Buccaneers Preview Capsule
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-11)
Strengths: QB Jameis Winston will miss first three games while serving suspension for violating NFL’s personal conduct policy. At least Ryan Fitzgerald is experienced backup and familiar with offense. Talented receiver corps includes Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Jackson and Adam Humphries, in addition to TEs Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Ranked fifth in passing offense in 2017 while winning five games and missing playoffs for 10th consecutive season. Defensive line anchored by Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy should be better after offseason acquisition of DEs Pierre-Paul and Curry (free agency), as well as DTs Allen, Unrein and first-round draft pick Vea.
Weaknesses: Anemic pass rush produced league-worst 22 sacks in 2017. Also ranked last in passing yards allowed, 22nd in points allowed and 31st in total defense. Offensive line is unsettled at best, with injuries forcing three projected starters to miss significant portion of training camp. Running game remains question mark, despite upgrading line with signing of C Ryan Jensen in free agency and drafting of RB Ronald Jones II. RB Peyton Barber had solid preseason, maintaining edge over Jones for starting role. Hope is rookie will make difference with running and pass-catching skills. Thin secondary bolstered by drafting of Carlton Davis III and M.J. Stewart, though success could hinge on CB Brent Grimes remaining productive at age 35, and CB Vernon Hargreaves III rebounding from disappointing 2017.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Evans. Winston’s favorite target, one of three players in NFL history to begin career with four consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus yards receiving, joining A.J. Green and Hall of Famer Randy Moss. Has 13 100-yard games and scored 32 touchdowns since entering league in 2014.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 125-1. Over/under wins 6 1/2.
Expectations: Chances of making playoffs took hit when NFL concluded eight-month investigation by suspending Winston for touching female Uber driver inappropriately during ride in 2016. Fourth-year QB will miss season opener at New Orleans, as well as home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick, entering 14th season, will fill in, but 0-3 start would be difficult to overcome, even if Pierre-Paul and Curry rejuvenate pass rush. With Winston’s salary due to increase from $705,000 to $20.9 million in 2019, there’s pressure on 24-year-old — on and off field — to demonstrate franchise can count on him moving forward. Bucs lost 10 of 13 after 2-1 start in 2017. Another year with double-digit losses will place coach Dirk Koetter’s job in jeopardy, too.