Thanks to a 5-3 record in the second half of the 2019 season, the Buccaneers find themselves in the teens—but just barely. They came in at 19th, which is the second-lowest ranking of the four NFC South teams. Ahead of them were the Saints (fourth) and Falcons (16th), while the Panthers had the lowest ranking in the division (27th).
With their ranking, each team got a “reason for optimism” blurb. Here’s what Jenna Laine had to say about the Bucs:
The Bucs finished 2019 strong. They won five of their final eight games (and four of their final six), suggesting that coach Bruce Arians is starting to turn things around. And while the quarterback situation is currently unsettled with Jameis Winston, the Bucs’ defense figures to take the next step as Arians said that keeping that group intact is a priority.
Tampa Bay has a lot of questions to answer this offseason. Of course, the biggest one has to do with the quarterback position. The idea of sticking with Jameis Winston is definitely a polarizing idea, but it’s an intriguing one. With that said, there are a number of other intriguing options to consider for the team’s starting signal-caller going forward.
Beyond the quarterback question, there’s still some uncertainty regarding just how much of the 2019 defense the front office can keep together. Shaquil Barrett seems like a surefire bet to return, but who else comes back with him? Can the Bucs retain Jason Pierre-Paul? What about Ndamukong Suh? Is Carl Nassib moving on?
Then, there are the smaller storylines that aren’t getting as much attention. How will Tampa Bay address its offensive line? Will a new running back come in to work alongside Ronald Jones II? What will the team find in the way of depth at wide receiver?
See, there really are a lot of questions that need to be answered in the next few months.
But even with all of the questions, there are reasons to be optimistic about Bruce Arians’ team in 2020. No matter who is at quarterback, there will be weapons for them to work with. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin make up the most formidable receiving tandem in the league. Jones took a huge step forward in his second year and should be capable of making waves regardless of who joins him in the backfield going forward.
As for the defense, the cap space is there to ensure that a lot of the 2019 defense stays together. With rising stars like Vita Vea and Devin White, potential stars in the secondary in the form of Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jordan Whitehead, and of course the always-reliable superstar Lavonte David, the unit is set up to be successful for years to come. The improvement we saw at the end of 2019 just has to translate into 2020 and beyond.
So, while the Bucs may be hard to peg as a playoff favorite at this point, there are reasons to have hope in this team going forward.
The rest of the power rankings from ESPN are pretty straight forward, with the Chiefs, 49ers, Ravens, Saints and Packers taking the top five spots. The Seahawks, Patriots, Titans, Vikings and Texans round out the top 10. The bottom five isn’t much of a surprise either, with the Jaguars, Giants, Lions, Redskins and Bengals finishing off the list.
Agree with these way-too-early rankings?