafting of defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round. Needless to say, Tampa Bay’s pass rush along with their run-stopping ability appears to have been upgraded. Yet, the troubling news emanating out of the Bucs’ camp is that Vea (calf) and starting left tackle Donovan Smith (knee) are still ailing with their respective injuries and their status on Sunday is uncertain.
The Saints will see Drew Brees practicing his brand of quarterbacking voodoo again this year down on the Bayou and the specter of one of the league’s passing greats is always a concern for any defensive backfield, particularly one like Tampa Bay’s where the defensive line is strong but the secondary is relatively inexperienced outside of cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Chris Conte.
Saints QB Drew Brees and Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Getty Images
New Orleans finished the preseason with a 3-1 record and outscored their last two opponents, the Chargers and Rams by a combined 64-7 margin. Although the preseason is immaterial in terms of the regular season it should be noted that the Saints are 13-5 against the spread (ATS) over their last 18 games against the NFC South while the Bucs are 2-6-1 ATS on the road over their last nine regular season road contests. Bucs fans would love to see their team pull off a shocker in Week 1, but if you value your bankroll, put your money on the Saints at home.