Photo via CBS Sports
In the last couple weeks, both the Westgate and South Point Superbooks have projected win totals for all of the NFL teams.
A couple of teams shine at the top—the New England Patriots are projected at 12.5 wins at Westgate and 11 wins at Southpoint. The Steelers are at 10.5 wins for both books, as well as the Seahawks.
However, there is at least one notable inconsistency in the metric for choosing win totals: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both books have the Bucs at eight wins to finish out the regular season.
This seems rather harsh, considering both the Bucs’ last season and the prospects for next season.
Last season, the Bucs finished out the season with nine wins, just missing the playoffs because of a couple bungled games. They had wins over the Falcons and the Panthers, as well as narrow losses to the Saints.
The NFC South as it is
The Falcons are set at 10 wins, while the Panthers are set at nine wins.
After a Super Bowl run, it’s not far-fetched that the Falcons can have another successful season.
With Matt Ryan at quarterback and other impact players like Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Devonta Freeman, the Falcons have a great offense combined with an up and coming defense.
The Panthers, however, are a different story. After a Super Bowl run in 2015, they shocked many by only winning six games in 2016.
Although many are projecting Cam Newton to bounce back, it’s hard to put too much faith in a team that only had six wins last season.
However, it is expected that they will be vastly improved, but should still have a tough battle to make the playoffs.
Both of these teams seem to be the most likely contenders against the Bucs, although the Saints can be anywhere from average to great—they haven’t had less than seven wins in a season since 2005.
So why are the Bucs projected lowest in the Division?
The Bucs didn’t miss the playoffs by much, and there are a couple of reasons why the Bucs are going to have at least a nine-win season.
The obvious: Jameis Winston
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hasn’t yet played to his full potential. Last season he led the Bucs to a nine-win season and coming into his third season he needs to cash in on his potential.
In both 2015 and 2016, Winston threw for just over 4,000 yards. He’s got the arm, he just needs to be smarter with it.
Of course, it’s not all about yardage. He’s inconsistent and throws way too many interceptions, but the team has added many more skilled targets to throw at this season.
The offense is one of the most skilled in the NFL and all that holds the Bucs back now is whether Winston can come out and perform as well as we know he can.
New all-star offense
Oh my, @Jaboowins.
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2016
The Bucs offense is already great, for wide receiver Mike Evans had 1,321 yards receiving on 96 receptions. Just look at this catch above thrown by Winston against Cleveland.
In addition, Tampa Bay is bringing back tight end Cameron Brate (82.8 PFF player grade), a dependable receiver with 660 yards last season who could be dangerous in combination with extremely talented rookie tight end O.J. Howard
The Bucs also added former Washinton Redskins wide receiver Desean Jackson. His deep threat could be deadly under Winston. Last season for the Redskins, Jackson had 1,005 yards off of just 56 receptions (17.9 yards per reception).
If that isn’t enough for Winston, throw dynamic tight end O.J. Howard into the mix. Howard caught for 595 yards in the 2016 season on 45 receptions for Alabama, and honestly he was criminally underused.
These stats are deceiving. In the 2015 national championship game, he chalked up 208 yards—a third of his yards for the season—and caught two touchdowns to help Alabama beat Clemson.
In 2016, he got 106 yards and a touchdown against Clemson in the national title rematch. Clearly, Howard can catch.
Howard was projected to be a top-10 pick, and although he was picked at No. 19, he is expected to be one of the best rookies this year’s draft class.
Standing at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, Howard can reach wide receiver-level speeds and catches consistently in the red zone.
The Doug Martin puzzle
There’s one piece to this puzzle that can capitulate the Bucs to an amazing season if it fits: Doug Martin’s health.
Martin, one of the best running backs in the league when he’s healthy, has had an inconsistent career. In both 2012 and 2015, Martin ran for over 1,400 yards. In his other three years, he ran for under 500 each season.
His two problems? He’s been plagued with injury and drug addiction. He checked himself into rehab after a suspension that he’ll serve until three games into next season.
He’s back in practice, however, and claims to have gotten so much better. I’m a stronger person individually, mentally and physically,” he said. “You know, better on and off the field.
“It was a journey these past few months. You know, with the statement and I had to get help. It was a journey of self-development. I learned a lot about myself. I’ve had the support of my family, my friends and teammates all around, and I’m happy to be back here,” he said last week.
If his statements can be believed, the Bucs have a dynamic alternative to Winston’s pass attack. To supplement Martin, the Bucs have Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 560 yards last season, and Charles Sims.
The NFL's most efficient pass-catching RBs over the past two seasons: pic.twitter.com/N0ov0GuBi2
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 15, 2017
Sims is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league according to Pro Football Focus, but he’s been dealing with injury as well.
After an injured shoulder cut short his 2016 season to seven games, he was cleared for practice recently and looks to return to the Bucs backfield.
It isn’t just the offense that will shatter the win totals that oddsmakers have been projecting—the defense is growing and adding a dynamic component to the Bucs on the field.
The Bucs already have three stars on defense: Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Kwon Alexander.
McCoy has 42.5 career sacks since 2010 and 170 solo tackles. David has 192 solo tackles and ten interceptions since his start in 2012. In just two years, Alexander has 238 combined tackles, three interceptions, six sacks and 16 passes defensed.
There’s new talent to supplement the old: defensive end Noah Spence.
Spence has created a buzz for next season after his injury plagued 2016 where he had just 5.5 sacks.
In a game against the Broncos, Spence popped out his shoulder and then fixed the injury himself. He played through the injury all season, and has noticeably improved in the offseason.
Surgery went well..God is good, time to kill this rehab and come back better!
— Noah Spence (@nspence94) January 11, 2017
After his surgery, teammates and coaches alike have expressed their excitement to have him be part of the team, and his sophomore season will prove that he’s one of the best defensive ends in the entire league.
The Vegas win totals are wrong
The Bucs will perform much better than they’ve been projected to play. My prediction is an 11-win season, or maybe at the least a 10-win season. With so many good players coming off of injuries, the Bucs are shaping up to have an impressive season that no one in Tampa Bay has seen since coach Jon Gruden.
Projecting Tampa Bay at eight wins is a harsh letdown for Bucs fans who just had their first nine-win season since 2010. They have a young quarterback with endless potential and a team hungry for a playoff run.