The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
Table of Contents
This week’s topic: Can The Bucs Still Win The NFC South Division?
Scott Reynolds: Maybe, But I Doubt Bucs Dethrone The Saints
I’m going to stick with my preseason prediction, which was New Orleans winning the NFC South – again – and Tampa Bay finishing second in the division with a wild card playoff berth. Even with Saints quarterback Drew Brees missing between three to five weeks with broken ribs, I just don’t see New Orleans losing three of its last seven games, which is what it would take for Tampa Bay to take back the lead in the NFC South.
The 7-3 Bucs are half a game behind the 7-2 Saints, but in reality, they are one and half games back because New Orleans swept Tampa Bay. The Bucs would need to win out and for the Saints to lose two games to pass them in the standings. But because Tampa Bay won’t win all of its six remaining games, New Orleans would need to lose at least three games to be overtaken. Even with turnover-prone Jameis Winston under center possibly aiding New Orleans’ opponents, the Saints have a very favorable schedule down the stretch with home games against the Falcons (3-6), Chiefs (9-1) and Vikings (4-5), and road games against the Broncos (3-6), Falcons (3-6), Eagles (3-5-1), and Panthers (3-7).
The bottom line is that Tampa Bay had its shot to dethrone New Orleans and got swept because the team got out-coached and out-played. Saints head coach Sean Payton is among the league’s best and will figure out a way to mix in Taysom Hill enough to help Winston out at quarterback, while leaning on Dennis Allen’s stingy defense. The Saints are a very good team, know how to win, and can weather the storm against lesser foes while Brees recovers. The best I see the Bucs finishing is 4-2 down the stretch for an 11-5 record, but that won’t be enough to wrestle the NFC South title away from the Saints.
Mark Cook: Take It To The Bank – Maybe
It won’t be an easy task, but it is a lot more possible than it was say a week ago after a humiliating loss to the Saints. I think Tampa Bay has a 50/50 chance now with the loss of Drew Brees for a few weeks. Of course all the Saints did last season was go 5-0 with Brees out of the lineup with an injured thumb.
The difference was Teddy Bridgewater under center not Jameis Winston, and Bridgewater managed the Saints offense perfectly in relief of Brees. Can Winston do the same thing? With a solid defense and a tremendous running game, plus a great offensive mind in Sean Payton, Winston should be able to hold down the fort. But will he fall back into his bad habits of turning the ball over? If so, the NFC South is ripe for the picking for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs will also need to handle their own business, and not even concern themselves with what is happening in New Orleans. In fact, if I am Bruce Arians, I am getting the Bucs in playoff mode where every week is a one-game season. Tampa Bay needs to play with a sense of urgency, but focus squarely on just the opponent at hand. And lastly, it will also depend on how long Brees is out. Three weeks? Forget about it most likely, but if it is a longer stretch the Buccaneers can take advantage of the Saints misfortune. Oh, and Donovan Smith, see how quickly a quarterback can be lost with an injury? The line needs to keep Brady healthy and if they do that, I like their chances.
Jon Ledyard: It’s Gonna Take A Jameis-ing For The Ages
Maybe I’m giving Jameis Winston too much credit, especially after one of his 10 passes went directly through the hands of a 49ers underneath defender on Sunday, but I don’t think he can screw this up enough to derail the Saints from being division champs this season. The Saints offense is too conservative, and his playing time will be divided with Taysom Hill moving forward – even if it’s a 75-25 split.
Even if Winston struggles, the Saints’ schedule is just too easy, and their supporting cast too good and experienced to fall off their game-and-a-half lead for the division title, especially considering their competition. Over the next month, the Saints face Atlanta, Denver, Atlanta again and the hapless Eagles, while the Bucs battle the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City, and the late-surging Minnesota Vikings, with the bye week sliding in after hosting the Chiefs.
Of those seven opponents, the Bucs face what is easily the toughest three, while the Saints can probably play a “B” or “C” game and win at least three of those four. I think the Saints will falter a bit, and could even get upset once or twice, but are the Bucs really going to run the table against that slate of competition? I’m high on this Bucs team, but that would be a special late season run considering the inconsistency the team has played with at times this season, as well as their current defensive struggles. I think the Bucs will finish the season just fine, but a division title still feels like a long shot to me.
Matt Matera: Saints’ Light Schedule Hurts Bucs’ Chances
While the Bucs are a half game behind the Saints for first place in the NFC South division, they’re technically a game and a half back having dropped both contests this season to New Orleans. Normally hearing that the Saints are playing its backup quarterback for potentially as long as a month would give the Bucs a good chance to gain ground, but the Saints are used to this, as Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 with New Orleans a season ago when Drew Brees was out.
It’s funny isn’t it? We’re in the 2020 season with Tom Brady as the Bucs quarterback, and yet here we are talking about Jameis Winston again. Feels like old times. The big question is if Winston and/or Taysom Hill can keep the Saints afloat with Brees out like Bridgewater did. I tend to think yes, because of the upcoming opponents that Winston will face. We know Winston can be a roller coaster of a quarterback having thrown for 19,737 yards, 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions as a Buccaneer, but the Saints offense is different than what he was playing in last season, and he won’t have to make as many complex throws.
The Saints schedule is pretty favorable over the next four games playing the Falcons twice, the Broncos and the Eagles. That’s four games they are likely to win regardless of who’s at quarterback. The Bucs, on the other hand, have a much tougher schedule, facing the Rams, Chiefs, Vikings and Falcons over their next four games. Nothing is impossible, but New Orleans has a good enough roster to keep its lead going down the final stretch of the year.
Taylor Jenkins: I Wouldn’t Bet On It
Could the Bucs still win the NFC South? Sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think that it’s likely. It’s not because I think the Bucs will stumble through the finish line, and it’s definitely not because I think that the Saints are a significantly better team than Tampa Bay. It all boils down to the fact that the Bucs have simply shot themselves in the foot too many times this season already.
The Bucs fell flat against Chicago in Week 5, losing a game that they absolutely could not afford to lose in a neck-and-neck race with New Orleans for the division. And while they bounced back and crushed the Packers, a game in which they entered as one-point underdogs, they’ve lost when it mattered most. New Orleans beat Tampa Bay handily in Week 1 and then, after giving the Bucs an early advantage in the division with losses to Green Bay and Las Vegas, Tampa Bay answered back with arguably its worst performance in recent memory in their second game against the Saints. This allowed New Orleans to retake a narrow lead over Tampa Bay in the division and secure the head-to-head tiebreaker, should the two teams finish with the same record at season’s end.