The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: The Bucs’ Record In 2019
Scott Reynolds: 8-8 Would Show Progress
Here’s what we know heading into Tampa Bay’s 2019 season. The NFL schedule makers did the Bucs no favors this year with eight weeks between home games at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs still play in the rough-and-tumble NFC South, which might be the most competitive division in the league. The team is implementing new schemes on offense and defense under new head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The Bucs’ secondary is awfully young and the offensive line remains a big question mark.
Throw in the fact that quarterback Jameis Winston is entering his fifth season in the league in a big contract year, and all of those ingredients don’t necessarily add up to a recipe for the playoffs in 2019. That’s not to say that a long-awaited trip to the postseason can’t happen, but don’t expect it to.
Expectations are high within the walls at the AdventHealth Training Center, and why not? Every year there is a team that surprises the league and rises up out of nowhere to make the playoffs. That was supposed to be the Bucs over the last two years coming off a 9-7 season in 2016, but a pair of 5-11 records instead led to a much-needed coaching change.
On several occasions Arians has said talent isn’t the issue in Tampa Bay, and he even said in looking at the film that the Bucs should have been 8-8. Winning three more games this year and getting out of the NFC South cellar and not having a Top 10 draft pick for a change would be a huge step in the right direction for this organization in Arians’ first year. He wouldn’t look at an 8-8 season as a successful season, and rightly so, but it would be progress nonetheless.
Bucs’ Hardest Game: Week 4 at Rams
Forget the fact that the Bucs will have to face a Rams defense that has defensive linemen Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, Jr., and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib along with safety Eric Weddle. The Rams’ offense features playmakers galore with receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds, and tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, in addition to running backs Todd Gurley and Darrell Henderson – not to mention quarterback Jared Goff, who led L.A. to the Super Bowl in his third year in the league and is fresh off a lucrative contract extension. Flying across the country to take on such a talented team is not ideal.
Bucs’ Easiest Game: Week 1 vs. 49ers
The key to success at any level of football is winning the winnable games. Week 1 against the 49ers, a team that finished 4-12 last year, including a 27-9 defeat at the hands of the Bucs in Tampa, is a winnable game – perhaps the most winnable game on the schedule as Arians and has staff have had all offseason to prepare for it. Jimmy Garoppolo returns from a knee injury that kept him out of nearly the entire 2018 season and wasn’t exactly sharp in training camp or the preseason. The same can be said about new middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, a former Buccaneer, as he didn’t look sharp in August and may not be back to 100 percent from his ACL tear last October. San Francisco has a tough defensive front that will present challenges for the Bucs offensive line on opening day, so Bowles’ blitzing defense may have to get to Garoppolo to win the day for Tampa Bay.
Bucs’ 2019 MVP: WR Mike Evans
Evans is coming off a Pro Bowl season and is poised to make a return trip to Orlando with another big year in Arians’ vertical-based offense. With 36 more catches he surpasses James Wilder’s franchise record for career receptions, which is 423, and with six more touchdowns he moves past Wilder’s 46 career scores and into second place in Tampa Bay behind Mike Alstott’s 71. Whether or not Winston does enough to earn a new contract extension or not, Evans will get his and should have another 1,500-yard season with a yards-per-catch average similar to last year’s 17.7 avg. Chris Godwin will lead the Bucs in catches, but Evans will lead Tampa Bay in yards and touchdowns.
Mark Cook: 10-6 Bucs Will Shock The League
The schedule makers didn’t do the Buccaneers and new head coach Bruce Arians any favors. The amount of time away from Raymond James, a trip to another continent, combined with two trips to the West Coast, is just unfathomable. Yet here we are. But you know what? Bruce Arians will find a way to make it to the team’s advantage with an “us-versus-them” mentality. This will bond this team, make it a tighter knit bunch and a tougher team to beat down the stretch. Or Tampa Bay could implode. One of the other will happen, although I believe it turns out to be the former as opposed to the latter.
Tampa Bay won five games each of there last two seasons with fairly poor coaching and an outdated, ineffective defensive scheme. Those are things of the past. Todd Bowles’ new 3-4 aggressive defense will actually play to the strengths of some of the players Jason Licht and his staff have drafted. Imagine that – properly using the strengths of the players. This defense will be improved, and if it even gets to a middle-of-the-road league ranking, there is enough offensive firepower for this team to win 10 games. Will it be enough to make the playoffs? Most likely, but if by some slim chance they don’t, 2020 is setting up to be the year the Bucs can make a deep playoff run.
Quarterback Jameis Winston will show drastic improvement in limiting the turnovers and the Buccaneers will run the football considerably more effectively than they did under Dirk Koetter. Mark it down. A Top 10 offense and a Top 15 defense can propel this team into double-digit wins, something Tampa Bay’s fans haven’t seen since 2010.
Bring on the naysayers, the skeptics and the cynics. This team can win 10 games, maybe more. Arians himself said this team should have won eight games last season if it didn’t beat itself. The Bucs won’t beat themselves nearly as often in 2019. Arians resumé says so.
Bucs’ Hardest Game: Week 5 vs. Saints
Hand the Saints the NFC South and NFC Conference Championship trophies now. Maybe even the Lombardi. They are good and are geared up for a serious Super Bowl run. This may be Drew Brees’ last stand and Sean Payton could be roaming the sidelines in Dallas in 2020. It is Super Bowl or bust for the Saints this year. The Saints won’t lose to the Bucs at home like they did last season when Tampa Bay caught them off guard in Week 1.
Bucs’ Easiest Game: Week 10 vs. Cardinals
There isn’t any animosity between Arians and his former Cardinals team, but it is human nature, especially for people with strong competitive natures, to want to show their former employer they are doing just fine without them. It is a pride thing and Arians has plenty of that. Add in the fact, the Cardinals are just a bad football team with an unproven coach and a first-year quarterback. Don’t forget a number of these Bucs assistants are former Cardinals’ coaches as well, and if they have to take the field themselves, they won’t lose to Arizona.
Bucs’ 2019 MVP: QB Jameis Winston
The “Quarterback Whisperer” will be in full effect on Jameis Winston in 2019 and the former FSU stat will live up to his 2015 first overall pick billing. Having a head coach who actually wants and believes in you will be huge for Winston. Add in the fact the coaching and the scheme meshes perfectly with Winston’s strengths and you will have the perfect recipe for success. Look for Winston to throw for 4,200-plus yards with 29-32 touchdowns but more importantly, limit his interceptions and fumbles combined to less than 16.
Trevor Sikkema: 7-9 Tough Schedule, Unfortunate Injuries
From a distance, here’s how I see it. The Bucs had one of the best offenses in the NFL over the last two seasons, and the core of players who produced that offense are still in place. Coaching blunders were big factors in their inability to close out contests over the last two seasons, and with Bruce Arians and his experienced staff coming to town, one would think that has to make up for at least a game or two from the back-to-back 5-11 records under Dirk Koetter.
But on the other hand, there are factors that work against them, too – ones that might prevail.
The first is the schedule. I’ve said this before, but the NFL should honestly be ashamed at how they screwed the Bucs over this year. I get that some teams have to draw the short end of the stick some years, but this? Playing two games in four days to start the season, 49 days between home games in the middle of the year, losing a home game to an overseas game (and it’s a divisional game!) combined with more than 20,000 miles of travel.
It’s ridiculous. That alone will hurt their cause for progress in the win/loss column.
But the bigger factor here is the players. Tampa Bay has some good starters, but it has yet to be seen if it can all bring it together and play both sides of the ball the way it needs to. The preseason has me worried about the Bucs’ offensive line. Beyond their starters, this is not a deep team by any means. Even the backup wide receivers have looked spotty. With early injuries to guys like Vita Vea and Lavonte David (even if they can start Week 1) and with summer injuries to guys like Justin Evans and Jason Pierre-Paul, this journey is about to be tough.
Can they show the progress needed to keep building off this core not blow the roster up? That’s the big question, because I don’t think they’ll be much better than at or below .500.
Bucs’ Hardest Game: Week 5 at Saints
After the whole Mike Evans-Marshon Lattimore debacle two years ago in New Orleans, then having the Bucs come in with their backup quarterback and beat them at their own game to start the season in 2018, you think the Saints can’t wait for this one? Not only will playing the Saints itself be tough, as they are one of the best teams in the NFL, the game in New Orleans comes at a bad time. The Bucs head to NOLA the week after they head all the way out to L.A. to play the Rams. And not only that, it’s the week before their trip to London. Possible distractions all over for this Bucs team going into a divisional rival’s turf that is not only one of the toughest places to play, but even more so against a team that will likely be looking for revenge.
Bucs’ Easiest Game: Week 3 vs. Giants
Whether it’s Eli manning or Daniel Jones starting at quarterback for the Giants in Week 3, if the Bucs can’t beat them, they might be in real trouble. Tampa Bay faced the Giants last year in New York, and probably would have won the game had Winston started and played the whole game instead of coming in for relief for Ryan Fitzpatrick. This year they get them in their house against a Giants roster that is worse than it was last year.
Bucs’ 2019 MVP: OLB Shaq Barrett
Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans are the obvious ones on offense. Ultimately, Tampa Bay will go as far as those two can take it. But we’ve seen before that even when those two are on, they have to have a defense behind them. That’s why I’m going a little outside the box with my pick of linebacker Shaq Barrett. Someone has to step up in Pierre-Paul’s absence. This Bucs team has to have another true edge-rushing presence who can consistently give them something when defending passing situations. Barrett showed that he could do that during the preseason, but it was in a limited snap count role. He’ll likely start the season as a pass rush specialist, and they need him to produce. If he can, he could be that x-factor that pushes the Bucs to an extra win or two in a tough early season slate of games while Pierre-Paul recovers.
Taylor Jenkins: 7-9 Is An Improvement, But Not Quite There
It’s going to be a tough season for the Bucs.
A plethora of new offensive minds surround an offense that’s produced at stellar levels over the past few seasons and they’re tasked with cleaning up the play of Jameis Winston. With the core of their offense still in tact despite losing weapons in DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, if Winston can continue to decrease his turnovers and the offense as a whole can improve their efficiency in the red zone their proficiency should remain.
The nagging issue that looks to be the team’s biggest struggle however, across the roster as a whole and not just the offense, will be the the offensive line. The unit struggled mightily against Cleveland in the preseason, surrendering five sacks in just one half.
On the other side of the ball, Todd Bowles and his defensive staff initially seem to be utilizing the players at their disposal in a fashion Tampa Bay hasn’t seen in years. With new weapons like Shaq Barrett, Devin White and Ndamukong Suh there to fill holes lost to free agency, the departure of Gerald McCoy and an injury to 2018’s sack-leader Jason Pierre-Paul, in addition to three rookie defensive backs that were hand-picked to step into this defense, it’s hard to imagine that the Bucs’ defensive production doesn’t at least see a minor uptick.
With that said, the odds are stacked against Tampa Bay from the beginning. As previously mentioned, Pierre-Paul and his critical pass rush will not see the field for a minimum of six weeks. Tampa Bay has one of the youngest rosters in the NFL with only three players over the age of 30 and up to five starters on defense being first- or second-year players – four of those coming in the secondary. They were dealt a horrendous schedule that includes seven weeks between home games and two games over a four-day span to open the season, too. Add all that up and 7-9 looks likely.
Bucs’ Hardest Game: Week 4 at Rams
In Week 4, the Bucs will fly all the way across the country to Los Angeles where they’ll have their hands full with Sean McVay and the NFC’s Super Bowl representative from the 2018 season in the Rams. The defense will be tasked with containing McVay’s offense, led by Todd Gurley, Jared Goff and the receiving trio of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. It will be an early test against one of the leagues most prolific passing offenses for the Bucs’ young secondary. On offense, facing an All-Pro tandem Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters manning the outside, Tampa Bay’s offensive line will have to keep Winston upright while lined up across from Michael Brockers, Dante Fowler Jr. and Aaron Donald, as he comes off of an All-Pro 2018 season where he racked up 20.5 sacks.
Bucs’ Easiest Game: Week 3 vs. Giants
The Giants weren’t good in 2018, and while they’ve improved in some areas and made moves to alleviate the losses, they also watched they’re superstar wide receiver, play-making safety and Pro Bowl defensive end walk out the door. On top of hosting a New York roster that just quite frankly isn’t supported by exceptional talent outside of running back Saquon Barkley, the Bucs will have 10 days to prepare and recover for the Giants following their Thursday night match up against the Panthers in Week 2.
Bucs’ 2019 MVP: WR Mike Evans
When trying to predict the Bucs’ MVP for 2019, the thought process has to start with superstar receiver Mike Evans. The two-time Pro Bowl receiver has already written himself into the Bucs’ record books throughout his first five seasons in Tampa Bay and only seems to be getting better. Evans’ 1,524 receiving yards in 2018 ranked him third in the league, trailing only Houston’s Deandre Hopkins and Atlanta’s Julio Jones. To top it off, Evans joined Randy Moss and A.J. Green as the only receivers to begin their career with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Evans isn’t just the best playing on the Bucs, he’s one of the premier offensive talents in the NFL today. Barring injury, that trend should only continue with Bruce Arians, Clyde Christensen and Byron Leftwich at the helm.
Matt Matera: 7-9 Is Taking A Step In The Right Direction
There has been a lot of hype in Tampa Bay since the Bucs hired Bruce Arians to be the head coach along with the coaching staff he brought with him from his time in Arizona. But the Bucs don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt that they can produce a winning team until they actually prove it on the field. We all remember how much optimism there was around the 2017 Hard Knocks Buccaneers, and that team fell flat on its face.
With that said, if there is a coach that can turn around a franchise, the Bucs have it with Arians. Tampa Bay has an upgrade in coaching, and it will get the best out of its players by putting them in the right position. Overall, the defense looks head and shoulders better than it did a year ago thanks to Todd Bowles’ blitzing scheme, and the offense was already one of the best passing teams in the league, and it will implement some new wrinkles that should only help its production.
The Bucs do have some obstacles, both with things they can control and can’t control. Their flaws on the roster start with a sub-par offensive line, as we saw Jameis Winston get drilled in the Bucs’ third preseason game against a Cleveland team that had five sacks and numerous pressures in just one half. Last year, Winston had a career-high 281 yards rushing as a part-time starter because he had to run for his life and scramble away from pressure. The team can’ t have that again in 2019. The Bucs defense will also be without its best pass rusher in outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, so it will have to rely on a group effort led by Carl Nassib and Shaq Barrett.
The biggest obstacle that the Bucs have to deal with is out of their hands, and that’s the schedule. The fact that Bucs have a long stretch between home games and the amount of miles they have to travel this year has been discussed, but the quality of the opponents Tampa Bay will face is the real issue this year. For starters, the NFC South is one of the toughest divisions in football, so that’s six tough games right there. But then Tampa Bay still has to play teams tough West Coast teams like the Rams and Seahawks – both on the road, along with teams with good defenses like the Texans and the Jaguars. There’s no let up in this schedule, let alone all the other travel factors.
Having Arians and his coaching staff can turn some of the Bucs’ close losses from last year into victories in 2019, but the schedule mixed in with some weaknesses on the roster puts the Bucs at 7-9. It’s a stepping stone in the right direction in Arians’ first year, but not exactly where Tampa Bay wants to be just yet.
Bucs’ Hardest Game: Week 5 at Saints
The first time the Bucs face the NFC’s top Super Bowl contender, it comes sandwiched in between a game on the road against the Rams the previous week, and a trip to London coming ahead for the following week. The Bucs will already be battle-tested facing defending NFC champions, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier against the Saints the next week. Will the Bucs have the right mindset with so much going on? Or will Drew Brees be able to pick apart the Bucs’ young defense at home while the fans at the Superdome go wild?
Bucs’ Easiest Game: Week 3 vs. Giants
Sure, the Giants have Saquon Barkley, who is one of the best running backs in the game, but other than that, what do they really have? They traded away Odell Beckham Jr. along with some of their best defensive players. Outside of tight end Evan Engram, the Giants won’t have much of a passing game either, and Eli Manning will probably still be quarterback at that time. This is a game that the Bucs can take advantage of before their schedule really kicks into high gear.
Bucs’ 2019 Season MVP: QB Jameis Winston
In order for the Bucs to be successful, Winston has to be their best player. He’s got the “quarterback whisperer” in Arians as his head coach, and playing in the final year of his contract is all the motivation he should need. Backed by a better defense and improved running game, Winston has all the tools around him to have his best season as a professional. In 2016, Winston threw a career-high 28 touchdowns, but even playing in just 11 games last year, he still managed to throw 19 TDs and have career highs in touchdowns per pass attempts. He also had career highs in yards per game with 272, and in completion percentage at 65.6. Winston will need to exceed those numbers this year, and with a new offense that requires him to make quicker, intermediate throws, Winston has the opportunity to have a career year, especially with Chris Godwin playing the Larry Fitzgerald role in the slot, attacking the middle of the field. The question for Winston will always be if he can eliminate his high rate of turnovers. That’s been a huge emphasis by Arians, and Winston responded well to that in the preseason.