The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a rough few months. The 2022 season did not go as planned and now the team is going through a change at quarterback and at offensive coordinator. The replacements at these positions leave the team with unknowns and unanswered questions.
On top of that, the Bucs were in the worst salary cap situation entering the offseason. Being over $50 million over the cap forced the team to part ways with pending free agents and even cut some key contributors in recent years. At this point the roster looks incomplete and they still have several holes to fill as we head towards the NFL draft.
All of these issues have led the world to sour on the Buccaneers. They two time defending NFC south champions are getting little respect around the league. In fact, they currently have the worst betting odds to win the NFC South at +500; well below the next closest team in Atlanta who has +380 odds.
At the risk of sounding impartial, these odds aren’t an accurate reflection of what this Bucs team is. To say the Bucs look like the worst team in the NFC south by a significant margin seems uneducated. In fact, I would still consider the Buccaneers the team to beat in their division.
There is no question that the Bucs have the best group of playmakers in the division. With a future Hall of Fame receiver in Mike Evans and a pro bowl caliber receiver like Chris Godwin, no other team really comes all that close to what the Bucs have. Add in guys like Russell Gage and Cade Otton, who looked good in limited opportunities as a rookie, and this is actually one of the best groups of pass catchers in the NFL.
Then you look at the guys who will be throwing the football. A rookie, a second year quarterback who only played a few games and Derek Carr who has never won a playoff game. Even if you’re a skeptic of Baker Mayfield (like I am), it’s hard to deny that he’ll probably be the second best quarterback in the division next year.
No matter how you look at it, the Bucs have the fewest questions with their passing offense. Their quarterback has NFL experience and is familiar with this offense. Their receivers are the most talented, most proven and not returning from significant injuries.
There’s every reason to believe that the Bucs will have the best passing attack in the NFC South next year.
When it comes to pass rush there are the haves and the have nots of the NFC south. The Buccaneers and Saints both ranked in the top seven in sacks, whereas the Falcons and Panthers both ranked in the bottom eight. This is a drastic difference in one of the most important aspects of the game.
Keep in mind that the Saints did lose several key defensive linemen in free agency. Defensive tackle David Onyemata left to join the Falcons and Shy Tuttle joined the Panthers. Additionally Marcus Davenport, heir apparent to Cameron Jordan who turns 34 this summer, signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
Of course all of these teams can and likely will add pass rushers in the draft. However, as of right now the Bucs have the best core of pass rushers going into the season. This is a big advantage over the rest of the division.
Sometimes the things that can’t be messaged are the ones that are the most important. Things like veteran leadership and the experience of having reached the ultimate prize. After winning the Super Bowl in 2020 and retaining most of that championship core the Buccaneers have this in spades.
We got a chance to see this last season. In a week 17 game where both the Bucs and Panthers essentially had their season on the line, the Buccaneers found themselves down 14-0 late in the second quarter. The team, led by Mike Evans, showed their mental toughness to come storming back to secure a division title with a 30-24 win.
Teams like the Falcons or the Panthers have nothing close to the high level experience the Bucs do. And while the Saints have had playoff success in recent years, most of the key players from those teams are beginning to fade away. The Buccaneers are the team that has the established core of leaders who are still in their prime and ready to lead their team to where they want to go.