For those familiar with me, you know how this goes. For those that aren’t, I’d like to welcome you to Pick Six. Every Monday (and one Tuesday thanks to a Monday Night game) from now through the end of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season - whenever that may be - I’ll be posting my Pick Six column. It’s pretty simple; a list of six things based off of a topic regarding the Bucs’ game and there are - you guessed it - six topics.
Today, we’re going to use Pick Six to dive into a season preview as the Buccaneers are less than one week away from playing their first game of the season.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Six Topics Suitable For Debate
- What Are Some Realistic Expectations For The Bucs? - For a team that was picked to make the postseason last year and finish with five wins, the expectations certainly aren’t very high along the national landscape. I’ve seen the Bucs picked to win as little as two games this season but it seems as though most are putting them back in that five win category. I, on the other hand, believe this is a team that can go at least .500 if they can escape the Ryan Fitzpatrick starts with a minimum of one win. Just steal one of the first three games and the schedule eases up. In the division, anything can happen. Outside of that, you get the Bengals, Browns, Ravens, 49ers, Cowboys, Giants, Redskins - all winnable games that the Bucs have the talent to match-up with. Realistically - and barring any major injuries - this team has all the talent to be a postseason contender. The big question is the guys wearing the headsets. That brings us to...
- Can the offense continue to be as effective with Dirk Koetter taking back the playcalling? - During the preseason, the Bucs’ offense looked fantastic. Whether it was the ones, twos, threes, or the guys that were cut on Friday and Saturday, the offense was moving the ball and putting points on the board. Was it the play calling by offensive coordinator Todd Monken or was the execution? Honestly, it was a little from column A, a little from column B, but you can’t deny how much more efficient the offense looked in those games. Now, we can’t really accurately judge how effective it would be in the regular season vs how it was in the preseason because those are two very different monsters. We can say that the red zone efficiency and play calling was much better with Monken calling the shots in those four games, but that won’t necessarily mean that things will change drastically as Koetter takes the reigns back. Only time will tell. As for the defense...
- Can Mike Smith Get Out Of His Own Way? - The defense still looked pretty bad. Corners are still playing with 10-15 yard cushions on receivers, the safeties were leaving a lot to be desired, and everyone on the second and third levels were taking bad angles to the ball and missing tackles. Not good. Jason Licht brought in a ridiculous amount of talent along the defensive line to get pressure after the quarterback, but the back end is still cause for concern. We all like what we’ve seen from rookies Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, Vernon Hargreaves III has looked much improved, but the defense still wasn’t getting it done. They need to figure it out quick or Mike Smith will be having a very awkward conversation with his good friend Dirk Koetter...
- How Will Ronald Jones Fit In? - The hype train has derailed, run off the tracks, and exploded into a fireball of terror when it comes to second round pick Ronald Jones. He finished the preseason with fewer yards than he had carries, had horrendous dropped passes, and was overall a disappointment. That doesn’t mean he’ll stay that way. It’s going to take time for Jones to get in to a groove so Bucs fans should rejoice that Peyton Barber has stepped up to look like a legit, bonafide starting NFL running back. The biggest worry for Jones is that undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson is going to steal his spotlight. Wilson has been outstanding throughout camp and preseason as a running back and a return man. I still have faith in RoJo being an explosive, big play back - it’s just going to take a little more time than we had hoped.
- How Will Jameis Winston Be Received? - Jameis Winston will make his debut in Chicago in week four. As a visiting player, he was already going to get some jeers. Now, coming off the suspension, it will likely be 100 times worse than normal. Winston has thick skin. He can handle it. He has before. After that, the Bucs are on a bye, then back on the road to Atlanta. The big question is how will he be received when he sets foot inside Raymond James Stadium on October 21 against the Browns? Many Bucs fans still support Jameis and hope that he’s matured to the level he and others claim he has since the alleged incident took place. However, there is still a strong contingent of the Bucs’ fanbase that want him gone, don’t buy into his stories, or flat out don’t like him. Will they stand and boo as he’s introduced? Will they make signs calling for him to be booted from the team? It’s going tot be interesting to see how it plays out when Winston steps in front of his home town fans.
- Will O.J. Howard Assert Himself As The Alpha? - Last season, we saw stretches where Cameron Brate was as dominant as he was during the 2016 season. Then he’d disappear and O.J. Howard would be the big man on campus. Brate signed a mega extension which, once you break it down, equates to about a one year deal. So, if Howard is the guy that takes the big step forward and we see Brate’s numbers drop off, you could see the Bucs move him via trade or release to get out from that money. No, I’m not advocating they get rid of Brate, but Howard may take the leap this year and assert himself as the top tight end on the team, leaving Brate to fill in on occasion. I understand the connection with Brate and Winston is a big one, but who’s to say Winston can’t develop the same chemistry with Howard? Just something to keep an eye on...
Six Bold Predictions
- Peyton Barber will have double digit touchdowns
- Jameis Winston will still have over 4,000 passing yards despite missing three games
- Chris Godwin will finish with the second most receiving yards on the team
- Jason Pierre-Paul will have 10.5 sacks
- Vernon Hargreaves will lead the team in interceptions
- Kwon Alexander will lead the NFL in tackles
Six Ways To Get Sunday To Come Faster
- Pick up extra shifts at work - time moves faster when you are busy
- Sleep when at all possible - Yes, the complete opposite of number one, but you don’t even notice time when you’re unconscious, right?
- Watch last year’s Hard Knocks - and realize that things are going to be better this year
- Watch this year’s Hard Knocks - and realize things could be worse
- Start planning your tailgate party - plan the menu, location, who’s in, who’s out, departure time, beverage situation, etc. With as much work as you’ll put into all the planning and travel arrangements to New Orleans, Sunday will be here before you know it.
- Join fifteen more fantasy leagues - Doesn’t even mean you have to pay attention to them all season long. Just hop in some public leagues that need owners. The drafts will eat up about 90 minutes to two hours each. Time will FLY by.
Six Key Players for Sunday
- Ryan Fitzpatrick - It starts and ends with him. He doesn’t have to be a hero, just don’t do anything stupid to cost the Bucs the game. Manage the game, manage the clock, and hope the defense can put Brees on his butt a few times.
- Jason Pierre-Paul - They traded draft capital to bring him in, we need to see JPP come out of the gates swingin. Take some pressure off Gerald McCoy, get some pressure on Brees, and lead this defense into New Orleans against a high powered offense and shut them down.
- Vernon Hargreaves III - Big test. Has he learned from the mistakes of last year? Or is Brees gonna roast him like a marshmallow all game long? Time to put up or shut up for VHIII.
- Gerald McCoy - McCoy always shows up, but he’s got the talent around him to also show out. No one gets off the ball quicker and McCoy needs to bust through the offensive line and blow up Alvin Kamara’s spot in the backfield. Take Kamara off his game - which is easier said than done - and the Bucs have a real shot.
- Mike Evans - Disappointing season last year. Evans is going to be the red zone target and he has to convert. He had more red zone targets in 2017 than 2016 yet in 2016 he finished with eight more touchdowns in that area. Mike, you’re a leader on the team, a leader on the offense - it’s on you to convert those opportunities.
- Brent Grimes - Please slow down Michael Thomas. Pretty please?
Six Super Bowl Bets
- Minnesota Vikings - Made it to the NFC Championship without Dalvin Cook and with Case Keenum under center. Now they get Cook AND add Kirk Cousins? Yikes.
- New England Patriots - Yeah, they look like a disaster - but you and I both know they’re gonna win twelve games and run roughshod through the postseason again
- New Orleans Saints - Lost on a crazy fluke to Minnesota last year. Might be Brees’ walk into the sunset if they make it to the big dance.
- Pittsburgh Steelers - Le’Veon Bell is playing for his mega deal he’ll get from another team. He’s going to ball out - as will the rest of the Steelers’ offense
- Philadelphia Eagles - Going to be a rough start to the season, but as soon as Wentz gets back watch out
- Los Angeles Rams - Good heavens that defense...
Final Six Words
The Buccaneers’ Season Is Finally Here