Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Despite additions, Bucs have a lot of proving to do

They traded for an island in Darrelle Revis. They brought in a heat-seeking safety in Dashon Goldson. They drafted a corner they like in Johnthan Banks.

Whee, says Danny Sheridan.

Sheridan, a nationally known sports handicapper, was so impressed that he expects the Bucs to win … seven games.

Seven? Last year, when their secondary consisted of men chasing after buses, they won seven games. Last year, when they were historically bad in the secondary, bad beyond belief, they won seven times.

And now, Sheridan picks them to win seven games. Again.

"My real number is 61/2, but I'll say seven,'' Sheridan said. "It's not that I don't like the Bucs. I just like other teams more.''

They get Carl Nicks back from injury. And Davin Joseph. And Adrian Clayborn.

And Elliott Harrison of nfl.com ranks them … 20th of 32 teams.

Twentieth? Last year, when the offensive line finished the season held together by duct tape and spackle, when Doug Martin was a rookie, the Bucs finished in a tie for 17th in the league.

So this year, they will move backward?

Really?

This is the dose of reality for Tampa Bay fans. You may expect better things from your Bucs. You may even expect their first playoff win in a decade. You certainly expect them to be better than last year, when Martin and Lavonte David and Mark Barron were rookies.

But it seems the rest of the nation doesn't agree. At least not yet. To the world at large, the Bucs still have a lot of proving to do. That's fair. Back when the Bucs became good in the late '90s, no one saw that team coming, either.

"This is not Manchester United,'' said Sheridan. "This is the NFL. It takes time to turn it around.''

Look, Sheridan isn't infallible. Last year he picked the Bucs to win five games. Still, it will not surprise you to discover that Sheridan, too, thinks the measuring starts at quarterback. He sees Freeman as the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC South.

"I think you have to have a great quarterback to go the playoffs, and I'm not sure Tampa does," he said. "I know Drew Brees, and I know Matt Ryan, and I know Cam Newton. But is Freeman in that class? You tell me.''

And on and on it goes. Brian Billick, the ex-Ravens coach, has the Bucs 20th in his post-draft power rankings on fox.com. ESPN has them at No. 19. And Bovada, the betting site, has them at 50-1 to reach the Super Bowl. It has 19 teams as a better bet. Cbssports.com had them at 20th before the Revis trade.

Should anyone be alarmed? Outraged? Should you run around and make every bet available to you?

Of course not. In most cases, offseason power rankings are more about last year than they are about the one to come. San Francisco is still ranked high, along with Seattle and Denver and New England and the usual suspects. No one is going to rank the Bucs above Atlanta and New Orleans based on rising stars and free agent signings.

Look, Tampa Bay can see this team's shortcomings, too. There isn't enough pass rush. There isn't a consistent over-the-middle possession receiver. Freeman is capable of nightmarish games. But we're not talking 16-0 here. We're talking about the playoffs.

Wouldn't you expect someone, anyone, to imagine this team with a chance to slip into them?

No, I haven't seen it, either.

"I think seven is a great number,'' Sheridan said. "I know they signed Darrelle Revis, but even if he's healthy, he can only cover half of the field. They didn't sign two Revises, did they? Besides, free agents don't always work. Team chemistry is still very important.

"I'll put it this way: If anyone wants to bet that the Bucs will win eight or more, I'll take the bet and give it to charity. Because I'll win. I have this team ninth in the NFC. It isn't going to make the playoffs.''

Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you look at Gerald McCoy and Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and Mason Foster and Donald Penn and the rest, and you think about the games that got away last year, and you think about how much better the secondary has to be.

Perhaps, just perhaps, you see a chance.

Think of it like this: No one saw the Seahawks coming last year. Or the Vikings, for that matter. Or the Redskins. Certainly, none of them ranked very highly in the power rankings in May.

But winning games is a matter of a team coming together at the right time, of building chemistry as it goes, of buying into the right young players to shift the balance of power. Who knows how injuries affect a season, or quick starts, or bad seasons.

Yeah, this team still has a chance, no matter what anyone says.

"But do yourself a favor,'' Sheridan said. "Don't bet with me on this.''

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