Tampa Bay Buccaneers over/under set at 9.5 wins

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have become the talk of the league since signing Tom Brady and trading for Rob Gronkowski. Expectations are high, and DraftKings lists Tampa’s over/under odds for 9.5 wins (-110 both ways). Can Bruce Arians finally win a Super Bowl as a head coach, and can Brady finally win one with a different coach than Bill Belichick?

  • Brady and Gronk join forces with the elite receiving duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, one of the most dynamic offensive tandems in the league. Tampa also addressed multiple points of concern offensively in the 2020 NFL Draft, adding depth at important positions.
  • The Bucs’ defense has some depth, too—they combine explosive edge rushers with solid inside linebackers who eat tackles. If the secondary picks up where it left off in the latter half of last season, this team could be special.

Now that the smoke has cleared from the media storm that followed Tom Brady’s shocking signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coach Bruce Arians’ squad has work to do. Inking a two-year deal with the greatest quarterback of all time immediately pushes a squad from good to great, but Arians knows all too well that all the pieces need to come together to claim the Lombardi trophy.

Over 12 years ago, Arians served as offensive coordinator in Arizona, where the Cardinals’ acquisition of former MVP and Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner had put the franchise on the map. They won nine games that season, but cruised through the NFC playoffs to get to Super Bowl XLIII. However, they lost on the biggest stage, ceding the Super Bowl to Arians’ former offense, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 67-year old Arians, who won two Super Bowls as an assistant coach with those Steelers, also has two Coach of the Year Awards to his name (2012 as interim coach of the Colts, 2014 with the Cardinals). But he still can’t say he has won it all as a head coach, just like Tom Brady still can’t say he’s won it all without Bill Belichick. Can the Bucs steer the ship past the hype train and toward a successful 10-plus win season, and maybe even a Super Bowl win?

The GOAT Makes a Very Good Team Great

It may be unoriginal to pepper a Buccaneers story with Tom Brady, but the fact remains that the greatest quarterback in the history of the game automatically improves a team. It has been proven that this one man can personally move NFL point spreads, but can he pull the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the playoffs? Of course, it helps substantially if the team he ended up with was already very good without him.

Plain and simple, the Buccaneers receiving corps is phenomenal. Veteran deep threat Mike Evans has been terrorizing cornerbacks with his size, hops, and hands for years, and 2019 was no different. While somewhat of a down year by his standards, he grabbed 67 passes for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns and made his third Pro Bowl in four years. But Chris Godwin’s breakout 2019 season overshadowed the 6’5” Evans. The third-year stud hauled in 86 passes for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns on his way to his first Pro Bowl.

Add the big, bruising body of tight end and Brady pal Rob Gronkowski (joining fellow TEs O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate), as well as promising rookie receiver Tyler Johnson out of Minnesota, and TB12’s arsenal of receiving weapons looks stacked.

Many pundits have lauded GM Jason Licht’s fifth-round selection of Johnson (161st overall) as one of the steals of the draft. He’s not an elite athlete by any means, but the 6’2” 205-pound 21-year old runs routes very well, creates separation, and uses his good hands to make difficult and contested catches. Watch for him to beat out Justin Watson for the third receiver role and become one of Brady’s favorite targets, especially when the more well-known Evans, Godwin, and Gronk draw tight coverage.

The Bucs also addressed the offensive line and running game in the draft, key problem areas in 2019. First-round draft pick Tristan Wirfs will immediately step into the right tackle slot, inheriting the all-important role of protecting Brady’s blind side. The 6’5” 320-pound Iowa product was arguably the best and strongest tackle in the draft, but remarkably the fourth tackle off the board. Meanwhile, running backs Ke’Shawn Vaughn (third round) and Raymond Calais (seventh round) will battle the oft-inconsistent Ronald Jones II for backfield reps.

The Bucs have the offensive talent to win a lot of games, but a lot will depend on the offensive line improving and the running game establishing some kind of consistency. Brady takes good care of the ball and makes crisp passes—when he has enough time in the pocket. Expect a lot of sets with multiple tight ends, and a good amount of screen passes to keep defenses honest and throw off blitzes. Brady and Arians will likely work very well together, and the 44-year old QB should enjoy a bounce-back year with the embarrassment of offensive riches at his disposal.

Todd Bowles’ Defense Looks Good, Too

Another reason the Buccaneers have a great shot to notch double-digit wins in 2020 is their defense. Todd Bowles’ 3-4 defensive scheme last year was a welcome transition from Dirk Koetter’s abysmal 4-3 scheme the season prior (Koetter’s Bucs gave up 29 points per game in 2018). One reason why the 3-4 worked so well: Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul emerged as one of the most dominant pass-rushing tandems in the league.

Barrett absolutely exploded last season, registering a league-high (and Bucs record) 19.5 sacks, along with 37 QB hits, six forced fumbles and 58 tackles on his way to his first-ever Pro Bowl selection. He certainly proved to be a worthwhile investment for Licht. Meanwhile, the veteran Pierre-Paul—who missed six games last season due to a neck injury sustained in a car crash—burst onto the scene at midseason and tallied 8.5 sacks of his own.

Their productivity was thanks in large part to the steady presence of veteran defensive end Ndamukong Suh, who may not terrorize quarterbacks like he used to, but continues to read offenses, fill gaps, and, most importantly, stay on the field.

Shaq, JPP, and Suh are complemented perfectly by a solid inside linebacking tandem in Lavonte David and Devin White. David has averaged 126 tackles a year over his eight-year career with the Bucs, and David’s protege, second-year stud White, amassed 91 tackles of his own last season to go with three forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered, an interception, and two touchdowns.

The key question going into Tampa Bay’s historic 2020 season will be its secondary, a seemingly-perennial concern for the Bucs. Through nine games last season, the youthful secondary gave up a staggering 298.9 passing yards per game, easily worst in the league. But in the latter half of the season, they greatly improved upon those numbers, giving up a much more manageable 233.1 aerial yards per game. Not only were the Bucs one of the worst secondaries in the league they were one of the worst NFL picks against the spread for the 2019 season. The Bucs defense had trouble keeping their opponents off the board.

Bowles will have to work his magic to get consistent pass coverage out of his young secondary this season, because Mr. Brady won’t want to get into Jameis Winston-like shootouts at 44 years old. With a young but promising primary core of defensive backs, none of whom are older than 24, time will tell if this franchise missed the mark by not bringing in a veteran defensive back.

Roll With the Over

With a fairly difficult schedule and a boatload of hype, it may be tempting to go with the Bucs under 9.5 wins at -110. But with a dynamic offensive attack led by the GOAT, a defense that continues to evolve and play off its strengths, and a good coaching system, the over is the play. Look for Tampa to sweep the Panthers and Falcons, and beat the Broncos, Chargers, Bears, Giants, Rams, and Lions for 10 wins on the season.

         
 

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