Schedule: @NO, CAR, @DEN, LAC, @CHI, GB, @LVR, @NYG, NO, @CAR, LAR, KC, BYE, MIN, @ATL, @DET, ATL
Additions: QB Tom Brady (FA), RB Leonard Fournette (FA), K Ryan Succop (FA), RB LeSean McCoy (FA), OL Joe Haeg (FA), TE Rob Gronkowski (Trade), OL Tristan Wirfs (Draft), S Antoine Winfield Jr. (Draft)
Losses: QB Jameis Winston (FA), EDGE Carl Nassib (FA), DL Beau Allen (FA), OL Demar Dotson (FA), WR Breshad Perriman (FA), RB Peyton Barber (FA)
There’s no way I can get burned twice, right? Since everybody seems to think the Bucs are a repeat of last year’s Browns, I’ll admit I fell for the hype—only to have my dreams crushed alongside every longsuffering fan of the team. But, there’s no chance that happens again. At least, I hope.
The Browns’ biggest issue was coaching, and that shouldn’t be a problem with Bruce Arians in charge. Plus, Tom Brady is a de facto offensive coordinator at this point in his career. It is worth watching how their styles clash, though. Arians wants his quarterbacks to hang in the pocket and chuck it deep while Brady is used to a quicker passing scheme. This could go one of two ways: either the duo combines their knowledge to create a superoffense, or they’ll argue their way to a disappointing finish.
Disregarding any possible player-coach squabbles, Brady has to be the happiest man on the planet. The difference between his weapons this year compared to last is insane. Tampa’s receivers and tight ends are each in contention for the best in the league while New England had nothing. Chris Godwin looks like a perfect fit for the Julian Edelman role while TB12 hasn’t enjoyed a receiver like Mike Evans since the Randy Moss days.
His old friend Rob Gronkowski is back, too. O.J Howard and Cameron Brate are there to pick up the slack if Gronk needs a couple weeks to reacclimate to football. However much you think Brady has regressed—personally, I still think he’s good—any quarterback could produce with this supporting cast.
Running back was originally the weakness of this team before Leonard Fournette patched that up. Apparently, the Jaguars’ castoff still has to work his way up the ranks, but that shouldn’t take long. When that day comes, this group’s transition from arguably the league’s worst to above average will be complete. Behind Fournette, Ronald Jones and Shady McCoy are nice change-of-pace options.
Even more than the Brady/Arians relationship, the Bucs’ success will come down to the play of the offensive line. Outside of right tackle Demar Dotson, every starter returns from last year’s decent group. Dotson may be a PFF favorite, but the fact that he was only able to land a cheap one-year deal in mid-August—and is set to be a backup for the Broncos—speaks more to his value. His replacement, rookie Tristan Wirfs, was a pro-ready prospect, so the position is in good hands. While there’s certainly risk, the line looks more like a minor issue than a pressing one.
On the other side of the ball, the line is stacked. Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, and William Gholston are stout up front while Jason Pierre-Paul and 2019 sack king Shaq Barrett are lethal off the edge. With Barrett virtually guaranteed to regress a little, I have Devin White taking the DPOY honors behind a second-year breakout. At the other inside linebacker spot, Lavonte David continues to be an under-the-radar stud. Even after losing Beau Allen and financial expert Carl Nassib, this is a fantastic front seven.
The worry defensively is the secondary. Young defensive backs often struggle, as the Bucs experienced firsthand in 2019. After baptisms by fire last year, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, and Jordan Whitehead could all come back stronger. Tampa better hope they do because, with rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. also set to play a big role, youth prevails in this group. Maybe all those guys become stars, but this wouldn’t be the first time an overreliance on youngsters sunk a team’s playoff hopes.
While Tampa definitely gives off 2019 Browns vibes with their offseason hype train, I think they’re poised for better results. Cleveland largely unraveled because of its inexperience at key positions like head coach and quarterback—a problem the Bucs won’t have. Also, we can’t ignore that this team went 7-9 last year with Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions. Even if Brady makes a few less splashy plays than his predecessor, the cut down in turnovers will be huge. A playoff berth is definitely possible, especially given the new 14-team field. Overtaking the Saints will be tough, though, so a wildcard spot feels right.
What’s your record prediction for the Bucs? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.