Observations of the Midseason Meander for the 2021 Buccaneers

1) Don't mind me, I'm in the middle of yet another NANOWRIMO novel project and may God have mercy on my soul.

1a) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are taking a Bye week sitting at a 6-2 record atop the NFC South. Compared to the last time the Bucs were coming off a Super Bowl high, this is a good spot to be. Unlike the 2003 squad, the team is not divided against the coaches, and our talent depth is solid to where we're handling the injury woes with some success.

1b) On paper, the Bucs are heading into November with one of our easier schedules of this part of the year: of the opponents we'll meet heading into December only the Colts have a respectable record at 4-5 (Washington currently 2-6 and Giants currently 3-6). Of course, the wins and losses don't mean much when the games actually get played, but in terms of talent vs talent the Bucs are well positioned.

1c) We should expect back some of our injured stars like Lavonte David and Antonio Brown, and Gronkowski will hopefully be in better shape than he was when he tried to return last week vs. the Saints.

1d) With that all said, there still shouldn't be any reason to get enthusiastically giddy about the rest of the season. There are still serious issues the Bucs have to overcome to position themselves for a return trip to the next Super Bowl. Above all, problems with the running offense, a sudden problem the last three weeks with the Red Zone offense, and the ongoing problems with a porous pass defense.

1e) While we're expecting a return of some of the injured defensive backs - I think Sean Murphy-Bunting will be available next week, right? Maybe Richard Sherman healthy enough to suit up? Is Cartlon Davis ready? - we weren't exactly scaring any opposing offenses with stopping their passing attacks. We were at the bottom of the league in pass defense, somewhere in the middle of the pack in turnovers, and only slightly better in Red Zone defense situations. We still made rookie QBs (hi Mac Jones!) and backups coming off the bench (hi Trevor Siemian) play like All-Pros. It's a weak passing defense that's allowing good teams to make games closer than they should be and bad teams to give us fits. Without that backfield threat, our front-line blitz packages have not been as effective, especially as opposing QBs figured out they need to get rid of that ball inside of 3 seconds if they want to survive.
If the Bucs made adjustments this Bye week to improve our pass coverage and make opposing QBs doubt themselves, here's hoping.

1f) Our inconsistency with having someone be a primary running back - it's still not a settled matter between Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones - keeps us from having enough of a balanced offense to give our passing game more room to explode for points. Tom Brady is on pace for 50 TD throws (!!!) and yet it feels like we're leaving points off the table because we've yet to get a consistent 100 yard day from anybody. Our offensive line is at the top of the league at both pass blocking and run blocking and yet we're struggling. It could be an issue with a conservative offensive playbook that has us running UP THE DAMN MIDDLE NINETY PERCENT OF THE TIME so it may be a good time to see if we can get more calls OFF-TACKLE RUNS TO THE OUTSIDE TO DAYLIGHT YOU BLIND BATS. Ahem.

1g) The last remaining issue seems to be Brady's inability to get in sync with the Tight Ends NOT named Gronk. Cameron Brate seems to have dropped off a cliff and OJ Howard has not stepped up to be a decent receiving threat in Red Zone situations (just one TD so far this season in 8 games played). While getting Gronk back in reasonable health will help our Red Zone chances, the lack of backup help here is going to hurt if Gronk can't stay healthy enough.

1h) If I'm predicting the rest of the season of 9 games to play, I'm thinking the Bucs can secure 6 wins (over Washington, New York Giants, Atlanta, Carolina, Jets, Carolina) to get to a 12-5 record. It may be enough to clinch the NFC South but it might not be enough to clinch top seed/home field.

2) Player of the year so far is kind of a no-brainer: with Tom FREAKING Brady still playing at QB like he's still in his 20s (there are stats showing he's playing BETTER NOW than when he was in his 20s) and poised to rack up a 5000 yard / 50 TD season at MVP numbers, everybody's picking him the team MVP.

2a) But respect needs to get paid to an offensive line that's been leading the whole league in protecting their QB, giving up some of the fewest sacks / QB pressures across the NFL, anchored by the likes of Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith and above all second-year Tristan Wirfs whose addition to the Right Tackle spot has been the best OT acquisition (sorry Donovan) since Paul Gruber.

2b) The reason why Brady is so freaking good is that he's got the best WR corps he's ever had playing for him. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both on pace for 1,000 yards receiving and double-digit TD numbers. Antonio Brown as the third option just gives Brady more TD options.

2c) Bring back Gronk, and Brady gets even BETTER with throwing the TDs. THE GRONK ABIDES.

2d) Despite the inconsistency, Fournette has been a solid RB for the Bucs and deserves more chances in the Red Zone to score more rushing TDs for us. Unless Fournette breaks free on a lot of 100-yard days, he won't reach 1000 yards rushing for the year, alas.

2e) Defensively, Vita Vea doesn't have many stat numbers but his very presence has made our defensive front one of the most impressive in the league.

2f) Shaquil Barrett leads the team in sacks at 5.5 right now, on pace for another double-digit year (alas nowhere near his record year), and he's arguably the most consistent defensive player the Bucs have right now.

2g) Devin White has been another key player at the linebacker spot, especially as Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David have had to spend time off for injuries. He leads the team in tackles, which is good. But he's disappeared in the sack/pressure numbers, and it may be a key factor in why our blitz packages haven't been working as well this season compared to previous years...

2h) Ryan Succop is still a solid field goal kicker and GOD BLESS for that.

3) Considering the Bucs' chances for reaching the postseason, the odds are good. The rest of the NFC South - Saints, Panthers, Falcons - are a couple games behind us in the wins column. Atlanta just beat New Orleans today (!!!) with a come-from-behind win (!!!!!!!!!!) that may signal they're getting better (or that the Saints are going to struggle with backup QBs waiting for Jameis (!!!!!) to return). Carolina has pretty much hit meltdown mode as Sam Darnold's early wins records has disappeared and his ghosts have come back.

3a) In terms of winning the NFC outright, the NFC West is too dominant to ignore. Arizona may have lost a game (at last) and are down their MVP QB Murray for now, but they're still a serious contender alongside the L.A. Rams that just traded for Von Miller to boost that already-impressive defensive front (the Rams are buying all-in for this year to be THEIR year.. and why not, their stadium is hosting the SB this year just like Tampa did last year!).

The NFC North was being controlled by Green Bay, but the controversy surrounding Aaron Rodgers just threw that into doubt.

Dallas has arisen to claim the NFC East while their rivals Washington, New York, and Philly all struggle AGAIN to see a season anywhere close to .500 (which mathematically won't happen now we're into odd-numbered 17-game seasons).

In terms of postseason odds, the Bucs are well-positioned but the Rams are too scary-good and the other likely challengers good enough to catch the Bucs on an off-day...

4) In other professional NFL news: As mentioned earlier, the big story this week was Aaron Rodgers coming down with COVID-19 and the league immediately sitting him because it turned out he was officially UNvaccinated, which was against league policy. Rodgers had earlier claimed he was "immunized" which turned out to be weasel words, and that he was following some of the more questionable information (straight-up misinformation it seems) just to avoid getting the COVID vaccine, period.

I know this is a controversial matter, but it's ONLY a controversial matter because of political partisanship. When you look at the "debate" over COVID, many of the anti-vaccine arguments revolve around disbelief in the medical establishment like the CDC and most medical boards, and many of the anti-vaccine believers do so out of a willful decision to follow whatever their epistemic bubble on Facebook and social media tells them. Rodgers - and other anti-vaxxers in sports - seem to have fallen into that epistemic bubble and refuse to answer to the teams and league that pays their salaries. And it's not done out of religious exemption, at least it's not something Rodgers himself has argued. When you listen/read what Rodgers has to say about his stance, it all comes down to Rodgers' own arrogant belief that he does not have to answer to anyone else. THAT is why he evaded the questions about getting vaccinated, it's why he fought with the NFL front office against getting the shots, it's why he exposed his own teammates and coaches and team personnel to a risky, life-threatening virus.

Jemele Hill's article at The Atlantic is a must read (it is paywalled).

And it's interesting to note that Rodgers was given kid-glove treatment - the NFL and the Packers organization HAD to know he wasn't vaxxed - while other players who openly questioned it like Cam Newton got cut or benched.

4a) Wait, did the Buffalo Bills LOSE to the Jaguars...? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED BUFFALO. How the hell was the score 9-6?!?!

4b) The other drama this week was Odell Beckham Jr souring on his lack of targets with the Browns the past season and a half, and had burned a few bridges going public with his anger forcing the team to cut him to waivers rather than trade him when they had the chance. So wouldn't you know it, Browns went against the hot Cincinnati Bengals and whupped the Kitties 41-16. Looks like the early postmortems on Cleveland were ill-advised. OH GOD DID I JUST WRITE THAT ABOUT *CLEVELAND*???

4c) Baltimore Ravens are 6-2 and maybe good enough to clinch the AFC North, but DAMN that is going to be a fun division to watch this year.

4d) The best news for the Detroit Lions is that this was their Bye. They're still on pace to have one of the worst seasons ever though. They're the last winless team in the league... and the way things look, they could go 0-17 (!!!)

5) In professional college football news: DAMMIT WAKE FOREST YOU HAD ONE JOB, SCREW UP THE BCS BS.

5a) You know it's bad in Gainesville when the University of Florida fanbase is OPENLY PINING FOR LANE EFFING KIFFIN. Losing to a weak South Carolina team - no, worse, getting BLOWN OUT - after seriously bad losses to Kentucky and LSU tends to lead to firing head coaches. But the horrifying thing is how that fanbase WANTS KIFFIN. Has EVERYONE forgotten how Lane Kiffin f-cked over Tennessee in just one year of being there? The Vols STILL haven't recovered from that debacle. And Kiffin screwed up coaching at Southern Cal to where he was kicked off the team bus after a bad loss. The only reason why Kiffin is still coaching is due to Nick Saban's generosity, and that Kiffin's last two HC jobs - Florida Atlantic and currently Ole Miss - are places where you can fail at coaching and still win enough games to satisfy people. THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA, GATOR ALUMS.

5b) If there is any good news, Florida State is in worse shape than UF.

5c) Anyone watch that TCU upset of Baylor? TCU's redshirt QB Chandler Morris had his first official start and had the kind of game college QBs rarely see in a career. 461 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 rushing TD, and putting his resume for the Heisman trophy on full display.

5d) Everything now rides on Cincinnati going undefeated in order to screw up the BCS plans for the same-old goddamned big-name schools to get invited to the championship playoffs.

6) In professional baseball news: Atlanta won a rare championship with the Braves beating the Houston Astros in 6. Now if they can do something to stop the offensive war chant sh-t...

6a) Still pining for the San Francisco - Tampa Bay World Series we should have had.

6b) What's this about a lockout this offseason?

It's looking like the players need to fight against the teams over making free agency happen earlier in a player's contract - teams have been abusing the farm system to dodge that - and avoid a salary cap even though such a cap would help small market teams compete (and force the league to set a payroll floor requiring a stronger revenue-sharing system).

This is one of those times I really think the federal government needs to step in with their antitrust powers and fix the whole damn mess.

7) In professional hockey news: YES, the Lightning are winning a bit often now, and our defense has settled a bit... but the Bolts keep losing in overtime games and that's NOT a good trend.

7a) Um, why are the Florida Panthers technically unbeaten so far? Who told them to be good after all these years of mediocrity? GO BACK TO SUCKING, PANTHS, THERE'S ONLY ONE GOOD HOCKEY TEAM IN THE SUNSHINE STATE!

8) In professional basketball news: The recent investigation report into bad behavior by the Phoenix Suns' majority owner highlights the constant problem across all professional sports. The owners can be even bigger embarrassments and threats to other people's lives than the players. The evidence of racism and sexism in the Suns front office is too consistent - and with too many sources - to wave this all away.

We need to make owners just as accountable for their bad behavior as we do the players.

9) In professional podcasting news: I need to figure out how to mix in a copyright-free soundtrack into Audacity as introduction music for my librarian/writer podcast.

10) Next up: The Tampa Bay Bucs travel to Washington DC to defeat the No Names. Suck it, Snyder!

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