The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just missed the playoffs in 2016, but they have a great shot at winning the NFC South in 2017.
The NFC South is wide open. Given the teams in it, that may sound like a crazy statement, but after a wild year in the NFL last year we learned that anything could happen. Such could be the case in 2017.
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Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are revamped and reloaded at a time when their division in in flux. With a coach on the rise, depth at all positions, and a talented young core via the NFL draft, Tampa Bay is in a position to win now. It is a position that just three years ago may have seemed impossible to be in, but lead by their star quarterback and second overall pick Jameis Winston, they are very much on the rise.
With those things in mind, this leaves the NFC South wide open. Perhaps, it is wide open enough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win it. We give you five reasons why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will win the NFC South.
Dec 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) runs with the ball after making a catch in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
5. Uncertainty of the division itself
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could win the NFC South due in part to the uncertainty surrounding most of the division. The Atlanta Falcons have a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian, and we don’t quite know what kind of production we will be getting from them yet.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers have one of the best rosters in the NFL on paper and should have no problems succeeding. The problem with that is, many thought that last year and Cam Newton and Co. underperformed, perhaps due in part to a Super Bowl hangover.
In the meantime, the New Orleans Saints will have to try and cope with the loss of Brandin Cooks. He caught 78 passes for 1,178 yards and eight touchdowns last season, and he leaves a gaping hole in the Saints’ offense. With that in mind, they did acquire Adrian Peterson, but will that be enough to offset the loss and can he return to his MVP form?
All the above question marks and the uncertainty within them could vault the Buccaneers to the top of the division.
Dec 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) runs a route against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
4. Tampa Bay’s balance
If there is one thing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have working in their favor, it is balance. Defensively, they possess many playmakers. Gerald McCoy, Keith Tandy and Brent Grimes are just a few of the elite names that should allow the Bucs to be able to contend with the rest of the division.
Offensively, the options are endless. For starters, Jameis Winston is the team’s starting quarterback and he looks to have a tremendous year. At running back, the Bucs have plenty of options. By all accounts it appears as though Doug Martin is back to the Doug Martin of 2015, a welcome sign for the team.
Besides Martin, Tampa Bay also has three other capable running backs in the stable. Rookie Jeremy McNichols, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers all hold a spot at the position. Sims put together a solid season last year given the sample size, pounding the rock 51 times for 149 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers had a career year last season, rushing for 560 yards and two touchdowns.
With DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, and O.J. Howard, among others, serving as receivers, this may be the most talented offense the Buccaneers have had in quite some time. They finally have enough weapons to compete with the likes of the Panthers and the Falcons, and they can beat you in a multitude of ways. That spells trouble for the rest of the NFC South.
Jun 14, 2017; Tampa Bay, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter looks on during practice at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Koetter-player connection
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter has made quite an impression in Tampa Bay. It appears the players are buying in. From helping develop Winston to getting the entire team to buy into his system, things appear to be headed in the right direction.
Elliot Harrison of NFL.com had this to day about Koetter in his head coaching rankings published Wednesday.
Koetter’s influence on Jameis Winston manifested itself even more so in the franchise quarterback’s sophomore season, with the former offensive coordinator in the top job. Koetter has gotten the players to buy in, and with the young defense bound to get better, there is no reason Tampa Bay can’t be playing meaningful football in January.
With this level of talent and a coach like Koetter who has help to both properly gain the trust of his team and develop his franchise quarterback, there is no reason why the Buccaneers should not be able to win the NFC South.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) points out a San Diego Chargers defender before the snap as offensive guard Ali Marpet (74) and center Joe Hawley (68) look on during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
2. Jameis Winston
Although his first two years in Tampa Bay may not have started the way he wanted them to, it is no secret that Winston possesses talent. He has passed for 8,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first two years in the NFL. Those are some pretty impressive numbers. Now in Year 3, he should be able to make the leap especially under Koetter’s tutelage.
He has the arm strength and ability. He just needs to harness those skills in order to maximize his potential. This is the year we should see it happen. Much like with the teams themselves, the quarterbacks in the NFC South have question marks heading into the season. Will Matt Ryan suffer from a Super Bowl hangover? Will Cam Newton return to his regular form? Will Drew Brees be able to put up his normal numbers with a revamped offense?
These factor have a very good chance of working against each of the respective teams they affect. And if they do, the Bucs should have the advantage. Winston is clearly a player on the rise, which is impressive considering what he’s already been able to accomplish. All of that should help to pave the way for Tampa to the top of the NFC South.
Jun 14, 2017; Tampa Bay, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) walk off the field at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
1. The dynamic duo
Who am I referring to? Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Adding Jackson to an already powerful offense could help them win the NFC South. Jackson gives the defense another player to worry about and for good reason. Coupling him with Evans could make them the best duo not just in the NFC South, but in the entire NFL.
Between the two of them, they had 34 catches of 20 yards or more and six catches of 40 yards or more. It is no secret that they can stretch the field. Before all teams had to worry about was Evans and his abilities, particularly in one-on-one situations. Now, they have to worry about Jackson.
While Evans is a big-bodied receiver capable of big plays because of an innate ability to win 50-50 balls, Jackson is the ideal complement. He’s the speedster that can burn teams deep, even at his advanced age. The duo will be a matchup nightmare for many teams, particularly the ones in the NFC South.
When you combine all of these factors together, the Buccaneers are clearly a team on the rise with all of the elements necessary to win. Despite a strong division, they have a real chance at winning the NFC South.