1) Just because the Buccaneers are off doesn’t mean the rest of us take a break. Hell, my employer is yelling at me for not using up any of my Annual Leave allotment I’ve accrued in the ten years I’ve worked there.
Wait. I’m SUPPOSED to take a break here? Dammit, nobody t… okay, fine. Too late. You’re getting observations anyway.
2) The Bucs are getting an early Bye here which may come back to haunt us later when mid-season injuries tick up, but it does give the team a chance to get the guys who were injured in pre-season like DT Calijah Kancey the opportunity to get healthy and start. It gives us the opportunity to make a quick assessment of how our team is performing well above the pundits’ low expectations.
a) Nearly everybody with a microphone and cable news 30-minute segment had dumped on Tampa Bay. They saw Brady was gone, they saw half the lineup from the 2020 Super Bowl team was gone, and they expected this to be a rebuild year.
They had no faith in neither the drafted backup QB Kyle Trask nor the free agent signing of Baker Mayfield, who had been deemed a bust coming out of Cleveland and failing to win a spot with Carolina when the Panthers needed better QB play. Even though there was solid evidence that it was Mayfield suffering with bad teams/coaching, and ignoring the fact that his brief stay with the Rams proved fruitful.
b) There were also major question marks about the defense, in that the previous stout blitzing units of the past few years had lost a step at getting sacks and turnovers. They saw the rookie draft bringing in a ton of raw talent that were expected to take months to learn the NFL level, and had no idea if Shaq Barrett was going to be in any shape to play.
c) Welp. So far, the defense has shown it’s gotten back into the sacks-and-turnovers playing style. There hasn’t been a dominant linebacker racking up the numbers, but DT Vita Vea is showing up on the radar in a way the pundits weren’t expecting. And Safety Antoine Winfield Jr is playing at an All-Pro level.
d) The better news is that the Bucs offensive line is showing a return to 2020 form, with All-Pro Right Tackle Tristan Wirfs shifting over to Left… and not missing a step, leading the whole league in OL metrics. Luke Goedeke, who suffered a bad rookie year at Guard, has filled in at Right Tackle and is showing signs of improvement. This is a unit not giving up a ton of sacks like last season, and Mayfield is going to benefit from that.
3) The good news is that this Bucs unit looks like a team that can easily and calmly defeat the worst that the league can offer – Bears, Vikings, and an injured Saints squad – but the bad news is that the super-good teams – Eagles, mutter grumble – can beat us.
a) If the Bucs can continue to play like this at a .750 winning percentage, we’re looking at a 12-win season which should guarantee winning the NFC South. The problem is, past a clearly rebuilding team like Carolina Panthers (playing them twice) the rest of the teams the Bucs will face aren’t shabby. Houston Texans are shockingly good right now, along with middling challenges like the Colts and the Titans. And the teams like the 49ers and the Bills are at super-good levels.
Facing New Orleans at home should be a solid matchup to our advantage, but the Atlanta Falcons are showing some fight with a better-than-expected defense and improvement on offense. If the Bucs have advantages its with our own improved defense and a passing offense growing in confidence.
4) Statistics of the season so far: The Buccaneers defense is in the Top Five in scoring defense, and second in the league in Turnover Differential at +7. We’re in the Top Ten in fewest rushing yards allowed (that one game against Philly really skewed the average).
a) Offensively the Bucs are in the Bottom Five at rushing, generating only 87 yards per game. It’s not great, Bob, it’s the one glaring weakness for the team so far, and it’s a question if other teams will back away from defending the run and focus more on passing defenses to get us rattled.
b) I can’t find any sites that breaks down the Red Zone offense/defense numbers to where I can tell if the Bucs are any better this year. Anecdotally, it feels like the Bucs have gotten better at both, especially stopping the Saints last week in the Red Zone twice while scoring 3 TDs in 4 visits for ourselves. If anyone’s got an idea which site has those numbers, that’ll help.
5) In other NFL news this week, Taylor Swift did not want to get caught at a Vikings game, which shows wisdom on her part.
a) There have been disappointing teams already but none have sunk as low – well, maybe one other team – as the Denver Broncos. Considering they were getting someone in Sean Payton as a respected, Super Bowl caliber head coach, considering they were supposed to get better on offense, considering they were supposed to be good already on defense… GODS, they just lost to the struggling Jets today. To Zach Wilson. If they’re not tanking before this week, they ought to now.
b) The other disappointing team has to be the Minnesota Vikings. Coming off a divisional win last year, supposedly with a still-good aging QB in Kurt Cousins, with the hottest wide receiver in Justin Jefferson, with what was supposed to be a revamped defense… Well, they should consider tanking as well at 1-4 and nowhere near wild card contention. I mean, the Bears have an excuse with being a terribly-run franchise from the owner on down. What’s the Vikes’ excuse?
c) The Philadelphia Eagles just went 5-0, but there is something off about how they’re getting there. You take a closer look at the statistics and you see a pretty sloppy offense, with even QB Jalen Hurts getting sacked often and not racking up the passing TDs as you’d hope. They’re winning mostly by luck, and that’s not going to stay with you all season long.
d) The London Jaguars defeated an otherwise solid Buffalo Bills team this morning on the other side of the pond, and it begs the question how much of an advantage the Jags had playing two straight weeks in England where the Bills suffered travel lag and other logistical issues. I’m still not sure if playing regular season games in Europe is the way to… wait, are the Bucs lined up for a 2024 game in BARCELONA!?!?!?! SIGN ME UP.
e) The New England Patriots may not be the worst team in the league but they are certainly the saddest. After 20 years or more of total AFC East dominance and near-constant dominance of the entire league, all those followup years of low draft picks and salary cap hits have finally come due. It can be a question if the Dark Hoodie himself is aging out of the game, but without Tom Brady and without the defensive weapons he’s found over the years, there’s nothing left for this team but a complete rebuild.
6) In professional college football news, you’d think from the overreactions to the Alabama – Texas A&M matchup that Nick Saban is on the hot seat. Even with a late-game win over a quality opponent, the fact that the Tide are not steamrolling over other teams at 30-40 points a pop is considered a sign of the apocalypse. Consider this the harsh reality that ‘Bama has been so dominant a program the past 15 years that any downturn – similar to what’s happening to Belichick at the pro level – is viewed as grounds for firing and full rebuild.
But it’s not just Alabama suddenly looking shaky. Clemson’s dominance over the past 5-7 years is also coming apart. They’ve lost two games already, getting knocked out of playoff contention before October even rolled in.
One possible cause is the Student Transfer protocols, allowing guys who would be backups on the super programs to relocate to relatively talented programs stuck in the lower end of the Top 25 to play as starters there. Big schools like Bama and Clemson can no longer stockpile talent and reload in case of injury or off-field scandals, and can no longer plan ahead for future rosters to equal or surpass the rosters getting them to that season’s Playoff matchups.
The only thing we can be sure of is that staying in the top five poll spots is no longer an automatic deal. It still doesn’t guarantee that the talent will relocate to smaller programs (like say the American conference to a deserving school like USF) to shift the entire Top 25 off their heels.
a) That said, I’m looking at UCF going 0-3 so far in the Big 12 and wondering if they’d like to return to the American Conference they’d otherwise be dominating right now.
b) THAT said, GODDAMMIT SOUTH FLORIDA YOU HAD ONE JOB. Instead, Alabama-Birmingham stomps all over us and drops the Bulls from top of a weak American down to the middle of the pack. I noticed it earlier: That porous defense is going to lose us too many games.
c) So Florida CAN beat a Vandy team, just not a Kentucky team. DAMMIT, it still feels wrong.
d) If the football gods can make it happen, a Louisville – North Carolina playoff championship game would do wonders towards effing up the Top 25 teams.
7) In professional baseball news… Sigh. Goddammit, Rays. All that, the great regular season, the 99 wins, the home run numbers, the young talent, the opening winning streak, the improved batting… and NONE OF THAT SHOWED UP IN THE GODDAMN WILD CARD MATCHUP AGAINST THE RANGERS. Texas just marched right into the Trop and OWNED our asses. Almost no offense, error-prone on the field, bad pitching… what the hell happened, Rays? What the hell?
a) And it’s looking like Texas is going to make a mockery of the Orioles as well. This was a team with inconsistent bats the last half of the season, and a devastated bullpen that couldn’t close games. What the hell?
a) ATLANTA got shut out by the Phillies in Game One?
b) At least the Marlins got eliminated early. THAT would have been insufferable if they’d made it past the first round.
c) ARIZONA is winning? What the hell?
8) In professional hockey news: Right now, I just want the Lightning to play well enough to make the postseason and then win it all for the Cup. That’s all. Just that one little thing.
9) In unprofessional CCG news: Magic the Gathering is coming out with a Doctor Who expansion pack and for the first time in 30 years I am going to buy a set and figure out how that game is played.
a) I had tried getting into CCG sets before, but I bought into an X-Files collectible game that nobody else in my area bought and so had nobody to play with, and none of the other games interested me.
b) I used to play D&D as a preteen, but I tried dungeon mastering a game with some of the kids who brought higher-level characters than I was expecting and they wiped out the whole map in two moves to where I questioned the whole merit of the thing and got out of D&D. I blame myself for not planning ahead and insisting on them rolling new characters to play at the level of the map I had made.
10) Next up: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting a late afternoon flexed game versus a surprisingly good Detroit Lions team that’s going to bring a tougher defense than what we faced against the Eagles. So I might find an excuse to learning the Magic gaming rules to avoid watching. OW STOP HITTING ME. Fine fine… I’ll watch…