The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off their best season since 2010 and there are plenty of reasons to believe they are only going to get better in 2017. The offense has all the pieces to be one of the best passing attacks in the NFL and the defense looked stingy late in 2016 once they grasped Mike Smith’s zone coverages.
Jameis Winston is entering his third year in the NFL and has shown that he is on the verge of becoming one of the best gunslingers in football. Winston also has the luxury of throwing to a revamped receiving corps that features Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
The organization did next to nothing on the defensive side of the ball during free agency or the draft. Instead, the team opted to hope that the defense that held opponents to just 17.1 points per game from Week 10 onward last season continues to mesh. As long as the secondary can hold up its end of the bargain, the Bucs defense will likely be one of the most underappreciated in the NFL.
The NFC South is loaded with offensive juggernauts and if the Buccaneers defense can’t keep up, it will be up to Winston to win games on his arm alone. And though Winston has flashed glimpses of being able to do just that, you can’t put him in awful situations or his interception issues will rear their ugly head.
Now, without further ado, here is a look at the Bucs 2017 futures ahead of the 2017 season:
Super Bowl: +3300
You may think that the Bucs winning the Super Bowl is crazy but it’s not as if the NFC has one dominant team like the AFC. In the past eight Super Bowls, only the Seattle Seahawks have represented the NFC more than once and they only accomplished that feat twice. That means that the NFC has been a revolving door of Super Bowl contenders since Cadillac Williams was relevant.
Of course, the Bucs have a franchise QB, which goes a long way to a Super Bowl. The two biggest issues are the secondary – which we will touch on later – and the rushing attack.
The backfield will be without Doug Martin the first three weeks, as he serves a three-game suspension for PEDs. That means the rushing attack will rely on the committee approach with Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber and Jeremy McNichols taking snaps. That does not exactly inspire confidence. But we have seen several teams over the past several years win the Super Bowl with subpar rushing attacks, so it’s not a death sentence.
I wouldn’t tell anyone not to bet the Bucs at this line. They have the pieces to make a run and surprise many people. At the same time, I think they are probably a year away, especially playing in the competitive NFC South.
NFC South: +350
The Bucs have not won the NFC South — or made the playoffs, for that matter — since 2007. To put that into perspective, quarterback Winston was just 13 years old and head coach Dirk Koetter was in his first season in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Winning the division is not an easy task. Both the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers have been in the Super Bowl within the past two years while the New Orleans Saints still have one of the best offenses in the NFL. The one constant has been the need to win within the division – which sounds obvious, I know. In the past four seasons, the NFC South Sportsbook has gone 5-1 within the division three times.
To add difficulty, the Bucs don’t play a divisional opponent until Week 8, which means that second half of the season is a brutal gauntlet that would need to see the team get red-hot. I’m not saying it is impossible but that is a tall order.
Win Totals: 8.5
The biggest challenge for the OVER is the Bucs passing D considering the murderers’ row of top quarterbacks they face this season. Aside from facing Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees twice, the Bucs will also face off against Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford.
The Bucs secondary did a good job at the end of 2016 by limiting opposing quarterbacks to just six touchdown passes while forcing 13 interceptions through the final eight weeks of the season. Four of those games saw the Bucs square off against a top-10 passing attack. So, while there is legitimate concern to be had when lining up against this many elite QBs, the Bucs proved they can hold their own.
This is a ridiculously hard win total to predict but the Bucs can top 8.5 wins, as long as the passing D progresses and Winston keeps slinging the ball. If the defense doesn’t mesh or Winston doesn’t make progress, then the Bucs could easily find the bottom falling out.
Mike Evans To Lead NFL In Receiving Touchdowns: +800
For the first time in Mike Evans’ tenure in Tampa, he actually has other receivers to take some of the pressure off him. Safeties won’t be able to cheat in his direction on a deep corner route because Jackson, Howard or Brate will burn them. That means that Evans will likely be seeing more one-on-one coverage than he has ever seen in his three years in the NFL.
This will help the passing attack move down the field with more consistency, which means more trips to the red zone for an offense that already sat in the top 10 in that regard in 2016. And more trips to the red zone means more lobs to Evans, whose six-foot-five frame means he is basically winning almost every jump ball. The added height of Howard from the TE spot will also give the defense a second big body to worry about, relieving more pressure on Evans.
Odds as of August 24 at Sportsbook