What a difference a year makes, This time last year the Bucs were the darlings of the media. The featured team in the Hard Knocks series and subsequently picked for post season success by seemingly everybody, heck, the Bucs even made it in to Elliot Harrison’s top ten power rankings – unchartered territory for the perennial underachievers. Fast forward 12 months and normal service has been resumed as Tampa are destined for a season of discontent ranging from being first team to sack their Head Coach to finishing the season with four or less wins. As far as this writer is concerned, I am more than happy to see the Bucs back in their rightful place as NFL underdogs. So what chance do the success starved Buccaneers have of making the play-offs in 2018?
Unfortunately, the Bucs are in the toughest division in football. NFC South teams have made two out of the last three Super Bowls. Tampa were the only team from the division who didn’t make the post season last season as the Falcons, Saints and Panthers all made it to the play-offs. Not only did all three make it to the play-offs, if it wasn’t for some dubious play-calling when the Falcons were facing a first and goal at the end of their NFC Divisional game against the Eagles and for the Miracle in Minnesota as the Saints lost in the cruelest of circumstances, it could easily have been an all NFC South match up in the Championship game.
The three match suspension of Franchise Quarterback Jameis Winston also hangs over Tampa like a dark cloud. The Bucs first three games of the season are as follows; Saints on the road followed by two home games against the Eagles and then the Steelers. Not the easiest of starts and even tougher without your first choice Quarterback. Still, whether it’s Famous Jameis or Ryan Fitzpatrick under centre, the outcome of these first three games will come down to the performance of the entire team and not just the guy under centre.
However, it’s not all bad news for Tampa. With the exception of Gerald McCoy, the Defensive Line has been completely overhauled with the addition of three Super Bowl winning Defensive Lineman in ex-Giant, Jason Pierre Paul, and ex-Eagles in Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. Throw in first round draft pick Defensive Tackle, Vitae Vea, and McCoy should be licking his lips at the thought of Tampa finally giving him the help he needs in the trenches.
The Offensive Line has also been upgraded with the addition of ex-Baltimore Raven, Ryan Jensen, at Centre which will allow Ali Marpet, regularly graded as one of the best Offensive Lineman in the league, to move back to his natural position at Guard. Not only should the protection for the Quarterback improve but, more importantly, Tampa might actually have a running game in 2018.
With the exception of 2015 when Doug Martin finally rediscovered his rookie season form, the Bucs running game has been dire. Although towards the end of 2017 when Peyton Barber got the starting job, Tampa began to have some success on the ground. The good news is that Barber has carried his end of season form into the pre-season where he has been paired with second round draft pick Ronald Jones, who despite a relatively slow start to his Bucs career, should help Tampa to finally get their running game off to a fast start.
The Secondary has also been strengthened. 2016 first round draft pick, Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, has been playing in the slot rather than outside in pre-season, with Brent Grimes has been joined on the outside by second round draft picks, MJ Stewart and Carlton Davis which gives the Bucs not only more physicality but more importantly depth in a position which was in need of reinforcements.
Throw in one of the best Wide Receiving corps in the league with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. Possibly the best Tight End pairing in the league with Cameron Brate and OJ Howard. The best Linebacking duo in not just the division but quite possibly the league in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander then it’s not completely unreasonable to start to believe that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will finally have the season in 2018 which was predicted by so many in 2017.
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