FAB 4. 5 Bucs Games That Are Critical

It’s way too early to look at Tampa Bay’s 2018 schedule and attempt to make realistic prognostications about the team’s projected record and start tallying wins and losses. The Bucs are still months away from training camp and the chances of the team entering the regular season without an injury in camp or the preseason games is quite small. Plus, we don’t know if the NFL is going to suspend quarterback Jameis Winston over allegations that he groped a female Uber driver in the spring of 2016.

But now that we do know Tampa Bay’s schedule in terms of dates and opponents, it is possible to identify which games are most important. So without further adieu, here are the top 5 most critical games to the team’s success in 2018.

Week 1: Tampa Bay at New Orleans
It’s always important to try to get off to a good start in Week 1, but the fact that it’s an away game against an NFC South team makes the season opener at New Orleans even more meaningful. Coming away with a win in Week 1 isn’t critical. The Bucs won their season opener last year and finished 5-11. In 2002, Tampa Bay lost its season opener at home – against the Saints – yet went on to finish 12-4 and win its first and only Super Bowl. Yet, it’s an opportunity to create some early-season momentum

Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

The Saints will want to get revenge against the Bucs for beating them to end the 2017 regular season despite the fact that New Orleans had already clinched the division title and a playoff berth. Rookie Alvin Kamara, who topped over 100 yards of total offense and scored a touchdown in each of the Saints’ games against the Bucs last year, had a 106-yard kick return to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter before his 7-yard rushing touchdown gave New Orleans a 14-7 lead. Without Mark Ingram, who is suspended for the first four games of the season for PED usage, the running back duties will fall squarely on Kamara’s shoulders.

In both games against Drew Brees and the Saints the Bucs only notched a combined three sacks. This Week 1 contest will be the debut of Tampa Bay’s star-studded, revamped defensive line, and with Brees being one of the more difficult quarterbacks to sack due to his quick release this will be a good test for Brentson Buckner’s troops.

Week 2: Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia
Why is Tampa Bay’s Week 2 clash against Philadelphia so critical? There are a few reasons, and one of is which is the fact that the Eagles are the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Bucs will have faced the last three Super Bowl champs at home in each of the last couple of years, losing to Denver in 2016 and to New England last year. This year’s game will be personal for former Eagles defensive linemen Beau Allen and Vinny Curry as Tampa Bay looks to finally dethrone a Super Bowl champion.

The Week 2 clash with the Eagles will also be key for the Bucs fan base. After a disappointing 5-11 campaign during a season full of high expectations, how much enthusiasm will Tampa Bay fans for the home opener? How many Philly fans will invade Raymond James Stadium? Oh, what a win at home against the world champs could do for this young Bucs team’s confidence.

The final critical component is the Week 2 element of football. Should the Bucs fall in New Orleans and then at home against the Eagles, a 0-2 start is typically a doomsday scenario in the NFL. In fact, since 2007, 94 teams started the year 0-2 and only 10 of them made the playoffs – including last year’s Saints team. But generally speaking, it’s still a less than 10 percent chance of making the postseason. Making things even more difficult should the Bucs start off 0-2 is the fact that even if Tampa Bay were to go 3-1 over the next four games the team would only be at .500 six games into the season. Beat the Eagles and the Bucs don’t have to worry about this scenario.

Week 4: Tampa Bay at Chicago
There’s an old adage in football – win the winnable games. That means playing the role of a superior team and beating teams that are less talented when they present themselves on the schedule. Despite picking behind the Bucs last year at the No. 8 spot, Chicago finished with the same record as Tampa Bay did at 5-11. The problem was that the Bears were expected to finish last in the NFC North, especially with a rookie quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and a head coach in John Fox, who was on the hot seat. The Bucs were expected to win many more games than they wound up winning.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Perhaps more importantly, Tampa Bay seems to have Chicago’s number, routing the Bears at home in each of the last two years, 36-10 in 2016 and 29-7 last year in the 2017 season opener. Granted, the Bucs beat a Bears team led by Jay Cutler (2016) and Mike Glennon (2017), and have yet to face Trubisky, and this game is on the road, but Tampa Bay’s revamped defense should be up to the task. The Bucs offense hasn’t had any problems putting points on the board, either.

Thinking optimistically, the Bucs could be 3-0 or 2-1 heading into this road contest just prior to a bye week that comes early this year – but not as early as last year’s Week 1 bye due to Hurricane Irma. A win in Chicago could make a 4-0 or 3-1 Tampa Bay the early surprise team in the NFL heading into the bye week. Conversely, if the Bucs limp into the Windy City 1-2 or 0-3, Tampa Bay will be in desperate need of a victory in a winnable game against a beatable opponent in order to turn things around prior to the bye week.

Week 7: Tampa Bay vs. Cleveland
Why is the Cleveland game more critical than a Week 3 contest against Pittsburgh on Monday Night, or a game against division rival like Carolina that narrowly swept Tampa Bay last year? The same rule that applied to the Bears game applies to the Browns game – win the winnable games.

Will Cleveland be improved this year after going 1-15 two years ago and 0-16 last year? Yes, the Browns should win a couple of games in 2018, but the likelihood that they will still have double digit losses at the end of the season remains a safe bet. But psychologically – for the Bucs and the fans – this is still the Browns, and a home loss to Cleveland would be quite the upset that could derail Tampa Bay’s 2018 campaign.

Remember how an early glance at the Bucs’ 2017 schedule showed the N.Y. Jets game to be an easy win because the Jets were a hapless team? Tampa Bay won 15-10 in a game that was closer than expected because Jameis Winston was out with a shoulder injury, but a win is a win. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but the Bucs need to beat the Browns. And despite the fact that this game is on Oct. 21, it’s only Tampa Bay’s third home game of the year. With the first two home contests being against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Bucs can’t afford to go 0-3 and dishearten the fan base if the team wants to create a home-field advantage at Raymond James Stadium.

Week 17: Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta
Will the Bucs be in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt in Week 17? Will the season finale against Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium decide which team wins the NFC South division title? Will the Bucs be in the role of spoiler by Week 17 – or is it the Falcons’ turn to underachieve and be in the spoiler role this season?

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Ray-Jay has become the Falcons’ southern home over the last two years, embarrassing the Bucs 43-28 on Thursday Night Football in 2016 and claiming a 24-21 victory on Monday Night Football last year during Jon Gruden’s induction into the Bucs Ring of Honor. That needs to change, and it’s the Bucs’ turn to rise up and claim their home turf in this divisional rivalry.

Whether the Bucs are in the playoffs or just on the outside, how Tampa Bay plays in Week 17 could determine the fate of head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht in terms of their future. Last year, the Bucs showed some moxie in coming from behind to beat the NFC South division champion Saints in a Week 17 upset that helped Koetter’s chances of remaining Tampa Bay’s head coach in addition to being given a vote of confidence by Licht the Friday before that game. Every team wants to end the season on a positive note, and if the Bucs are fortunate in 2018, the Week 17 battle against the Falcons won’t be their last game of the season.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

15 COMMENTS

  1. The only one of those five who will bounce back is Winston. His decline– which wasn’t all that bad to start– really was injury based anyway.
    Three of those four remaining probably won’t be on the team in a year. Hargreaves will be here, but in a less prominent role.
    Bucs just need to wash their hands with DJAX. He’s never going to have the work ethic and several young receivers show much more promise. My money’s on Watson.

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    • Agree Pete, and with mesean not showing for voluntary workouts again, I’d love to see Godwin take his spot. Jackson will be gone after this year anyways so why wait? We get a solid run game and this offense could be explosive. James has had a good run game for one year as a pro, that’s horrible.
      While James had a down year ,this article shows how awful the team was around him.
      Hes just got to get those fumbles cut way down.
      http://www.footballperspective.com/jameis-winston-had-an-unusual-2017-season/

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    • Agreed as far as Godwin. He fits our scheme better, is a better WR fit for Jameis (an elite intermediate passer), fits our culture change better with his work ethic.

      Would love to see him and Evans start outside. Let Djax compete in the slot with Hump, and then we can dump his contract after the season.

      I think Hargreaves can be a top 10 NICKEL CB, so in a wayyy thats a bounceback, just not the ideal for a top 15 draft pick.

      I do think N.Spence can bounceback as well playing in relief of Curry and JPP or potentially as a blitzing LB. Bucs cant continue to afford all this talent, so I see Noah being successful as a rotational player before taking over fulltime in 2019 or 2020 as JPP/Curry decline or are moved.

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  2. I think 3 of the 5 will have a bounce back year in Jameis, Gholston and Spence. Gholston(from reports)has already approached Buckner and said he wants to improve his game, losing and extra 15lbs at his height has helped with that 1st step.

    Spences surgery from what I’ve read has taken this time round and SHOULD be good to go so I’m expecting him to be a terror especially since rumors have him being a rush specialist and not an every down back any longer.

    JW, I’m expecting big things because this is his “show me” year, especially now that we’ve added more help to the line and backfield. Besides, he has to feel it and know that there are absolutely no excuses this year, there’s far too much talent for him to flop.

    I didn’t add VHIII because he just seems like his confidence has been shaken while Gholston, Spence and JW seem to exude confidence. I want VHIII to succeed, I don’t hate the guy but, he just seems to play with this childish demeanor which makes me think the kid’s self-contious.

    Djax is who I was hoping to make our offense blow up! I understand JW has fault in that but not as much as Djax IMO. I was happy to see them training off-season but there’s no way they fixed what they needed to in those few days that they spent together. Djax had the chance to change that by showing up to OTA’s and respond with a physical presence. I know he’s in Cali doing his typical training but why not have your trainer come here? There are inside track facilities in the area AND he could still get time in with Jameis. I hope he and JW prove me wrong but it’s valuable time lost either way you look at it.

    Scott, I’m curious as to which teammates were harping on VHIII’s lack of work ethic?

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  3. Great post Pete. I would give you a thumbs up if the site let us still.

    When Jamies finally started to get healthy he was the #1 QB in the league in fantasy points per ProFootballFocus over the last four weeks of the season.

    He also was their top rated QB that is under 25: ‘Winston has flashed the potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2015. including this past season, he was more productive than any quarterback not named Tom Brady while under pressure, producing a passer rating of 84.4.”

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  4. Meant to say “every down DE” when referring to Spence, not an every down back lol!

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  5. Great Fab Five Scott. I think 4 of 5 have a shot to come back. DJAX is collecting a paycheck and will show flashes, but will take a dive going over the middle and trot out of bounds on the sidelines. My guess is the WR will come around where we’ll trade him to the Chargers so we can let him go back home, develop our guys and maybe pick-up a low draft pick for next year.

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  6. I think the one person, of everyone in this organization, that needs to shine the most is coach Koetter. All of the pieces are there. No more excuses.

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    • Agreed…and Mike Smith…

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  7. So… basically… almost every one needs to play well this season.

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  8. Donovan Smith? I don’t know what to say…that write-up must be under the wrong player profile.

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  9. Another good article Scott. My thinking on this team right now is ” a lot of maybes”?

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  10. Great Fab 4-1/2 Scott. Can’t give full credit to Fab 5 since it’s a lot of pimping sponsors and yourselves.

    Since there are so many folks on this site believing the team is destined for a season in which it won’t win a single game; I’m thinking the Pewter Reporters might want to update their resumes’.

    Folks sure were surprised when that 5-11 1978 team went to the NFC title game after so many were predicting another losing season with a QB who couldn’t even hit 50% of his passes, a running back who should have been Tony Dorsett and a defensive lineman who was too polite. Maybe we should change the old 1979 fight song.

    Hey Hey Tampa Bay the Bucs are going to suck.
    Hey Hey Tampa Bay look out for more bad luck.
    When we’re in trouble that’s the norm, we’re still down and out.
    Because we know we are the worst, when we sit down, sit down and pout.

    Or how about the other one.

    Ho hum ho hum we’re the Buccaneers.
    Ho hum ho hum we’re the Buccaneers
    No offense, no defense, now we’re here to say.
    Our ship has sunk so there’s no plank.
    We’re floating in Tampa Bay.

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  11. As always, thanks SR. Watched all the position coach interviews & got to read a Fab5 this week. A great week. Amped for football in May. (Damn you) You highlighted some key players/positions that must step up. But, don’t we All think that our coaching is the real suspect? I’m not asking you to burn any bridges, but I’m curious as to your take on the current staff. Wouldn’t the best way to develop some of this talent be with better coaching?

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  12. Another great SR, Scott. You are the best. I just have a different view of D. Smith. I like his durability and his size but he is not great at pass protection as his leading the Bucs in holding on passing downs proves. If he does not improve markedly his pass protection I don’t see us being over .500 at our week off. They then need to give Cappa a shot at LT. If not they will be risking getting Jameis injured and out again. It would be nice if Benenoch can step up this year and win the starting RT position early so they can cut Sweezy and train Cappa as a LT or at least as a RT. Tackle is his best position and he played LT in college. I do think D. Smith has a lot of potential at LG
    and I would prefer they move him there and put Marpet back at RT.

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