Odds are, the Bucs will be better in 2010. But not by much.
Odds are, the run defense will be better, too. But not by a lot.
Odds are, the Bucs will send a player to the Pro Bowl this year. But only one.
The Bucs report to training camp Friday, and already, you can see the gloom in the distance. If you believe what you read, and what you hear, this season is going to be ugly. It could be blackout-the-games, yell-at-the-coach, call-the-talk-show, burn-the-tickets and bring-back-Ray-Perkins bad.
Want to bet?
That's the thing about a young team coming off a bad year. All the optimism has been traded for a season-to-be-named later. Everyone seems to accept this year won't end up covered in confetti, either. Hardly any of the predictions out there have the Bucs anywhere but last place in the NFC South. No one seems to think this team can find a hidden tunnel that would take it as far as the playoffs.
So just how bad is it going to be? According to the people who lay them, the odds are stacked pretty high against the Bucs.
The oddsmakers at Bodog.com, the kings of the prop bets, took a series of questions from the St. Petersburg Times this week regarding the Bucs' season. (They say their propositions will be open today only on their website.)
I'm not much of a gambler, but I love prop bets. They suggest not only whether a team will struggle but the reasons why. Are they flawless? No, but most of the guys who set odds for a living tend to live in bigger houses than I do.
To sum up: The odds of you buying playoff tickets to watch games are not good.
You know how some teams run a high-risk offense? The Bucs evidently are about to embark on a high-risk season. Tampa Bay is a 100-1 underdog to win the Super Bowl (everyone talks about a team being a million-to-one underdog, but that kind of bet never exists. Shoot, the Spartans at the Hot Gates were only 80-1 underdogs.) It's 60-1 the Bucs won't win the NFC. It's 15-1 they won't win the NFC South. If the odds were any longer, Tampa Bay would have to change its name to "Detroit."
So will the Bucs be better? Yeah, slightly. Bodog has the over/under on victories at 5 1/2. (Only Detroit and St. Louis, at 5, have lower numbers, which tells us the oddsmakers think the Bucs are the 30th-best team in the NFL.) If you bet the over, you would have to bet $140 to win $100. If you bet the under, you would win $110 on a $100 bet.
Say this for six victories, or even five. It's better than 3-13. But, no, it isn't a total that will make most fans want to throw contract extensions at the head coach, either. So where would such a total leave Raheem Morris? With blistered ears, no doubt. Another season with double-digit losses wouldn't do much for his popularity. But would it put his job in jeopardy? Maybe, maybe not. (The last anyone checked, the Glazers had not put a line on what Morris has to do to stay employed.)
If you wanted to wager that Morris will still be the Bucs coach in the first week of the 2011 season, it would take a $200 bet to win $100. If you say no, a $100 bet would win $150. Strange odds, but most bookies really don't want to bet that far in advance.
Ah, but what about the quarterback? By now, most Bucs fans are aware that if the team is to be any better, Josh Freeman is going to have to be better. And here's an upset. Bodog expects him to be.
The over/under on Freeman's touchdown passes this season is 16 1/2. The over/under on his interceptions — he threw 18 in nine starts last year — is only 19 1/2. The over/under on his passing yardage is 3,000, which would be the most by any Bucs quarterback since Brad Johnson in 2003. Even when you remember these are betting lines, not predictions, that's not an awful year.
By the way, the over/under on Bucs in the Pro Bowl is one. The odds that it's Freeman are 5-1.
So who is going to catch 3,000 yards worth of passes? Bodog has the over/under on Kellen Winslow at 75?1/2 receptions (he caught 77 last year). Although Mike Williams seemed to get most of the offseason praise, Bodog has fellow rookie Arrelious Benn with an over/under of 35?1/2 and Williams at 30?1/2. The over/under on receiver Michael Clayton is one. (Okay, I made that last one up.)
How much help will Freeman get from his running game? That won't change much. Bodog has Cadillac Williams' number at 750 yards (slightly less than last year's 823) and Derrick Ward's at 450 (slightly more than last year's 409). It doesn't sound like a unstoppable ground game, does it?
Ah, but how about the defense?
Last year's biggest problem, of course, was the Bucs couldn't stop an opponent from running up the middle. Tampa Bay was last against the run last year.
This year? Bodog has the Bucs finishing with a ranking of 23 1/2. Better, but still in the bottom third of the league.
As far as the rest of the defense, the odds against Gerald McCoy winning defensive rookie of the year are 15-2. The over/under on Stylez White's sacks is 7 1/2. The over/under on Ronde Barber's interceptions is two (he had none last year). The over/under on Barrett Ruud's total tackles is 125 (the team had him with 142 last year).
So what bets make the most sense? If I were a betting man, the Freeman props would intrigue me. I think he has had a great offseason, and I think he will be better. Still, I'd bet the under on his yardage and the over on his interceptions. After all, going from two picks a game to 1.2 with such young receivers is a lot to ask.
I'd bet the over on both Mike Williams and Cadillac (and with Cadillac, you're basically betting that he will stay healthy). With fresh defensive tackles in front of him, I'd bet on Ruud. Bodog wouldn't put a line on it, but I think Donald Penn reports to camp Sept. 3. Provided it has a good training camp, I think the pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium can finish third in the America's Cup.
Oh, and I'm betting the over on Bucs victories. When you look at the schedule, why, there is no way they only win five games. I am sure you are as appalled at the suggestion as I am.
I have them winning six.
Sometimes, you have to bet on the long shot.