The 2017 season went nothing like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers envisioned. After narrowly missing the playoffs at 9-7 in 2016, the Bucs expected to take another step forward and become a playoff team in 2017. However, a five-game losing streak encompassing all of October made sure that wouldn’t happen. Just for good measure, the Bucs had a second five-game losing streak later in the season, ultimately finishing the season 5-11.
Surprisingly, head coach Dirk Koetter managed to keep his job. However, the seat under him is scorching hot, leaving little doubt that Tampa Bay needs to make the playoffs if he plans on keeping his job. To make matters worse, quarterback Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games of the season, making it that much harder for the Buccaneers to put together a breakout season that takes them to the playoffs.
Naturally, the oddsmakers aren’t looking at the Bucs as a Super Bowl threat at +9000. Even if Tampa can get back to the form they had in 2016, just getting to the playoffs out of the NFC South will be a challenge, so the thought of a Super Bowl is almost laughable. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are projected to win 6.5 games in 2018. They only need a two-win improvement to surpass that number, which is within reach but not a lock.
Winston’s suspension aside, he’s easily the biggest key to the season. He missed some time last year due to injury but was still just 3-10 as a starter. He’s shown in the past how good he can be. However, Winston needs to find a way to be more consistent and become a leader. Getting suspended for the first three games isn’t going to help, although Ryan Fitzpatrick does provide the Buccaneers with a suitable backup.
The good news for both Winston and Fitzpatrick is that the Bucs have more than enough skill players on offense to score points. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson return as a dangerous wide-receiver tandem with Adam Humphries an under-rated slot receiver. The Bucs also have two quality tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, giving Winston the weapons he needs to have a good season.
The running game, on the other hand, is still a work in progress. Second-round pick Ronald Jones could end up being the starter. He boasts plenty of promise, more so than Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, who may be better suited as backups. The offensive line is also in a position to improve after the addition of former Baltimore center Ryan Jensen.
Defensively, the Bucs had a lot of work to do over the offseason, and they did just that, most notably on the defensive line. Tampa added Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, and Jason Pierre-Paul, all of who should be starters alongside Gerald McCoy. The Bucs also have incredible depth on the defensive line after using a first-round pick on defensive tackle Vita Vea. Tampa also has Noah Spence and William Gholston as pass-rushing specialists, so this defensive line could turn into something special.
In the secondary, the Bucs will be young but have some potential. Cornerback Brent Grimes provides some experience. However, behind him on the depth chart are a pair of second-round picks in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis, not to mention Vernon Hargreaves, who could be ready for a breakout season. At safety, Chris Conte provides some experience, but the Bucs are also hoping to get more out of Justin Evans in his second season.
If nothing else, the Bucs look like an intriguing team heading into 2018. If Winston can come back from his suspension sharp, the offense has loads of potential. Meanwhile, if the defensive line can play as well as they look on paper, Tampa Bay could see significant improvement on that side of the ball as well. But coming off last year’s 5-11 campaign, they have a lot of questions to answer if they want to become a playoff team.
|Sep 9||@ New Orleans Saints||1:00 PM|
|Sep 16||Philadelphia Eagles||1:00 PM|
|Sep 24||Pittsburgh Steelers||8:15 PM|
|Sep 30||@ Chicago Bears||1:00 PM|
|Oct 14||@ Atlanta Falcons||1:00 PM|
|Oct 21||Cleveland Browns||1:00 PM|
|Oct 28||@ Cincinnati Bengals||1:00 PM|
|Nov 4||@ Carolina Panthers||1:00 PM|
|Nov 11||Washington Redskins||1:00 PM|
|Nov 18||@ New York Giants||1:00 PM|
|Nov 25||San Francisco 49ers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 2||Carolina Panthers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 9||New Orleans Saints||1:00 PM|
|Dec 16||@ Baltimore Ravens||1:00 PM|
|Dec 23||@ Dallas Cowboys||1:00 PM|
|Dec 30||Atlanta Falcons||1:00 PM|
Playing in the NFC South means six games against teams that made the playoffs last year. On top of that, the Bucs will also see the Eagles and Steelers early in the season. That’s at least eight games against teams that figure to be playoff contenders this year. That gives the Bucs a challenging schedule without a lot of room for error.
Week 1: at Saints – Loss
Going on the road to New Orleans the first week of the season is asking a lot. Drew Brees will evade the Tampa pass rush just enough to create some big plays down the field and earn the Saints a win.
Week 2: vs Eagles – Loss
If Winston is playing, this could be a different game. But there’s only so much Fitzpatrick can do against the Philadelphia defense. The Bucs keep it close but ultimately lose a close one at home.
Week 3: vs Steelers – Loss
Again, if Winston plays, the Bucs have a real shot to beat the Steelers at home on a Monday night. But the Steelers have too much in their arsenal for Fitzpatrick to keep up.
Week 4: at Bears – Win
Winston doesn’t have a great game in his return from suspension. But the Bucs are desperate for a win and it shows in the play of their defense. The Tampa defense makes like miserable for Mitch Trubisky, helping the Buccaneers avoid a 0-4 start to the season.
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: at Falcons – Loss
This is another case of close but no cigar for the Bucs. The balance of Atlanta’s defense proves too much for Tampa’s defense to handle over the course of 60 minutes.
Week 7: vs Browns – Win
After a rough start to the season, the Bucs know better than to take the Browns lightly. They put forth their best effort and win easily.
Week 8: at Bengals – Win
With a little bit of confidence on the heels of last week’s win, the Bucs have no trouble going to Cincinnati and coming away with another win, as they still feel they have a chance to make the playoffs.
Week 9: at Panthers – Loss
Winston and the Bucs are able to keep this game close. However, the Carolina defense stands its ground in the 4th quarter and prevents Winston from leading a comeback.
Week 10: vs Redskins – Win
Winston and the Bucs find themselves in a shootout against Smith and the Redskins. That scenario is going to swing this game in Tampa’s favor.
Week 11: at Giants – Loss
Winston has an off day against a surprisingly competent Giants defense. It doesn’t help that the Bucs struggle to get their running game going on the road.
Week 12: vs 49ers – Win
Jimmy Garoppolo proves to be a handful for Tampa Bay’s defense. But the early start time for a west coast team means the 49ers are also a little sluggish on defense. Winston shines in the 4th quarter to secure the win.
Week 13: vs Panthers – Win
Tampa’s defense comes to play against Cam Newton and the Panthers. Meanwhile, Winston manages to pull a few crazy plays out of thin air to lead Tampa to a big win.
Week 14: vs Saints – Win
The Bucs are starting to hit their groove with their second straight win over a division rival. The Tampa Bay defense forces Brees into a couple turnovers, putting Winston in a good position to throw three touchdown passes in a win.
Week 15: at Ravens – Loss
This game turns into a defensive slugfest. In the end, Joe Flacco beats Tampa’s young secondary with a long ball that ends up being the difference in a close game.
Week 16: at Cowboys – Loss
The Cowboys get in a groove running the ball early, as the Tampa defense struggles to find an answer. With Winston spending most of the game on the sidelines, the Bucs can’t find a rhythm offensively. With slim playoff hopes still alive, this is a disheartening loss for the Bucs.
Week 17: vs Falcons – Win
The Bucs miss the playoffs, but they put forth a strong effort against the Falcons in the season finale to finish the season at 8-8, which is at least a step in the right direction.