So after two weeks, we may not be ready to crown Bucs, but it certainly appears they may be better than some thought. Of course, you can find flaws in the team’s 1-1 start, reasons for concern. Remember, this group started 2-0 in 2018. But to some fans it seems different. Is it? We convene a roundtable of staff writers.
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer @NFLStroud: My 8-8 prediction still feels about right but there are two things that have occurred I didn’t expect. One, the defense under Todd Bowles is much effective more quickly then I anticipated. The emergence of Shaq Barrett as an edge rusher, with four sacks including three at Carolina, has made up for the loss of Jason Pierre-Paul. The run defense has been very good, creating good rush opportunities. And for the most part, defensive backs have competed well for the football. Two, I had Carolina as a likely playoff team and now I don’t think they’re good enough to win the division. But after Sunday, the Bucs don’t play in Tampa Bay until Nov 10 so the schedule is the most daunting challenge to me. That and the NFC West has three teams at 2-0 and the Bucs play every team in that division.
They could go 9-7
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: When breaking down the Bucs season as a whole before the season began and picking a 8-8 finish, I thought the Bucs would start off 2-1 before going on their stretch of seven weeks without playing a home game at Raymond James. At that point, however, I thought they’d beat the 49ers and lose on the road to the Panthers. Leading up to those games, I had a change of heart, anticipating a slow start against the 49ers, but quickly regrouping in Carolina, I picked both games accurately. So I still think they start 2-1. What’s different is what’s happened around them in the first two weeks. Without Drew Brees for at least the next six weeks, which included the Bucs’ Oct. 6 game in New Orleans, the Saints look beatable. If the Bucs are able to emerge from their time away from Raymond James with a 4-4 mark, they finish the season with five of their last eight at home against a group of teams that are currently a combined 6-8. Maybe that’s good enough for 9-7, but for now, I’ll still stick to 8-8.
Still looking 6-10
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: No, I’m going to stick to 6-10. This is exactly where I expected the Bucs to be after their first two games, except I thought they would beat the 49ers and lose to the Panthers. They’ve yet to hit the most difficult stretch in their schedule, which begins Week 4 when they travel to Los Angeles to play the Rams, who might be the best team in the NFC. Seven or eight wins isn’t out of the question, but before we get too carried away, let’s remember the Bucs were inches from falling to 0-2.
Upgrading to 8-8
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: I predicted 6-10 but I’ve seen enough in the defense to add a few more wins. The unit looks strong with a young but athletic secondary and Todd Bowles’ pass rushing schemes are, to date, vexing offenses. Everybody points to the tough stretch between Sept. 29 and Nov. 10, but don’t forget about a four-game stretch starting Thanksgiving weekend: at Falcons, at Jaguars, vs. Colts and vs. Lions. It’s the kind of stretch you can take for granted and end up reeling.
Sticking with 8-8
John Romano, columnist @romano_tbtimes: I was surprised by how bad Jameis Winston and the offense looked against San Francisco. I was also surprised by how efficient they were against Carolina. So I suppose 8-8 still feels right. The offense will, presumably, get better as the season continues and Winston gets more comfortable with what he is being asked to do. There is still a lot of talent on that side of the ball. The defense is more of a wild card. Will it continue making strides under Todd Bowles, or will opposing offenses start figuring out who/where to exploit?
Lofty expectations remain
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: Raise your hand if you expected the Bucs defense to lead the way. … Yet, that’s how the Bucs got to 1-1, and the win in Carolina had some similarities with Tampa Bay’s five-game win streak in 2016. Ending offensive possession with a kick is a way to win if you have a credible defense, and the Bucs have one. I predicted the Bucs would enter week 16 playing for a postseason berth so I’ll stick with that.
A look ahead at Bruce Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay and a critical season for Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers.