Ahhhh, Buccaneers training camp hype. It’s a Tampa Bay midsummer tradition.
There’s nothing wrong with getting excited, but if you’re interested in a sober assessment of what’s to come, the 2019 edition of the Football Outsiders Almanac has arrived. The 500-page preview of the upcoming season is chock full of commentary and statistical analysis on all 32 NFL teams. After reading it, you’ll realize just how woefully inadequate traditional statistics are. But don’t take my word for it. I’m biased. I contributed to this year’s book. Instead, take Peter King’s word. He calls the Football Outsiders Almanac “a staple of my preseason reading.”
So what does it say about Jameis Winston, Bruce Arians and the Bucs? Here are some of my takeaways:
Tampa Bay likely will miss the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
The good news: The Bucs have a chance of winning Super Bowl LIV.
The bad news: They’re not a smart bet. Football Outsiders, which simulated the season a million times, puts their chances at 0.3 percent.
In fact, Tampa Bay is among the longest of long shots to even make the playoffs. Football Outsiders’ mean win projection for the Bucs: six wins. Their playoff chances: 12.6 percent. Only the Dolphins have worse odds (5.1 wins, 7.6 percent chance of making the playoffs and 0.1 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl).
Despite the optimism that the hiring of Arians has generated, Football Outsiders’ forecast for this season is bleaker than its forecast for last season. In last year’s book, Tampa Bay’s mean win projection was seven wins, it had a 22.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 0.8 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.
So why the low projection? While Football Outsiders expects the defense to improve, it’s expecting the offense to decline. A couple of reasons for the caution: Winston will be playing for a new coach and offensive coordinator, so it could take some time for him to adapt. He also will be missing two veteran targets in DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.
If Football Outsiders’ projections come true, the Bucs will watch a division rival win the Super Bowl. At 12.3 percent, the Saints have the best odds. The Chargers are the favorites to emerge from the AFC (10.5 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl).
Will this be Winston’s breakout season?
Winston is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL at moving the chains. Almost 40 percent of his passes have resulted in a first down. Since 2015, only Matt Ryan has a higher rate.
His turnovers, though, are what keep him outside of the top 10 quarterback conversation. Though he should improve in that department over last season, Football Outsiders expects his turnover numbers to be in line with his career rates. The book projects 4,729 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and 10 fumbles.
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Such a season will be just good enough to make the Bucs fret over the possibility of losing Winston in free agency and just bad enough to keep him from landing the big money multiyear contract extension he is seeking. The guess here is that the team applies the franchise tag and hangs on to Winston for at least one more season. To this point, ownership and the front office have done nothing to suggest otherwise. Every move they’ve made — including and especially the hiring of Arians — has been an attempt to justify their decision to draft Winston in the first place.
Hype that’s safe to buy into: Chris Godwin.
Godwin stands to be the primary beneficiary of the departures of Jackson and Humphries. He probably won’t be the 100-catch guy that Arians suggested in March that he can be, but 1,000 receiving yards isn’t far-fetched. Over the past two seasons, he averaged four catches for 73 yards in games in which he played but Jackson didn’t. In a 16-game season, that’s a 1,168-yard pace. Football Outsiders projects he’ll catch 75 passes for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns.
How often will we see O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate on the field at the same time?
Assuming they stay healthy, a lot. In each of Arians’ five seasons in Arizona, his Cardinals teams ranked first or second in use of empty backfields. His last four offenses ranked between 10th and 16th in use of two tight-end formations.
The defense will improve.
Of course the defense will improve; it would be difficult for it to be much worse. Analysts and fans will credit things such as “training camp physicality” and “a nasty style of play” for the turnaround. To be sure, coaching will be an influence, but the primary reason won’t be immediately visible. The defense will be better because it will be healthier.
It suffered injuries last season to a record-breaking degree, according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost statistic. (Adjusted games lost takes into account not only the games players miss because of injury but also the games they play in while injured.) The Bucs accumulated 92.0 games lost on defense; the NFL average was 36.1, and the record was 77.5, set by the 2014 Raiders.
Four of the teams that appeared in the playoffs last season after missing them the year before — the Bears, Ravens, Seahawks and Texans — had significantly better injury luck.
What will we see from Todd Bowles’ defense?
You’ve heard a lot this offseason and preseason about how Tampa Bay will be an attack-style defense, but what does that mean exactly?
In stark contrast to the Bucs defenses of the past fives season, you’ll see blitzes on about a third of pass plays. Last season, Tampa Bay blitzed on about a quarter of pass plays. Bowles won’t just be sending linebackers after the quarterback; his cornerbacks and safeties will be aggressive, too. The Jets were among the league leaders in defensive back blitzes in each of his four seasons in New York. Their 17 percent blitz rate in 2018 was more than twice the Bucs’ and ranked second in the NFL.
Keep tabs on the development of third-round draft pick Mike Edwards, who intercepted two passes during Monday’s practice. Disruptive in pass coverage and in pursuit of the quarterback, he possesses the versatility Bowles looks for in a safety.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at email@example.com. Follow @tometrics.