Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
2014 record: 2-14 overall, 0-6 NFC South
2014 Postseason results: None
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 240/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 80/1
Odds to win NFC South Division: +760
Regular season wins: under 6 -125 / over 6 -105
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The Lovie Smith era for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not get off to a great start to say the least. The Buccaneers went 2-14 and were tied with the Tennessee Titans for the worst record in the league. Tampa Bay won the tiebreaker for the the number one pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
The Buccaneers had wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins last year. The season ended with a six game losing streak. Smith is back for his season season as head coach and the Buccaneers look for improvement.
Really, though last year was as close to rock bottom as possible, and there is no where to go but up. The Buccaneers are fortunate to play in what is widely considered the worst division in the NFL, the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers won the division last year with a 7-8-1 record. Incredibly, the Buccaneers were not mathematically eliminated from winning the division title until December last year.
As you might expect from a two win team, the offense struggled badly last season. Tampa Bay averaged 292 yards per game on offense, including 206 passing and 86 rushing yards. The Buccaneers averaged 17.3 points per game. Tampa Bay was #25 or worse in all four categories. The Buccaneers were -8 in turnovers.
Last year, offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford had to take a leave of absence due to a heart condition. He still isn’t healthy enough to coach yet. The Buccaneers hired Dirk Koetter who had been the offensive coordinator for the division rival Atlanta Falcons. When Atlanta coach Mike Smith and his staff were fired, Koetter became available. Koetter and the Falcons hung 56 points on the Buccs last year.
With such a dismal record, came the #1 pick in the NFL draft. It was clear the Buccaneers would take a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback with the first pick. Which one was a question though. The choices were Jameis Winston who won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and led the Florida State Seminoles to the BCS National Championship that season, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota who won the Heisman last season.
The Buccs went with Winston, and he will start immediately. No one has ever questioned his physical talent, but Winston has made some really dumb and immature off field decisions. Even on draft night, he posted a picture of himself with a bowl of crab legs on Instagram, after he was accused of shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee grocery story during his college career. Still, after playing in a pro style offense at Florida State, he should make an impact as a pro.
Josh McCown and Mike Glennon split time at quarterback last season. McCown is now with the Cleveland Browns and is battling another Heisman winner Johnny Manziel for the starting job. Glennon will back-up Winston. Glennon threw for 1,417 yards with 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and rushed for 49 yards.
Running back Doug Martin enters a contract year, after the Buccaneers refused to pick up the option for his fifth year. He has had diminishing numbers since a fantastic rookie season, and has only played in 17 total games over the last two seasons. Last year, Martin had 134 carries for 494 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also added 13 catches for 64 yards. Bobby Rainey had 94 carries for 406 yards with a touchdown, and also added 33 catches for 315 yards and a touchdown. Charles Sims fits into Smith and Koetter’s system better than Martin and will get more carries. He missed the first half of his rookie season with an ankle injury. He had 66 carries for 185 yards and a touchdown, and also had 19 catches for 190 yards. Dominique Brown and Mike James will also get carries. The Buccaneers drafted fullback Joey Isoefa in the seventh round out of Hawaii, and he is expected to start right away.
Despite below average quarterback play, Tampa Bay still had two 1,000 yard receivers. Mike Evans had 68 catches for 1,051 yards with 12 touchdowns in a brilliant rookie season. He suffered a hamstring injury in the pre-season but is expected to be ready for the regular season. Vincent Jackson had 70 catches for 1,002 yards and 2 touchdowns. Louis Murphy had 31 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had 21 catches for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Buccaneers also drafted receivers Kenny Bell (5th round, Nebraska) and Kaelin Clay (6th round, Utah) to increase the depth.
Look, there is no way to sugar coat this. The line was just awful last year allowing 52 sacks, and they couldn’t run block either. Tampa Bay drafted left tackle Donovan Smith (2nd round, Penn State) and right guard Ali Marpet (2nd round, Hobart College). Both will likely start immediately. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Demar Dotson are all back, but must show improvement in 2015. Dotson is expected to be out for the first half of the season with a knee injury.
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The defense was just as bad if not worse than the offense last year. Tampa Bay allowed 369 yards per game including 255 passing and 114 rushing yards. The Buccaneers allowed 25.6 points per game last year. Tampa Bay was #19 in rushing, but #25 or worse in the other three categories. Ironically, the team struggled as Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier switched to the Tampa 2 defense, popularized by (and named for) the franchise in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The defense underwent a major overhaul and there are plenty of new faces in each of the three units.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is back though after recording 8.5 sacks last year. Clinton McDonald will start at the other tackle. The Buccaneers also picked up tackle Henry Melton from the Cowboys, who played for Lovie Smith in Chicago. Jacquies Smith had 6.5 sacks last year after being picked up on waivers midway through the season last year. He will start at one end. Tampa Bay also acquired defensive end George Johnson from the Lions for a fifth round pick.
Tampa Bay signed middle linebacker Bruce Carter from the Cowboys. Carter had 5 interceptions and 68 tackles last year for Dallas. Danny Lansanah returns on the strong side after making 81 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. The Buccaneers drafted Kwon Alexander in the fourth round out of LSU and he will back up Lansanah. Lavonte David will start on the weak side after leading the Buccs with 146 tackles.
Johnthan Banks will start at one corner, and Alterraun Verner will start on the other side. Banks had four picks last year, including one returned for a touchdown. After losing safety Dashon Goldson to the Redskins, Tampa Bay signed Chris Conte from the Bears. He will start at one safety and Bradley McDougald will start at the other safety.
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Kicker Patrick Murray made 20 of 24 field goals last year, including 5 of 6 from beyond 50 yards. Punter Michael Koenen needs to improve on his 37.1 net yards average. The rookie Clay will likely return kicks and punts, after returning four kicks for touchdowns last year at Utah.
The Buccaneers open at home against #2 pick Mariota and the Titans. Then comes road games at New Orleans and Houston. In October, Tampa Bay hosts Carolina and Jacksonville before going on their bye in week six. Tampa Bay then hosts Washington. In November, the Buccaneers travel to the Falcons, Eagles and Colts, and host the Giants and Cowboys. December brings home games against the Falcons Saints and Bears, plus a Thursday night road game at the Rams. The Buccaneers close the season at the Panthers.
This team will be improved, but by how much is up in the air. Still, I can’t see more than 6 wins for this team. Four or five is more realistic. I think Winston will be a good quarterback, but like all rookies he will go through some growing pains.
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