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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 predictions

Dirk Koetter and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their season with a bye, their scheduled opener at Miami having been moved to Nov. 11 due to Hurricane Irma. The Bucs will open the season at home Sept. 17 against the Chicago Bears. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Dirk Koetter and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their season with a bye, their scheduled opener at Miami having been moved to Nov. 11 due to Hurricane Irma. The Bucs will open the season at home Sept. 17 against the Chicago Bears. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

How will the Bucs fare this season? The Tampa Bay Times sports staff offers some thoughts.

Category Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud Greg Auman, @gregauman Tom Jones, @tomwjones Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly Thomas Bassinger, @tometrics Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you
Record 9-7 10-6 9-7 9-7 8-8 10-6
Explanation The Bucs are a better football team this season but their record may not reflect it. The problem is that the NFC South could be the toughest division in the NFL and it's the cradle of quarterbacks. In addition, how does the defense hold up against Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers? I expect the Bucs to be better. How well that translates to improved record? The defense must be like second-half 2016, Jameis Winston must limit his mistakes. This is an improved Bucs team, especially with additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard on offense. Winston will be even better. But a tough division, a difficult schedule and a team that still could have some leaks on defense means another 9-7 and sweating it out for a wild-card spot. They should be a playoff team. Jameis is a year older and should be better. Should. He will have more targets. The defense should hold its own. Should. But we're at the point in franchise history where my arms are folded. The Bucs in a postseason? Should. Call me at halftime of the first playoff game. One day, I'm finding a reason the Bucs will make the playoffs (DeSean Jackson). The next, I'm finding a reason they won't (last season's takeaway rate isn't sustainable). Nine or 10 wins is attainable but probably requires an uncommon number of best-case scenarios to break Tampa Bay's way. Look for an up-and-down season, provided they start with wins against Miami and Chicago. That steels them for the difficult four-game stretch that will follow. The season will continue to ebb and flow, and they will be 6-6 before reeling off four straight to make the playoffs.
Playoffs? Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
On the rise Noah Spence played with a torn labrum in his shoulder last season and had 5.5 sacks. He should reach double digits if healthy. Noah Spence: Poised for breakout season as long-awaited, much-needed sack specialist Jameis Winston: He will still make boneheaded plays, but with so many weapons, he'lls have his best year yet. Vernon Hargreaves. Makes run at Pro Bowl in second year Jameis Winston. With Jackson in the fold, he'll be a better deep passer. CB Ryan Smith: Team will need him to step up if Father Time catches up to Brent Grimes.
In decline Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't have a lot left but enough to get the Bucs through a few games in an emergency. Robert Ayers: At 31, must stay healthy: only 12 games in 2016 Cam Brate. Solid player, but will lose playing time to O.J. Howard. Doug Martin. The clock is ticking Safeties. Bucs and Raiders allowed most pass plays of 40-plus yards last season. Brent Grimes: Can a 34-year-old continue to defy gravity?
Upset special Bucs sweep the Atlanta Falcons in two very high-scoring games Bucs over Vikings: Key road win early, like Dolphins, to set tone Bucs over Pats? Ha, just kidding. But they will beat the other Super Bowl contestant once: the Falcons. Bucs stun Brady and Belichick, world Bucs over Cardinals. This time, Winston limits turnovers vs. aggressive Arizona D. Bucs over Cardinals. They avenge last year's 33-point wipe out.
Winston's TD/INT 30/13 32/14 28/15 25/15 29/14 30/15
More catches: Brate or Howard Brate Brate Howard Howard Brate Brate
Leading rusher Doug Martin Doug Martin Doug Martin Jacquizz Rodgers Doug Martin Jacquizz Rodgers
Biggest win Vs. Saints Dec. 31 to clinch a playoff spot. Confetti falls. Falcons (Dec. 18) Falcons (Dec. 18) Falcons (Dec. 18) at Falcons (Nov. 26) Falcons (Dec. 18)
Toughest loss Minnesota Sept. 24 At Saints (Nov. 5) Lions (Dec. 10) Dolphins (Sept. 10) at Panthers (Dec. 24) Bills
Pleasant surprise PK Nick Folk makes career-best 88 percent of his field goals. Tight ends Howard and Brate each get 5+ TD catches Vernon Hargreaves is named to the Pro Bowl. Spence reaches 9.9 sacks. Encounters force field at 10 It's safe again to plan a bathroom break during an extra point or field goal. Spence breaks the 10-sack mark - finally.
Biggest letdown Kwon Alexander is snubbed again for the Pro Bowl. DeSean Jackson, amid so many offensive weapons, has only 4 TDs Once again, no Bucs player reaches double digits in sacks. Secondary around Hargreaves breaks down O.J. Howard. Expectations might be too high. Can see a sub-40-catch, 500-yard season. Despite team's promise, attendance falls short of expectations.
Bold prediction Bucs sign GM Jason Licht to a 4-year extension Bucs make playoffs for first time in 10 years as wild card. Not only do Bucs make playoffs, they win a playoff game. Bucs come up just short of playoffs Bucs play in the NFC championship game … next season. If Winston doesn't play well, he'll be competing against a high-round pick in 2018.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 predictions 09/07/17 [Last modified: Thursday, September 7, 2017 11:44am]
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