The NFL season is finally here! And for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the expectations are as high as it gets.
This is a veteran team with an established coaching staff. On paper, we know exactly what to expect from the Bucs. However, not everything plays out how we expect on paper.
I decided to break some norms and make some bold predictions for this season. Here are the five bold predictions that I see as a realistic pathway for this year.
Akiem Hicks Leads The Team In Sacks
Todd Bowles loves to dial up pressure and cause chaos in the backfield. Of course it will most likely be Shaq Barrett that leads the team in this category. However, Hicks is a legitimate contender to steal his pass rush crown.
The last two years Ndamukong Suh was able to rack up six sacks a season. This was in part due to the talent around him collapsing the pocket and setting him up to finish plays. Now it will be Hicks benefiting from the Buccaneers talented front seven.
On top of that, Hicks is a much better pass rusher than Suh wax at this point in their career. He is much more likely to generate pressure himself and force sacks on his own.
If Hicks can stay healthy all season then double digit sacks is a reasonable expectation.
Sean Murphy-Bunting Leads The Team In Interceptions
There was a lot of confusion and surprise when Murphy-Bunting was named the starting cornerback opposite Carlton Davis. It’s my belief that this is in large part due to his ball skills.
Let us not forget the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run where Murphy-Bunting picked off Taylor Heinicke, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive games. This is an example of the flashes that he’s capable of.
Now moving to the outside, which is his natural position, it could be looking at a career year. If Murphy-Bunting can consistently put together his high end flashes then the sky’s the limit.
Top Ranked Scoring Defense
Last year the Buccaneers ranked 5th in points allowed. This year they return most of their roster with a few improvements. In theory, this will only help that ranking.
The addition of Logan Ryan adds depth to the safety room, but also gives the Buccaneers a true nickel defender. There is also the addition of Keanu Neal which should fill the void left by Jordan Whitehead as a box enforcer.
The aforementioned Hicks should be a significant upgrade to the pass rusher. And although Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t around anymore, the return of Carl Nassib and the expected step forward of Joe Tryon-Shoyinka should negate that.
Career Year For Leonard Fournette
There is so much attention paid to the Buccaneers passing offense. That’s understandable with Tom Brady, Mike Evans and a cast of great playmakers. However, the Buccaneers rushing offense can’t be overlooked.
Leonard Fournette put up just over 800 yards rushing last season. He also totaled over 450 receiving yards for 1266 total yards from scrimmage.
While these numbers are good, they are far off from his career high of 1674 yards. I would not expect him to surpass that this season either.
Where I do expect Fournette to potentially set a new career high is in the touchdown department. He tied his career high last season with 10 total touchdowns. Now with more emphasis upfront with run blocking I expect that to result in more touchdowns for “Endzone Lenny”
Buccaneers Win The Super Bowl
So many things have to go right for any team to win a championship. Not only do you need great talent, but you also need a degree of luck. This can come in the form of health or the matchups you see in the playoffs.
Last year the Buccaneers were unlucky. Not only were they injury riddled down the stretch, but they ran into their worst possible matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. This year looks to be different.
Not only are the Bucs the most talented team in the NFC, but they’ve added depth to their receiver room and secondary. And as Tampa Bay has gotten stronger, the Rams have lost some of the players that made them a matchup nightmare.
Nothing is guaranteed, healthy or not, but the Buccaneers have everything laid out in front of them. I truly believe they can and will return to the Super Bowl this year and claim their third championship.
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