TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-10)
EXPECTATIONS: Tom Brady retired but the seven-time NFL champion's departure didn’t leave the Tampa By Buccaneers devoid of talent. Coach Todd Bowles says there are lots of ways to win games, and the Bucs are confident they can remain competitive after winning a Super Bowl and two NFC South titles in three years with Brady at quarterback. Baker Mayfield steps into Brady’s old job, relishing an opportunity to jumpstart his career in an offense installed by new offensive coordinator Dave Canales. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin lead a group of capable playmakers around Mayfield. Bowles is counting on a veteran defense to revert to Top 10 form, too, as the Bucs aim for a third straight division crown.
NEW FACES: QB Baker Mayfield, G Matt Feiler, DL Greg Gaines, K Chase McLaughlin, S Ryan Neal, RB Chase Edmonds, DL Calijah Kancey, G Cody Mauch.
KEY LOSSES: QB Tom Brady, LT Donovan Smith, G Shaq Mason, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, S Mike Edwards, RB Leonard Fournette, K Ryan Succop, WR Julio Jones, TE Cameron Brate, RB Giovani Bernard, S Ryan Logan.
STRENGTHS: Evans and Godwin form one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL, which is one of the reasons the Bucs are confident the passing game can thrive regardless of who’s at quarterback. A veteran defense that played much of last season without top pass rusher Shaquil Barrett wasn’t as reliable as usual in 2022. Barrett is back earlier than expected from an Achilles injury, while fellow linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White and dominant nose tackle Vita Vea are motivated to help the unit regain its swagger.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive line was a mess a year ago, struggling to protect Brady and open holes for a running attack that was the worst in the league. Center Ryan Jensen is still recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for every game except Tampa Bay’s playoff loss to the Cowboys. All-Pro Tristan Wirfs has moved from right to left tackle, however the rest of the unit is still coming together with second-year pro Luke Goedeke settling in at right tackle, free agent acquisition Matt Feiler taking over at left guard and rookie Cody Mauch climbing the depth chart at right guard during training camp.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: The competition between Mayfield and Trask for the starting QB job was the biggest story of the summer, extending through the second preseason game. Meanwhile, Bowles held 10 of 11 defensive starters out of each of the first two exhibitions. Second-year defensive lineman Logan Hall was the only projected regular who played extensively in the preseason outings. First-round draft pick Calijah Kancey, penciled in as a starter on the defensive line, missed much of training camp and all three preseason games due to a calf injury.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: Evans and Godwin are proven playmakers with a knack for getting into the end zone, however the player the Bucs feel could be poised for a breakout season is second-year RB Rachaad White. He shared playing time as a rookie with Leonard Fournette, but Bowles and general manager Jason Licht feel he’s durable and versatile enough to be an effective runner and receiver. White had one 100-yard game and finished 2022 with 481 yards and one touchdown rushing. He also had 50 receptions for 290 yards and two TDs. With Fournette no longer on the team, White will get an opportunity to be a three-down back.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 75-1. Over/under wins: 6 1/2.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
The Associated Press