The NFL season is a quarter of the way complete and the Buccaneers are 1-3. They have a Pro Bowler sidelined by injury on both sides of the ball and their quarterback's turnovers problems have resurfaced.
With a Monday Night Football game at NFC Champion Carolina looming, the Times' Bucs/NFL coverage team looks at Tampa Bay's reasons for optimism and pessimism:
Reason for optimism
Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud
Jameis Winston, Jameis Winston, Jameis Winston. His compete level, his worth ethic and his tenacity makes the Bucs believe that as he improves, so will the team's fortunes. He's just got to learn to protect the football.
Tom Jones, @tomwjones
It's still Winston. He's struggling this season, but he also did this last year - turn the ball over, that is - and snapped out of it to play smart, productive football. He certainly is capable of doing that again.
Greg Auman, @gregauman
The Bucs have faced the toughest games on their schedule -- if they can get Winston to limit his mistakes and solve their defensive problems, the remaining schedule is full of winnable games under those circumstances.
Tom Bassinger, @tometrics
January 1, approximately 4:30 p.m. By then, this should be over.
Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you
Jameis Winston. His potential remains the team's best hope.
Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly
It remains the quarterback. Yes, for all his trials and tribulations, it's Jameis Winston. The Bucs have to hope he pulls out of this dive. I mean, what choice do they have? Other good things: overlook the fact that Bucs defense is awful and they face awful NFC South defenses five more times. Also: not the Browns.
Reason for pessimism?
This is not a deep team on defense and the new system under Mike Smith hasn't kicked in. Losing Gerald McCoy for any length of time will hurt. A 1-4 start to stew over during the bye could be tough to overcome.
The defense played decently against Denver, but we're still talking about a unit that has surrendered 128 points in four games. There were concerns coming into the season that a nonexistent pass rush and a leaky secondary would be problematic and that definitely has been the case so far.
The defense shows no signs of improvement, and has just two takeaways in the first four games. With injuries further decimating an ineffective defensive line, it's unlikely the Bucs will be able to get the pressure on opposing QBs they need to make any real progress defensively.
The Bucs' minus-51 point differential is the largest in the league. In each of their losses, they've been beaten soundly. Even the loss to the Rams wasn't as close as the final score suggests -- they were down 11 points with less than five minutes left.
There's only one?
Injuries to Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy. Injuries to defensive pass rushers in general. Offensive line, a strength last season, is getting overwhelmed at wrong times.