Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jameis Winston
- Win Over/Under: 6.5 (+130/-150)
- Make NFC Playoffs: +500 (17%)
- Win NFC South: +1600 (6%)
- Win NFC Championship: +10000 (1%)
- Win Super Bowl: +20000 (0.5%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 6.26 (27th)
Our 2018 NFL Power Ratings have the Buccaneers ranked 22nd. Our models project them to lose more games than all but five teams. And somehow, we fall on the optimistic side.
Sporting News predicts a 1-15 finish. Sports Illustrated is a bit more optimistic at 2-13-1. The Tampa Bay Times describes ESPN’s forecast of 6.5 wins and a last-place finish in the NFC South as “really depressing.”
The public agrees.
In July we noted that the Bucs’ win total of 6.5 was getting the third-highest percentage of bets on the under. Westgate odds as of Sep. 4 are practically begging for wagers on the over, offering it at +130 and the under at -150.
But a case can be made to take the bait despite the team’s 5-11 record last season.
The Bucs played the fifth-hardest schedule in the league in terms of opponent winning percentage, yet their -47 point differential was equivalent to 6.8 wins according to Pythagorean expectation, which is generally an indicator of positive regression. They also did that without Jameis Winston for three games, which is how many he’ll miss to start the 2018 regular season.
Winston even put up career-best marks in completion rate (63.8%), yards per attempt (7.9), and passer rating (92.2). But a closer look at advanced metrics reveal that his performance should come second to that of his talented pass-catchers.
Winston’s mark in ESPN’s Total QBR was actually the lowest of his career. He also ranked outside the top 25 in Pro Football Focus’ Adjusted Completion Rate, which accounts for drops, throwaways, etc.
Yet Mike Evans topped 1,000 yards for the fourth time in four seasons, O.J. Howard’s 16.6 yards per catch led all NFL tight ends with 25 catches, Chris Godwin flashed the skills to live up to his last name as a rookie and Cameron Brate’s six touchdowns on only 48 catches gave him the third-most at the position since 2016.
Still, an even more convincing case can be made to not take the bait.
After finishing last in sacks, the Bucs overhauled their pass rush by acquiring Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Carl Nassib, Jerel Worthy and Mitch Unrein to play alongside elite defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. But only Curry finished higher than 57th in PFF’s pass-rushing grades, and JPP’s pressure rate indicates a regression in sacks could be coming.
This year’s first-rounder Vita Vea should help in theory, but he strained his calf in the first padded practice and still isn’t in game shape just days before the opener.
With corners Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves and safeties Chris Conte and Justin Evans, the secondary with feature four-fifths of the same unit that finished 2017 second to last in Football Outsiders’ Pass Defense Adjusted Value Over Average. That means the unit will rely on a 35-year-old to continue to be its best player (Grimes) and a rookie to be the differentiator (Carlton Davis).
PFF rates the pass rush as average but the secondary 31st, which still equates to a below-average pass defense.
Meanwhile, Dirk Koetter’s run game has been devolving.
He inexplicably let Doug Martin, who hasn’t averaged more than 2.9 yards per carry in a season since 2015, lead the team in carries in each of the past two seasons.
Second-round draft pick Ronald Jones II was supposed to be the answer, but Martin’s last two seasons look Hall of Fame-worthy compared to Jones’ 22 yards on 28 preseason carries. Jones was so bad that Koetter had to give the starting job to Peyton Barber — a third-year undrafted free-agent with 4.64 speed whose 163 career carries have generated only two runs of 20 yards or more.
Koetter threatens to ruin a good thing with his passing attack and exacerbate his running game’s issues because he’s still unaware that NFL teams run because they’re winning instead of vice versa.
While the three least run-heavy teams in the first quarter last year were headed by Sean McVay, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid, Koetter is closer to completing a nightmarish Mount Rushmore with the three run-heaviest coaches: John Fox, Hue Jackson and Mike Mularkey.
General manager Jason Licht deserves credit for assembling the pass-catchers and attempting to overhaul the pass rush, but he has a weird infatuation with blowing resources on all the wrong kickers and punters.
Chandler Catanzaro will be Licht’s fourth kicker since blowing a 2016 second-round pick on Roberto Aguayo. Catanzaro ranked 31st and 20th in field-goal percentage over the past two years while punter Bryan Anger is in the third year of a five-year, $17 million contract but produced a net punting average that ranked 25th in the league last season.
Licht also publicly stated that the team isn’t committed to starting Winston when he returns from suspension, meaning that the GM is either crazy or has crazy action on the Koetter “first coach to be fired” prop.
The schedule is also one of the league’s toughest again.
Winston will miss games at New Orleans and against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, then (maybe) return to face Chicago and Atlanta on the road. Being in the NFC South means facing the Saints, Falcons and Panthers twice with the 49ers, Cowboys and Ravens also appearing on the 2018 docket.
It’s hard to argue the Bucs catching enough breaks to go at least 7-9 is more likely than them catching a whole lot of slander from Miko Grimes. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Under 6.5 Wins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 3
- Avg. Spread: +2.6
- Strength of Schedule: 27th (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Buccaneers: Week 7 vs. CLE
- Use Buccaneers’ opponents: Week 1 @ NO, Week 6 @ ATL
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Pick: WR Mike Evans
- Sleeper: WR Chris Godwin, RB Peyton Barber
- Potential Bust: RB Ronald Jones II
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“At first they were getting bet to win the division because of their odds, but since the Jameis incident, we haven’t seen much support on them. We also moved them from 50-1 to 200-1 in the Super Bowl market, but nobody is really going near them.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Peyton Barber Over/Under 675 Rushing Yards? (-125/-105)
If you listened our exclusive player prop bets episode on The Action Network NFL Podcast, this was one of my favorite props on the board. I got the “over” at 500, but since the pod came out, the total has jumped 175 yards.
Jones doesn’t look ready to have a major role in an NFL backfield. In the seven games Barber played 15 or more snaps in last season, he put up 416 rushing yards despite not always being the true feature back. He can easily go over this prop, even if (somehow) Jones later passes Barber on the depth chart.
I mentioned on the podcast that 700-750 would be a fair number here, so there is still some value on the over. But if the juice goes any higher, I would recommend passing. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Over 675 Rushing Yards
Stack Mike Evans in DFS
It’s tough to understate how productive Evans has been through four seasons. He joins A.J. Green and Randy Moss as the only receivers over the past 25 years to gain at least 1,000 yards in each of their first four seasons.
This has produced a stronger than normal relationship between Evans and his quarterback: According to the FantasyLabs NFL Correlations Dashboard, Evans has enjoyed a .57 correlation with his quarterback’s fantasy production since 2014, well above the league-average mark of .40. – Ian Hartitz
More on the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Mike Evans: Where Does He Stand Among WRs in His Tier?
- Jameis Winston: Can He Make the Leap in Year 4?
- Jameis Winston: What’s the Fantasy Impact of His Suspension?