Over at NFL.com, Elliott Harrison is dealing in some supposedly bold predictions. Apparently, bold now means “the Bucs will make the playoffs”. I mean, I guess I’m happy with that prediction, but to call it ‘bold’ seems a bit much.
Now, “the Bucs will win the Super Bowl”, that would be bold. Or even “the Bucs will in the NFC South”—not as bold as usual, but certainly more than just “they’ll make the playoffs.”
OK, so the Bucs won nine games last year. That doesn't mean they'll duplicate the feat this year, especially with the out-of-division schedule they face: Giants, Patriots, Cardinals and Packers. Arizona blew the Bucs out last time they linked up, while the Giants, Pats and Packers won 35 games between them in 2016. Still, coach Dirk Koetter is building a business around Jameis Winston, with great satellite offices in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and the Cameron Brate-O.J. Howard combo TE platter. The defense should creep toward being a top-10 unit. Tampa fans probably hate hearing this, but much could ride on Doug Martin's return.
The Bucs’ schedule this year may be tough, but it wasn’t exactly easy last year, either: Football Outsiders ranked it as the seventh-hardest in the NFL. They don’t need to be better than last year to get to 9-7, really.
That doesn’t mean they’re a lock to get to the playoffs, though. Certainly oddsmakers and third-party analysts who rely on statistical models tend to be a lot more skeptical of the Bucs’ chances. And they have many questions to answer, on both sides of the ball—the status of the running game certainly features into that.
Still, I’m optimistic about the Bucs this year. Everything feels like it could be falling into place. And that’s a great thing.