Season Outlook 2020: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Perhaps the biggest story of the NFL offseason was quarterback Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The move instantly pushed Tampa Bay into contention for the upcoming season. But just how good can Brady’s Bucs be this year? On the surface, the 7–9 Buccaneers weren’t anything special last season. If you dive deeper however, you can see Tampa Bay has a multitude of promising aspects leading into this year.
The first being Tom Brady.
Last season quarterback Jameis Winston, while being a very enjoyable watch, was very inconsistent. On one hand he led the league in passing yards. On the other hand he led the league in interceptions by a wide margin. While Brady may not be at his peak anymore, he still has some football left in him. Last season in a “down” year, Brady still had over 4,000 yards, 24 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions. All that while throwing to one of the worst receiving groups in the NFL. Last season the Patriots only had a single thousand yard receiver. That player was Julian Edelman, who also led the league in drops. With a plethora of new weapons in Tampa, Brady should vastly improve on his 2019 numbers.
Those weapons are a big reason why the Bucs won even seven games last year. Tampa Bay has the best duo of receivers in the entire NFL. Both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans eclipsed 1,100 yards last season, despite both missing games. In 14 games played, Godwin finished the year with 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. In 13 games played, Evans finished with 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns. It’s not just the receivers for Tampa either. The Bucs have two talented tight ends on the roster in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Brady will also be joined in Tampa by his old friend Rob Gronkowski, who was lured out of retirement and traded to the Buccaneers during the offseason. Couple all of that together, and you have a team whose receiving corps ranks as the best in the NFL heading into the 2020 season according to Pro Football Focus.
Those weapons would be rendered almost useless however, if the Buccaneers didn’t have an offensive line to protect Brady. Good thing for Tampa they do. Last season the Bucs offensive line finished ranked 7th in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Heading into the season they’re ranked a little lower at 13th, which is still above average. Tampa Bay also used their first round pick in the draft on Iowa tackle Tristen Wirfs. If Wirfs can develop soon, then the Bucs’ o-line can easily move into the top ten during the season.
So if Tampa Bay has all of these talented pieces, why did they finish 7–9?
Two aspects of the team struggled last season. First the defense, who in its own right actually had some bright spots. The bad part of Tampa’s defense was stopping the pass. The Bucs allowed the third-most passing yards per game, which played a part in allowing the fourth-most points per game. The good part of Tampa’s defense came in stopping the run, the pass rush, and forcing turnovers. The Buccaneers allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL. They also finished tied for the seventh-most sacks as a team, in large part to NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett who finished the season with 19.5. Barrett will be back this season, which should allow Tampa’s pass rush to be just as dominant. The Bucs were also well equipped last season when it came to forcing turnovers. They had the fifth-most takeaways in the NFL, despite having the fifth-worst turnover differential.
The Buccaneers defense was actually an above average unit last year. They just had to deal with the turnover machine that is Jameis Winston. Tampa Bay led the league in giveaways, which will cause any defense to struggle. With Brady replacing Winston, the Bucs’ defense won’t be on the field as much, which will hopefully improve the unit’s weak spots. While that’s a good start, the replacement of Winston with Brady alone won’t necessarily give Tampa the best pass defense in the league. The team knows that, which led to them selecting Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round of the draft. Those moves together should greatly improve an otherwise solid Tampa defense.
The second aspect of Tampa Bay’s team which struggled last season was the run game. The Bucs averaged the ninth-fewest rushing yards per game last year. Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones struggled to get much going last season. Jones however, stepped up his game towards the end of the season, finishing the year with 724 rushing yards and six touchdowns in nine starts. Barber is now gone, which leaves Jones and rookie third round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn this season. Vaughn was solid at Vanderbilt his senior year, finishing with 1,298 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns. Tampa Bay most likely won’t rely on the run game much this season however; so an average rushing attack should suffice due to the amount of talent in the passing game.
So what should the Buccaneers’ expectations be this season?
In my opinion they should be competing for a Super Bowl. If they lose to the Chiefs or Ravens in the big game, it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a disappointment. Anything less than that however, should. The Bucs have all the talent they need to compete for a championship this year. Their toughest test getting there could come within their own division. Yes I know the 49ers will be a challenge this season, but their strength of schedule (4th hardest), and an improved division could cause San Francisco to lose home-field advantage. The Saints on the other hand, are dealing with the ninth-easiest schedule, and have an improved roster themselves. It’s on Tampa to win the division. If they take home-field advantage away from New Orleans, then the Buccaneers should make their first Super Bowl appearance since 2002.