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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 preview

Once again the Bucs are getting a lot of playoff buzz. Can they finally make it into the postseason?


Every year there is a team that are expected to make the jump into playoff contention. And seemingly every year that team is Tampa Bay. They have a good core of players, always seem to make an exciting signing or two, and draft intriguing players. The 2017 offseason was no different and now we have to ask once again, is this their time?

2016 recap

A turbulent season finished 9-7, but there were several moments of encouragement last year. A Week 1 31-24 win over the Falcons looked great, but a 40-7 loss in Arizona the next week was a shocker. That started a three game skid that included losing to the poor Rams. After a November 3 loss to the Falcons they were 4-5 and going nowhere, but then rattled off five wins on the trot including wins in Kansas City and against the Seahawks. It was only when they lost in Week 15 to the Cowboys and then had a letdown in New Orleans that their season really ended.

The biggest problem the Bucs had last year was a shockingly poor run game. They finished 30th in rushing DVOA, 29th in yards per carry (3.6), 29th= in rushing touchdowns (8), and 24th in rushing yards per game (101.0). It was a serious Achilles heel that hampered the consistency of the offense throughout the year.

Offseason additions & losses

InOut
DeSean Jackson, WRMike Glennon, QB
Chris Baker, DTAkeem Spence, DT
JJ Wilcox, SBradley McDougald, S
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QBAlterraun Verner, CB
Robert McClain, CBRussell Shepard, WR
OJ Howard, TE (Draft)

This year’s splash signing was DeSean Jackson, who has long been the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL. Pairing him with Mike Evans is a mouth-watering combination. When they drafted OJ Howard as well ‘mouth-watering’ was no longer enough.

Adding Chris Baker and JJ Wilcox boosts a defense that has two stars in Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, and a gem in Kwon Alexander, but lacked depth.

Losing Glennon hurts their safety net, but not the starting lineup, while Alterraun Verner was a bust of a big signing who they had drafted to replace last year. Akeem Spence is the biggest loss, as part of an interior defensive line rotation he was impressive in bursts last year.

2017 schedule

WeekOpponent
1@ Miami Dolphins
2Vs Chicago Bears
3@ Minnesota Vikings
4Vs New York Giants
5Vs New England Patriots
6@ Arizona Cardinals
7@ Buffalo Bills
8Vs Carolina Panthers
9@ New Orleans Saints
10Vs New York Jets
11BYE
12@ Atlanta Falcons
13@ Green Bay Packers
14Vs Detroit Lions
15Vs Atlanta Falcons
16@ Carolina Panthers
17Vs New Orleans Saints

The opening week trip to Miami got a lot easier with Ryan Tannehill’s injury, but overall this is a schedule that is not fun. Only the Jets and Chicago look like an easy ride, while games against the Patriots, Cardinals, and Packers could be brutally difficult.

Then there is their post-bye run. Two games against Atlanta, a trip to Lambeau Field, against the potentially dangerous Lions, and then divisional games… There is no give in that run, and it will make or break their season.

Three players to watch

Every year people bounce back, or simply bounce, into form and become key contributors to a team. Who from the 2017 Tampa Bay team will be watching this season?

OJ Howard, Tight end

OJ Howard has all the potential in the world to be as close to Rob Gronkowski as we have seen. He is 6’6”, 250lbs, runs a 4.51 40-yard dash… That combination is fearsome. While he doesn’t have the same desire for run blocking that Gronk has, he does have the frame for it if he sets his mind to it, however it’s running over the middle where he will do the most damage.

With Evans and Jackson on the outside demanding attention from safeties, Howard could well end up being left alone against linebackers and simply dominating them. He has great hands and is more than happy to go into the heart of a defense and make plays.

There are some concerns over his mentality and overall lack of production at Alabama, but that offense was not suited to his talents, and Tampa’s most certainly could be. This could be an 80-catch rookie season from Howard if it all falls right.

Noah Spence, Defensive End

Spence was a second round pick last year who came in full of potential but with red flags hanging over his head. He left Ohio State for Eastern Kentucky in a cloud of failed drug tests, which ended up affecting his draft stock in 2016. However, after 5.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, and two tackles for loss last year, there are once again expectations that Spence could be a star.

He’s not as long-limbed as you would want but he is relentless, with good hands, and has an excellent sense of space. His dip around the corner is strong, and if he develops a second and third move he could be deadly.

Kwon Alexander, Linebacker

For those that watch Tampa Bay regularly and carefully, this seems like an extremely obvious selection. For those that don’t, just watch Kwon Alexander for a game and you’ll understand why you should watch him more regularly.

Kwon dominated in the heart of the Bucs defense last year, leading the team with 145 tackles, picking up 12 tackles for loss, and performing relatively well in coverage. However, he remains fairly unknown in part because of the two All-Pro’s that also roam around the front seven, but also because of the relative anonymity in which Tampa have existed recently. They have offseason promise, but it quickly fades and that means the national attention turns back to New England, Green Bay, or Pittsburgh rather than staying on the quality that does exist in Tampa.

Prediction

Money on the table time. Can the Buccaneers win the NFC South? Yes. Will they? I doubt it. Everything hinges on two things: Health, which every team must contend with, and the ability of Jameis Winston. I have to watch my words as our Editor-in-Chief is a Bucs fan, but I am not as sold as a lot of others that Jameis is the can’t-miss quarterback who will blossom in 2017.

He undoubtedly has the weapons around him in Evans, Jackson, Howard, Cameron Brate, and Jacquizz Rodgers to put up big numbers, however after throwing 33 interceptions in his first two years he has simply been too inconsistent with his decision making and reads to make me buy a seat on the bandwagon. Compare him to Marcus Mariota, his draft-mate and the man who he will always be talked about with. Mariota cut his interceptions in 2016 while maintaining his yards per attempt (7.6) from 2015, and throwing 81 more passes. He has a career INT% of 2.3, compared to Winston’s 3.0.

If Winston takes better care of the football this year then I will start to join the bandwagon, but another 15+ picks and I will maintain my cynicism.

There is no doubt this team has the potential to be a real thorn in the side of everyone in 2017 though. The offense should be able to score in an instant, because you can’t double-team both Evans and Jackson and if you try then God knows how you’ll cover the tight ends.

The running game remains a question mark, with a shuffled offensive line in front of either the enigmatic Doug Martin or Jacquizz Rodgers, but if they can just get a league-average ground game, and have a bounce-back year in run defense, then this team can go far.

In the end, I think they’ll get between 8 and 10 wins, which is enough to be in the wild card hunt but not enough to be sure of playing postseason football for the first time since 2007.

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Toby Durant

A passionate and opinionated writer, I am currently the NFL editor for RealSport. However, I also contribute to F1, WWE, Football, and other sections of the site, and I have covered the NFL International Series for RealSport and previously contributed to SB Nation.

 

I also have 10 years playing and coaching experience in American football, starting at the University of Nottingham and including a stint as defensive coordinator at Oxford Brookes University. I may be a Patriots fan but all aspects of the sport interest me, from guard play to special teams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 preview

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