Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
Last year, the Buccaneers were supposed to continue to elevate from a 9-7 season in 2016 and make the playoffs in 2017. Tampa Bay was the chic team and media darling – not just here locally, but also around the nation, especially on NFL Network. Many media outlets, including PewterReport.com, predicted a 10-6 season.
If only we had listened to Tampa Bay Times columnist and my good friend Tom Jones when he suggested we “tap the brakes on the Bucs’ bandwagon last May before Hard Knocks came to town, before Jameis Winston injured his throwing shoulder and before the Bucs defense became allergic to opposing quarterbacks.
By the way, Jones joined yours truly, Mark Cook and Trevor Sikkema this week on the latest Pewter Nation Podcast – shameless plug – to discuss that infamous column that got Bucs fans all worked up last summer, and the team’s prospects for the 2018 season. So instead of winning 10 games, the Bucs won only half of that in 2017, including a dramatic, come-from-behind win over NFC South champion New Orleans to end a dreadful season on a very high note.
Will Tampa Bay be able to pick up from where it left off in Week 17 and be able to beat the league’s top teams? It will need to do so in order to bounce back and make a playoff run in 2018, especially in the rugged NFC South division.
So after watching two months worth of shoulder pad-less outings that really amount to flag football practices – let’s face it … the defense didn’t make a single tackle in 10 OTAs (organized team activities) and three mandatory mini-camp practices – here is what I think. The Bucs could legitimately wind up anywhere from first to fourth in the NFC South.
Yes, if it all comes together, the Bucs could be the surprise team in the NFC and dethrone the Saints to win the division. There is enough star power, experience and hunger on this roster on both sides of the ball for that to occur.
But don’t expect a 12-4 or an 11-5 season. Barring a rash of major injuries I don’t see Tampa Bay losing more than nine games (7-9) – or winning more than 10 (10-6). The Bucs’ schedule this year is really tough, especially the start of it with games at New Orleans and then home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
With more talent along the defensive line and in the secondary through free agency and the draft, I don’t see how the Bucs can be a double-digit loss team this season. There’s too much talent on the team for even bad coaching to screw it up.
I’m convinced the Bucs will be significantly better. Having Brentson Buckner coach the defensive line, and Todd Monken serve as the offensive coordinator will pay meaningful dividends.
And while there is enough talent for Tampa Bay to win the division, I don’t envision New Orleans, Atlanta or Carolina necessarily getting worse in 2018, either – unless a rash of major injuries occur. That means it will be a dogfight. If the Bucs bounce back, as I expect them to, it won’t be easy winning the NFC South, which is without a doubt the toughest division in the NFL with four teams being legitimate playoff contenders, with the cellar dweller in the division perhaps being only 7-9 or 8-8.
The dog-eat-dog attrition I expect in the NFC South could leave this year’s division winner at only 10-6 with the three other teams hovering above .500, at .500 or just below .500. I’m not ready to predict the Bucs’ record until I’ve seen this team in pads and in the preseason, yet somewhere between 7-9 and 10-6 seem quite reasonable.
And don’t say the preseason is meaningless. Winning games in the preseason is meaningless, but you can still gauge a team’s strengths and weaknesses in the preseason.
In the 2017 preseason, the Buccaneers couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone, couldn’t sack the quarterback and couldn’t run the ball consistently last August. All three of those negatives seamlessly seeped over into the regular season.
Bucs C Ryan Jensen and DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Because the OTAs and mini-camp practices are without pads, I have no idea if the offensive line is more physical and can establish a stronger, reliable ground game, although I suspect it is.
I also have no idea if this revamped defensive line can sack the quarterback with more regularity, although I believe it will.
I also have no idea whether Jameis Winston can get the ball in the end zone more frequently when Tampa Bay is in the red zone, although given the amount of time the Bucs have practiced it this offseason I think that will be the case.
I also have no idea if Winston can get a handle on his turnovers, which is a big one, considering he averages 14 interceptions per season – nearly one per game – and eight fumbles per season, although I think head coach Dirk Koetter and Monken will learn how to navigate around Winston’s mistakes the way Mike Holmgren learned to do that with gunslinger quarterback Brett Favre up in Green Bay.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot can go wrong to mess up this supposed bounce-back season in Tampa Bay.
Untimely injuries to major players often derail NFL teams’ seasons.
If Winston gets suspended for a few games to start the season – with a schedule that does the Bucs no favors – and the offense struggles to score points.
If the 2018 draft class doesn’t deliver like it’s expected too, especially at cornerback where Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart are expected to provide an upgrade.
If Chandler Catanzaro is no better than Nick Folk, and Tampa Bay’s nightmares when it comes to field goals and extra points continue.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Be excited – but be cautiously optimistic about these Buccaneers.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Wait for them to show you they can be the team we all believe they can be before you buy in to any hype. Mired in a 10-year playoff drought team, this team has not earned the benefit of the doubt.
Don’t believe in them just yet.
But believe that the Bucs will be better than 5-11 in 2018. This year will be a step in the right direction. How big of a step remains to be seen.
If Tampa Bay doesn’t bounce back with this much talent on the roster I think there will be regime change, I think I’ll find another team to cover in 2019 – and suggest you find another team to root for next season, too.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Jesus effing christ Scott, sure I will be pissed, frustrated, and disappointed if the Bucs are bad again.
But Im not gonna just stop being a fan. good lord
Other than that, really good column Scott, but still, regime change, more losing, none of that is gonna have me switching teams and I would be disappointed in any Bucs “fan” who would.
Been with the Bucs since the get-go . Will always root for them and proud they are my team regardless of when’s and losses. Go Bucs!
Good What If’s here Scott. I’m just not gonna get my hopes up high this yr. Not with that Thud this past season. I got us optimistically goin 8-8. People forget,,we’re not the only team thats made improvements. I will say though,,we go as far as Jameis and the Defense takes us. Last yr, we had 5 very winnable games but absolutely zero Defense. Tough Schedule? Sure. But 31 other teams got tough ones as well. Every game is tough. I don’t put a lot of faith in preseason at all. I’ve seem teams win all those games and come out..Flat during the regular season. I want to see If Jameis is improving. Its time for him to take a few leaps if we are to be successful.
Injuries and turnovers….the two great forces of fortune in the NFL….get them on our side and playoffs is completely realistic.
I just can’t wait to get the bad taste of last year out of my mouth.. I wish the season was starting Sunday.
And YES T. Mayberry in the ring of honor.
“How good are the 2018 Bucs?”
That was an awful lot of words just to say, “I have no idea.”
Tony Mayberry for the Ring of Honor? Are you sh**ing me? No, no, no, NO. Are Bucs fans’ standards so LOW? OK, the guy was a good center. He played better than the 108th pick used to draft him, but he was never great, he was just better than his draft position. He earned his pay, and did a good job. But, that same description could apply to a LOT of TB players.
You want to know what Mayberry’s most memorable play is? The snap he sailed over Shaun King’s head in the 1999 NFC Championship. In case anybody forgot, that was a game the Bucs lost 11-6. Take away the 2-point safety that resulted from Mayberry’s bad snap, and the Bucs are suddenly within 3 points of the Rams at the end of that game, instead of 5. So, a FG could have tied it, otherwise. Bucs were in a position to kick a FG and very possibly tie to force overtime with a FG. But, Mayberry’s huge mistake put that out of reach, and the Bert Emmanuel non-catch (which later resulted in the Bert Emmanuel Rule) pretty much ended the Bucs’ chances.
You younger fans don’t want to give the older guys their due. LB David Lewis deserves a spot in the ROH before Mayberry does. He played back when the NFL didn’t bother to keep defensive stats, so he is forgotten already. The guy was a major reason for the team winning the last two games of 1977 (the first wins in TB history), and continued to be a force on the Bucs defense until 1982. The NFL didn’t keep tabs on tackles or sacks back then, but Lewis had 10 INTs for the Bucs between ’77 and ’81. Mayberry might have had 3 Pro Bowl selections to Lewis one, but Pro Bowl selections are a joke, anyway. I’d give Lewis a ROH nomination before Mayberry, any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
Completely agree about David Lewis over Mayberry for the Ring of Honor. Lewis was there from just about the very beginning of this franchise, combined with Batman Wood & Cecil Johnson gave us one of the best line backing crews in the league at the time. The youngsters don’t realize that while our offense was the leagues worst, our defense was one of the best, being rated #1 in 1979 only 2 seasons after starting in the league at 0-26 in our first 26 games ever played. That says a lot, and people need to take notice of the defensive players we had back then. It shouldn’t be just us graybeards that realize this!
I moved here in 77, everyone was a Miami fan, I began my love affair with the Bucs thinking, how long can they be bad? I’m not going anywhere. I like the tough start to the season, and think we’re catching a break with our first two games. The Saints will be without their back, and I believe after an emotional home opener the Eagles won’t fly high in the Tampa heat, and have a let down. If we can start the season 2-0 we’re on our way. At any rate we’ll know who we are first five weeks.
Jameis has to improve and be a more accurate passer for the Buc’s to be improve and this needs to be from the first snap of the game. To many times he is high and of the mark with his throws during the early stages of the games.
In the 11 games he played start to finish Jameis had a 64.4 comp %. Last time I checked that’s a very good number. Even more impressive considering he’s at the top of the league in air yards per attempt. So if you think that’s the issue on this team, you need to rewatch last season game by game again
I hate the idea of having to “game plan around turnovers” how about Jameis Winston either improves his turnover ratio or gets the fuck out. This isn’t college anymore and we can’t gameplan around his turnovers” and have a realistic chance of ever getting into the playoffs, ever winning this division, or winning a Super Bowl eventually with this type of tolerance for mediocrity
Well when you have a historically bad defense that has you playing from behind, 55 out of 60 minutes, a bottom 5 running game, a terrible kicker, and below average pass protection, interceptions are going to happen. Unless you expect Jameis to be Jesus. Well in that case, yeah, he’s not gonna fullfill your ridiculous expectations. It’s a team sport pal. Jameis could have had 5 int’s last year instead of 11, and the Bucs are still a below .500 non playoff team. That’s not opinion, that’s a fact
Tell that to the Packers Charlie, who did the same thing with Brett Farve. And give the language a rest.
I’m more concerned about his fumbles than his INT’s.
It could be worse though. We could have Marcus Mariotta who had more INT’s than TD passes last year. If you had in his lost fumbles the number gets even worse.
This all happened with a solid running game and a good defense. Two things Winston didn’t have last year which no doubt forced him to make some throws he probably wouldn’t have if the other team wasn’t scoring at will.
And if you think Winston is satisfied with being mediocre, then you haven’t read much about how much he works on improving his game during the offseason.
Winston has improved his accuracy every year, despite preferring to throw the ball down the field instead of to the side to his running backs which he no doubt should do a little bit more often.
Hopefully he will look at his last five games he played to see how much that helped him. I’m betting he does.
Totally agree DrD. I too am more concerned with the frequent fumbles. As you noted, give him a semblance of a running game, even a mediocre defense and average kicker and perhaps the youngster might not think it’s all on him.
Totally agree dnd
I guess the free agent center didn’t make enough of an impression to call him by his real name. Maybe once they get into pads and he’s hitting people you’ll call him Ryan instead of Sean.
Agree on Winston. If we actually have a decent kicker, run game, and defense this year and he still forces it a lot then I’ll start to worry. Until then I’m not concerned. I think any young qb would think it’s all on him with the garbage we have had around him.
As far as predicting how good I stopped getting too optimistic because it’s been a long damn time and too many disappointments.
That said considering the schedule and all the rookies, and other unknowns with so many changes and chemistry etc, to me they are an 8-8 team plus or minus a couple games. Some key injuries and 6-10 very possible. They stay healthy, catch few breaks, rookies like Davis and Vea , are good year one. If they O line and center are any good, they stay healthy, I could see maybe 10-6. Don’t see any better than that with the all things considered.
Like the podcast but can we get Cook to stop with the awful and constant jokes. Makes it hard to listen to
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