Bucs Nation’s Evan Winter looks ahead to the Buccaneers 2018 season. He concludes this two-part series with pessimistic reasons why they won’t be playoff bound. Check out his optimistic side here.
The beauty of the NFL is that no matter how poorly your team did the previous season, the promise of next year is nothing short of a release - an escape into an almost distant reality where if things go just right, then your squad will be representing their respective conference come February.
That beauty is a double-edged sword, however, as the hope and promise of a new season exponentially increases the misery, hate, and apathy that comes with the realization of another lost season.
Welcome to the life of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan.
Tampa has been dreadful since their last playoff run, recording just three winning seasons with a combined record of 59-101 since 2008. There have been four head coaching changes and three different GMs during that stretch.
Combine the turnover with missed draft picks and the inability to evaluate proper talent - see Michael Bennett - the Bucs have found themselves in a cycle of recidivism that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.
And after a disastrous 2017 season, don’t expect things to get better in 2018. Tampa will miss out on the postseason yet again while stumbling to another subpar record.
Jameis Winston doesn’t develop as planned.
This thought brings a smile to many Bucs’ fans faces for some odd reason and a look of terror from others. Much of Tampa’s success in 2018 and the future rests upon Winston’s shoulders.
Winston has played well during his first three years, but bad decisions and avoidable mistakes have left him open to a lot of criticism from fans and those outside of the Tampa Bay area.
Even though he missed three games due to a shoulder injury, Winston’s numbers weren’t that bad in 2017, but the Bucs went 3-10 with him under center. It is believed that his injury did limit his play and this can be backed up by his eight touchdowns and two interceptions thrown in the first four games after returning from the injury.
But Winston’s final game against New Orleans was bad. Despite throwing the game-winning touchdown on a beautiful bomb to Chris Godwin, Winston made bad choice after bad choice all night and almost cost Tampa the game after throwing three interceptions.
At this point, Winston is still trying to develop his game and that isn’t good for the first overall draft pick. His mental game is what is currently holding him back and his ability to improve in that area rests squarely on his shoulders.
The Bucs are too young in the secondary.
When Tampa drafted Vita Vea with the 12th pick in the draft, many pundits and fans were wondering why they didn’t take Derwin James. The Bucs need help in the secondary and they need it bad.
Tampa was dead last in passing defense last season and while they did re-sign Keith Tandy and Brent Grimes, they didn’t do much to improve the secondary via free agency. They drafted two cornerbacks and a safety this year, but none of them were first-round picks.
That’s not to say these players won’t see the field in year one. Kevin Byard, free safety for the Titans, is a perfect example that a team can find a talented, all-pro player in the mid to late rounds, but that feat is basically the equivalent to finding a diamond in the rough.
M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis, and Jordan Whitehead are all extremely talented players who had great college careers, but that never guarantees a successful transition into the NFL.
Plus, it’s no cakewalk with receivers in the NFC South. These guys will go up against the likes of Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Devin Funchess multiple times per year.
Ryan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves III - two of Tampa’s starting corners are only in their third year as pros. While Chris Conte and Tandy have good starting experience, they are very limited in what they can do.
That leaves the savvy veteran Grimes as the rock in the secondary. If Grimes goes down during the season, the Bucs will find themselves in the same position as last year - at the bottom.
The ample youth at the position leaves the Bucs in dire need of one of these youngsters to step up - and step up fast.
The defensive line rotation doesn’t live up to expectations.
Tampa tried to address the defensive line last season by bringing in free agent Chris Baker. We all know how that turned out.
Regardless of why it didn’t work, the Bucs went ahead and tried the same strategy again this season, except that they drafted Vita Vea with the No. 12 pick to team up with Gerald McCoy instead of bringing in another free agent like Baker.
New in town are Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, and Mitch Unrein to help improve a pass rush that was the worst in the NFL in 2017. If McCoy weren’t on the roster, then the duo of JPP and Curry would have five times more career sacks (80.5) than all of Tampa’s current pass rushers on the defensive line (16.5).
The influx of talent was a desperate need, but how will it work out? Mike Smith hasn’t shown any ability to get creative with the players on defense during his time in Tampa and there are a lot of moving parts for him to make it all work.
It doesn’t stop with Smith, either. So far, new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner has said all the right things and owns the proper pedigree to develop the line - but no one knows for sure how that will work out.
The talent on this line vaults Tampa into the upper half of the league when it comes to the position(s) on paper, but whether or not that lives up to expectations is a whole different story.
And based off recent history, don’t expect Tampa to make the necessary strides in 2018.
The coaching staff doesn’t get it done.
This is probably the most important factor of the season. The Bucs have the talent to win on paper, but so was the case last year.
It’s pretty obvious here. Show improvement and win - or bite the dust. The sad thing is, the Bucs could show major improvement and still finish last in the NFC South - thus promoting the exit of many front office personnel and staff.
Dirk Koetter will have to pull off his best coaching job in 2018.
The schedule. My God, the schedule.
The season may be over before it even begins.
The Bucs have the fourth-toughest schedule in the league, right behind the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Detroit Lions with a .531% opponents’ winning percentage based off the 2017 season.
Vegas has set the over/under for wins on the season at 6.5 and another sportsbook has Tampa Bay as the favorite in just three games this season. The number of upper-echelon teams that they face is quite astounding, with an early bye coming in week five.
The first three weeks may tell the story for 2018. Tampa travels to New Orleans then hosts the Eagles and Steelers at home. All three teams combined for a 37-11 record in 2017.
There is a possibility of minor relief, however, with Mark Ingram’s recent suspension and the uncertainty of whether or not Carson Wentz will be ready to go from his torn ACL by week two. The Bucs could catch the Eagles and Saints off guard - but I wouldn’t bet on that scenario even with house money.
After the bye week, the Bucs play four of their next six games on the road - where they went 1-7 last season - before a tough six-game stretch to close out the year.
Tampa Bay went 3-7 in one-score games in 2017. Facing a tougher schedule than 2017 adds to the doubt that the Bucs will find a way to get over the hump.
Playing in the toughest division in the NFL doesn’t help. The NFC South featured three teams in the playoffs last year and all three teams show no signs of slowing down.
One item to really pay attention to is the number of great pass defenses that Tampa will face. This is a big deal because if the Bucs can’t get their running game going, then the pressure will all be on Jameis Winston again to deliver the goods.
Seven of Tampa’s 2018 opponents finished in the top 12 statistically in pass defense. Five of those seven teams finished in the top 10.
This team could show leaps and bounds of improvement, but still finish in the bottom of the division based off of their schedule. One could argue if that ends up the case, then the Bucs will enter 2019 with just as many questions as this year.
Such is life for a Bucs fan.
What will hold the Bucs back in 2018?
This poll is closed
The offensive line
The coaching staff