It’s reasonable for the Buccaneers to think they’re on the cusp of something.
In fact, if the new overtime rules were in place last season, they’d have been a playoff team (since their loss to the Raiders was a tie at the 10-minute mark, and that would have given them the edge over the Lions for the last wild card spot).
They behaved like a team making a push for the top of the division this offseason, giving quarterback Jameis Winston the kind of weapons any quarterback would love.
Now the pressure is on the former No. 1 overall pick to continue piling up big passing yards while cutting into the turnovers (18 interceptions), though that may not be in his nature.
If he can play more efficiently, and if they continue to progress in a few other areas, there’s reason to think they could push the Falcons for the top of the NFC South.
Biggest positive change: It’s not like their offense was bad last year.
But when you add wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard to wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate (who had eight touchdown receptions last year), it gives Winston a lot of options. Both Jackson and Howard have the kind of deep-ball ability that Winston’s strengths play to.
How he uses them will largely determine the fate of the season.
Biggest negative change: Running back Doug Martin still has three games of suspension to serve, but the Buccaneers seem confident he can return to his previous form. That would help, because last year’s form (2.9 yards per carry) was pretty bad. And they didn’t exactly bring in reinforcements, putting their faith in Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers for the start of the season, along with fifth-rounder Jeremy McNichols.
Other than that, the only real loss of note was backup quarterback Mike Glennon, and they knew that one was coming, and covered themselves by bringing in veteran mentor Ryan Fitzpatrick to cover for Ryan Griffin.
Coaching thermometer: As long as Winston keeps the offense moving, it should be cool. Dirk Koetter’s fist qualification for the job was his comfort level with Winston. But he’s growing into the head coaching role, and kept a young team steady after a 1-3 start. Koetter seems to get it, and in a difficult division which continues to stockpile talent, his ability to orchestrate an offense should keep them competitive.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Second-year kicker Roberto Aguayo, primarily because the poor devil could probably use one.
They brought veteran Nick Folk in to compete with him, and Folk’s good enough to win the job on his own merits.
It’s not Aguayo’s fault that General Manager Jason Licht traded up to take him in the second round, creating the expectation that he should never miss. And when he did miss (fairly often, as he was 22-of-31) and his own fans were booing him during practices, it created a kind of self-perpetuating problem for a guy at a confidence position.
How they can prove us wrong: It’s possible that they are neither underrated nor overrated. They could be better defensively, but they have some playmakers there, and they do not appear to be outclassed in that regard by the Falcons and Panthers. If Winston becomes more efficient, they’d be truly dangerous, though there’s reason to wonder if his risk-taking style precludes him ever being careful.