The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 7 on our preseason rankings are the quickly rising Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
2016 in a nutshell: After a 3-5 start, the Bucs went streaking in the second half of franchise quarterback Jameis Winston’s second season. Tampa Bay finished 9-7 after finding a groove on both sides of the ball in November and December. Still, they just missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year.
What’s different: Winston has several shiny new toys to play with. He was already spoiled by young stud receiver Mike Evans, but then the front office went out and signed veteran deep threat DeSean Jackson before using two early draft picks on athletically astonishing tight end O.J. Howard and former Penn State wideout Chris Godwin, who has already generated plenty of buzz.
Why they could be awesome: Winston appears to be progressing at a rapid rate and is on track to become a star in the very near future. And the team continues to take major steps forward every season. Tampa Bay won two games in 2014, six in 2015 and nine last year. They’d have improved without making any changes this offseason.
“DeSean Jackson is so fast Jameis inaccuracy ain’t gonna be an issue” pic.twitter.com/tnXefRnUmF
— Carlton (@SlopingGiraffe) August 18, 2017
Why they could suck: Winston still needs to cut down on his interceptions. If he continues to make bad decisions in big moments in 2017, they’ll miss the playoffs again. His offensive line is also going through somewhat of a transition and a defense that lacked consistency in 2016 didn’t change much in the offseason.
Major additions: Jackson, Howard, Godwin, second-round safety Justin Evans and defensive free-agent additions Chris Baker and J.J. Wilcox all should factor in.
Major losses: Starting safety Bradley McDougald left in free agency, but the Bucs might not feel that.
Position to watch: That’s because Tampa Bay has four high-quality options at the safety position in Evans, Wilcox and veterans Chris Conte and Keith Tandy. Evans is the future, Wilcox had the best season of his career last year in Dallas, Conte has 76 career starts under his belt and Tandy quietly intercepted four passes, defended nine more and recorded 52 tackles despite not being a full-time player in 2016.
Breakout watch: That line needs a few guys to step up, namely 2015 second-round picks Ali Marpet (who is moving to center after a strong sophomore year at guard) and Donovan Smith (who has to do a better job on Winston’s blind side). Big third year for both of ’em.
Prediction: The offense is going to torch opponents, especially with plenty of options in the backfield (don’t forget about Doug Martin!). And the defense has plenty of talent at all three levels. That unit improved greatly last year and should be even better in 2017. The Bucs should win double-digit games and get back to the playoffs.
10-6, 2nd place in the NFC South