Last year everyone had jumped on the Buccaneer bandwagon. There were no more seats left. The Bucs were the sexy pick to be the most improved team in the league. Some so called experts thought the Bucs would break their playoff drought. Some had the Bucs winning the division.
Well we saw how that worked out. The injury bug came calling and the Bucs lack of depth came back to haunt them in the worst way as they finished last in the NFC south and won just five games.
The Bucs will begin the season with another disadvantage as Jameis Winston will miss the first games as serves his suspension. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center for the first three games against New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
On paper this is a very good Buccaneer team. Chris Godwin and OJ Howard are no longer rookies and continued improvement is expected. The Bucs running will be much improved over last year.
Ronald Jones will make a huge difference in the run game. Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers will be a nice compliment to Jones style of running. The OL is much improved on paper. With Ryan Jensen anchoring the line at C and Ali Marpet moving back to his natural position at G, this line is already much better than last years version.
The biggest improvement on this team came on the DL. The DL was completely overhauled and the Bucs will have two new starting defensive lineman. Gerald McCoy will be the anchor of the line as he has been for the last few years. McCoy has more pieces to work with and on paper this may be the best DL in the McCoy era.
No. 1 draft pick Vita Vea should see a lot of playing time and look for Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry to make an immediate impact.
If the Bucs are to make an impact in the division and be a playoff team, the defense has to play as good or better as it looks on paper. This line will have to get more pressure on the opposing QB and do a better job of stopping the run.
We will get a good feel of how good this defense is going to be after the first three games. Three division winners including the Super Bowl Champions will challenge the Bucccaneers defense and all three teams the Saints, Eagles and Steelers have high powered offenses.
As I look at the schedule I think there are 10 winnable games on the schedule. Nine wins is probably more realistic, but the Bucs could put themselves in a hole after the first three games. I think the Bucs win one of the those first three games an will be 1-2 when Winston returns.
Even with nine wins I don’t think the Bucs will make the playoffs. Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, and Los Angeles will be your division winners with San Francisco and New Orleans getting wildcard spots.
A lot can happen in the next 60 days as training camps open across the league. You don’t know how injuries are going to impact certain teams. One thing I do know an you have to give Koetter credit this team did not quit last year and battled to the very end.
I expect to see the same kind of fight and enthusiasm in this years squad, and at the end of December if the stars have aligned themselves just right, the Bucs just might break their playoff drought. Don’t bet the house on it though.