2019 NFC  South Division Team Previews

2019 NFC  South Division Team Previews

Who knew that NFL players were such savvy gamblers. Antonio Brown rolled the dice with his new team the Oakland Raiders and played a hand that would free him from his current deal with the team. Brown’s dice came off the craps table back-wall “seven-winner”.  2019 NFC  South Division Team Previews.

Oakland granted Brown’s request of a release and just minutes later the former Pittsburgh and Oakland wideout signed with the New England Patriots. The deal Brown reportedly received was a one-year deal worth $15 million with $9 million being guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones also gambled but did so in a much different form than Brown. Jones showed up to camp without distraction and took the team’s word that they would offer him an extension before Week 1 of the regular season. The Falcons confirmed today that they agreed with Jones on a three-year extension.

NFC South Division / Atlanta Falcons

How disappointing was last year’s 7-9 record?  Atlanta was just 4-9 before winning vs. bottom feeders Arizona, Carolina (no Cam Newton) and Tampa.  The offense has talent, and in my opinion so does the defense, but the secondary has yet to put it together as a team and as usual, the pass rush was erratic.  The Falcons will have new coordinators on offense, defense, and special teams but all eyes will be on Head Coach Dan Quinn.  Can he steer this team back into the playoffs?

What went right: Atlanta had a very strong 45% 3rd down conversion rate.  The passing attack was fantastic, aided by rookie WR Ridley and the emergence of TE Hooper (71 receptions).  RB Freeman was hurt but his partner Tevin Coleman was strong in the run and pass game.  One of my favorite guys, CB Damontae Kazee delivered seven interceptions.  As usual, the punt return D was very strong.  PK Bryant was 25-26.

What went wrong: Injuries to key players in the back seven on D and to RB Freeman hurt, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.  The OL allowed 42 sacks, up from 25.  That shouldn’t happen with such a veteran team and QB.  The run O was ranked 28th.  Atlanta had a -7 fumble ratio that they hope disappears due to randomness in ’19.  TE Hooper improved but the 9.3 per reception is not good enough.  As usual the pass D was non-existent, at 68%.  The 3rd down defense was terrible at 47.5%.  Defensive depth is lacking.  The return game (especially punt returns) needs new blood.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Additions include TE Luke Stocker and two average OG’s.  RB Tevin Coleman is gone as are a starting, but substandard RT starter and CB Robert Alford.  The new offensive coordinator is former Tampa Bay Head Coach Dirk Koetter.  That’s not bad.  Dan Quinn is adding the role of defensive coordinator to his resume.  Can he get this somewhat talented unit (other than pass pressure) to finally work together as a team?

2019 draft recap: Atlanta doubled up on OL needs but almost no draft board will end up looking worse than this one.  The Falcons added speed in the 4th round before completely falling apart.  Just what did they really accomplish in this draft?  I * rated picks 3-5 for this team.  * rated picks have talent, but should only be selected after all numerically rated players at the position have been chosen.  All three can contribute, but trading up two spots to get DE Cominsky was a typical Dimitroff/Pioli panic move.  In all they traded up three times.  They haven’t a clue how to build roster depth.  The team lost value everywhere and my draft grade (D-, worst in the NFL) reflects that.  A composite of ten national sources (as noted for each team in my draft report) was included.  They concurred, giving Atlanta their 29th best team grade.  Still left to doAnything to do with the pass rush.  Depth at every defensive position.  Someone to stop the run.

ROSTER ANALYSIS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st:

QB: Matt Ryan remains my 5th rated NFL QB.  I am NOT a fan of Matt Schaub.

RB: Devonta Freeman returns from injury.  There is no reliable backup help at the present time.

WR: Julio Jones is my #1 rated NFL WR.  Mohammad Sanu is strictly a possession guy but has been solid.  Calvin Ridley is a #1 WR in the making.  The drop-off after these three guys is steep.

TE: Austin Hooper became a nice part of the offense in ’18.  Luke Stocker is average as his backup.

OL: In transition.  The tackles are below par.  James Carpenter is not a great OG.  Alex Mack is a star at center.  The two rookies might start sooner rather than later (RT and OG).

DL: Grady Jarrett and Takkarist McKinley are acceptable but the other two DL are not starters in my eyes.  Raw rookie John Cominsky will need to challenge these guys.  Ra’Shade Hageman was as expected, a disappointment.

LB:  Deion Jones is the star and hopefully back from injury.  Vic Beasley has his moments while De’Vonte Campbell is just a guy.  Bruce Carter and Duke Riley are the only other LB’s worth noting in a fairly thin unit.

DB: I really do not understand why the pass D% is so consistently below average considering the talent here.  I like the starting four and Damontae Kazee adds playmaking depth.  Two rookies and one veteran add some depth.

Special Teams: Matt Bryant’s salary was deemed too high for this team.  They need him back!  The search continues for a return specialist.  Can anyone step up?  The return defense is usually solid.  NOTE: Matt Bryant was signed!

Coaching: Dan Quinn will be hands on with the defense this year.  His job is on the line.  Dirk Koetter is the new offensive coordinator and is a massive red zone upgrade.

TEAM KEYS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st: Dan Quinn is taking over the defense.  I’m interested to see if the stat sheet can improve, especially vs. the pass.  Once again this team must find a more consistent pass rush.  I’m not crazy about the RB depth so Devonta Freeman must stay healthy.

DID THE PRESEASON MEAN ANYTHING? Matt Ryan looks ready.  There were no surprises in WR play, meaning the unit only goes three deep.  Freeman was rested (three carries).  Rookie Ollison ran 49-186.  Tony Brooks-James ran well week four.  The pass defense showed signs of improvement.  The rest of the areas went flat, and I won’t get any clues from their August performances.  The projected starting 11 got decent work.  Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was 4-9, prompting Atlanta to reconsider Matt Bryant, who they signed on 8/31.

STRATEGY AND BOTTOM LINE ANALYSIS: I think Atlanta has a playoff shot this year.  They upgraded at offensive coordinator, have a schedule without a MNF game (fewer schedule disruptions and short weeks) and have a late three game home stand.  In an interesting twist, their 1st Divisional game is not until the 2nd half of the schedule.  Games 1-5 are all tossups!  They travel to Minny (one situation favors them), host Philly (slight edge straight up), go to Indy (dome conditions, no Andrew Luck to torch their pass defense), host Tennessee and go to Houston.

The goal is 3-2 in these games, and 2-1 in games at Arizona and home to the Rams and Seattle.  The 2nd half games outside of their Division are at SF (facing their old coordinator, Kyle Shanahan) and home to Jacksonville (Jags off a west coast trip to Oakland).  This should be at least a split.  That could put them at 6-4 not counting the six Divisional games.  Basically, going 4-2 in these games could get them into the playoffs.  Since I expect the Falcons to score more points, and since they did the right thing and signed Matt Bryant, the major look for me is the pass defense and pass rush.  Is Atlanta ready for rapid improvement?

BOTTOM LINE: I’ve said for years that the talent level in the secondary is too good for them to keep putting up lousy pass % numbers.  Dan Quinn is personally taking over the defense.  Fix the coverage issues and they can go at least 9-7.  By no means is 9-7 a guarantee but this is a no excuse schedule and Atlanta can’t waste this opportunity.

KEY GAMES: Week two hosting Philly and Divisional games vs. New Orleans and Carolina.  They must go 3-2 in these games to be considered legitimate playoff contenders.  Handicapping Tip: I’ll stick with the OVER theme, recommending plays in that direction 9/15 vs. Philly and 10/6 at Houston.  2019 POWER # SET: 27.

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NFC South Division /  Carolina Panthers

Everything looked great for Carolina halfway through the ’18 season.  The Panthers were 6-2 and Cam Newton’s accuracy was at an all-time high (67%), Unfortunately, Cam’s shoulder became a major issue and he was shut down once the Panthers were eliminated from playoff contention.  Pesky defensive coverage issues remain but there is no question that a healthy Newton would have translated to playoff entrance.  At 6-3, Carolina lost five straight by a total of 20 points, with all losses of the one score variety.  A return to health would help, but Carolina’s issues run a bit deeper than just Cam Newton.

What went right: The Panthers averaged 27.5 points in games 1-8 so the offense was clicking behind Cam and 2nd year RB McCaffrey, who had an elite stat sheet.  The overall run O was 5.1 per carry.  The OL also reduced sacks.  The full # was 32 sacks allowed, and just 12 in games 1-8.  Luke Kuechly played in all 16 games, and wreaked havoc on others (130 tackles).

What went wrong: In ‘15 Carolina finally put their pass D% into a Super category.  In ’16 they allowed nearly 67%, 30th in the NFL.  The pass D remained vulnerable in ’17 at 63.8%.  It skied to 66.7% in ’18.  When will this team ever scrap the soft zone D?  Cam’s arm issues late had a major impact, but even before that the yards-per-completion figure was below par.  The return game was below par offensively and the kick return defense also had lapses.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Losses include WR David Funchess, both Kahil brothers (OL), one due to retirement, DE Julius Peppers (also due to retirement), longtime LB Thomas Davis and back-up CB Captain Munnerlyn.  Carolina signed center Matt Paradis and edge rusher Bruce Irvin and recently added WR Kevin Hogan.

2019 draft recap: Scouts for Carolina seemed to have been put on a mileage restriction as six players were from the SEC, with the other two from FSU and outlier West Virginia.  In ’18 the Panthers took three from the SEC, three from the ACC and two from the Big Ten (Indiana and Maryland)!  The grades were decent, but why the narrow geographical focus?   OLB Burns is a keeper but OL Greg Little is a boom or bust type and Carolina overpaid to trade up to get him, costing the team way too much (47/77 for pick 37).  I’m ok with QB Grier considering how Cam Newton plays the game.  Grier may or may not be the answer but has a decent ceiling.  The rest of the picks were lower rated or * rated and may never be full-time starters.  The lasting impression however continues to be Carolina’s lack of skill in adding, and not subtracting draft picks.  Still left to do? WR remains a glaring need in my eyes, even if others disagree.  Did they draft the right OLB?  This team is old at safety.  Is Scarlett the answer at back-up RB?  Did they address the position of return specialist?

ROSTER ANALYSIS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st:

QB: Cam Newton improved his accuracy (as expected) in ’18.  He is not 100% healthy.  Both backups are raw.

RB: Christian McCaffrey is a top tier RB.  Every single backup would be a liability if they saw any significant playing time.

WR: I wrote here two years ago that Curtis Samuel had a chance to create mismatches if Carolina figures out how to use him correctly.  They still haven’t figured things out.  D.J. Moore and Chris Hogan are the top WR’s.  The unit is thin after that.

TE: Greg Olsen is back but how much does he have left?  Ian Thomas might be able to take on a greater role this season.

OL: My feeling is that the elusive Cam Newton makes this unit better than they really are.  Some talent exists and the hope is that rookie Greg Little is more boom than bust.

DL: Free agent Gerald McCoy joins Dontani Poe and Kawann Short up front in forming a solid DL.  Depth is average.

LB: The starters are Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson, Luke Kuechly and Bruce Irvin.  That’s not bad.  Three ’18 draftees are next in line, although Brian Burns could win a starting job soon.

DB: CB’s James Bradberry and Dante Jackson have upside but are still quite vulnerable.  Eric Reid was a nice addition at safety.  Tre Boston and ’18 rookie Rashaan Golden vie for the other spot.  Three others provide overall DB depth.

Special Teams: Carolina might go younger at kicker as Graham Gano fights to keep his job.  Punting is acceptable.  The return game is unsettled as of this writing.  NOTE: Gano moves to IR, so Joey Slye is the new kicker.

Coaching: The coach and past defensive coordinator overachieved, limiting points allowed despite a poor pass D%.  The new coordinator was not quite as efficient and the soft pass D% remains.  Norv Turner was a nice addition at offensive coordinator.

TEAM KEYS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st: The most obvious key is Cam Newton’s health.  They also need to keep RB McCaffrey healthy considering the lack of talent behind him.  Carolina must find a #1 WR target.  Maybe one day they will play tighter pass defense.  With PK Gano hurt, Carolina will go with a very raw kicker.

DID THE PRESEASON MEAN ANYTHING? Cam Newton did play (4-6, two sacks taken).  He was 26-38 last August.  D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel have talent but I didn’t learn much from them in August.  TE Greg Olsen caught one pass as he comes back from yet another injury.  I’m worried about pass protection but surprised that Carolina got to opposing QB’s 16 times in August.  The pass defense still looks passive, while the run defense was decent.  Carolina did a very good job at getting their defensive players the right amount of snaps.  Rookie Brian Burns had four sacks.  ’18 rookie Marquis Haynes also had four sacks.  Joey Slye was 7-8 kicking.  It looks like the Panthers are still experimenting with who will return kicks and punts.

STRATEGY AND BOTTOM LINE ANALYSIS: Carolina looked ready to go in ’18 but I’m not so sure the same is true this time around.  They host the Rams in the opener and I’m quite sure LA is going to be sloppy opening day as well.  Can the Panthers somehow start 3-0 by beating visiting Tampa (9-3 last 12 as host) and winning at Arizona?  Games 5-8 are interesting and could make or break Carolina’s season.  They host Jacksonville, travel to London in a “road” game vs. Tampa, play at SF two weeks later and then host Tennessee.  I’m not sure why the NFL scheduled Divisional games in London.  I think that’s a tiebreaker disadvantage for the team giving up a home game (Tampa).  All four of these games could be Carolina wins but again, how complete a team is Carolina at this point and time?

Carolina has won their last four after the bye week and hopes that will continue at SF.  I think the floor for the Panthers, ready or not must be 5-3 as games 9-16 will not be easy.  Three of the non-Divisional games are at GB, home to Seattle and at Indy.  Maybe the Indy game is easier now but I don’t like where it appears in the schedule.  The four Divisional games are vs. Atlanta and New Orleans, and both teams have playoff aspirations.  At least Carolina’s pacing is fine and games 7-16 are currently all scheduled for Sunday starts.

BOTTOM LINE: Carolina must go at least 2-2 vs. Atlanta and New Orleans to have a playoff shot.  They also need to be ready out of the gate, as anything less than a 5-3 start will likely result in the Panthers missing the playoffs.  They get a break in the early schedule but since I do not see pass defense % improvement the Panthers look more like a non-playoff team at this point, especially if the new kicker has stage fright.  Decent coach Ron Rivera will be playing to keep his job in ’19.

KEY GAMES: The two vs. Tampa and how they fare in general vs. the Division.  Not having to travel to Tampa is a bonus.  There are many tossup games that Carolina needs to win to get them in position to make the final Divisional games matter, so almost any game on their schedule is important.  Handicapping Tip: I like Carolina as a dog of over three points in the opener vs. LA.  I also like them at SF if they are installed as a road dog.  My lean is vs. Carolina on 12/1 hosting Washington as a favorite of over three points.  2019 POWER # SET: 24.5

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NFC South Division /   New Orleans Saints

Fans are angered over the way the season ended, but did New Orleans dig their own hole?  Game flow was in their favor and they let it slip away.  Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen is a liability.  I admit to thinking he had turned the corner from bottom feeder to perhaps average, but in reality he was being saved by the teams’ great offense, coupled with some talented individual defensive players.  Drew Brees and Sean Payton will continue to have the offense in top gear but any chance of a Super Bowl appearance will rely heavily on defensive scheme and coaching adjustments.

What went right: The passing game works.  Drew Brees outdid himself, improving from 72% to a record 74.4%, with a 32-5 ratio.  The team was sacked just 20 times.  The OL is well-stocked.  Considered by the novice fan as a pass 1st team, the rush ratio was solid, and the Saints had a +742 rushing yard differential.  This was keyed by a run D allowing just 80 yards per game (2nd in NFL).  Kick returns were solid, as was the punt return D.  The Saints finished 3rd in Gosselin’s special team rankings.

What went wrong: Dennis Allen doesn’t get it!  Stopping the pass is more important that stopping the run.  New Orleans was 29th vs. the pass and allowed 67% through the air.  Not much else went wrong.  The punt return offense was poor.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): The Saints added replacement talent through free agency.  RB Latavius Murray takes over for Mark Ingram.  TE Jared Cook is a younger version of Ben Watson (retired).  Center Max Unger retired, replaced by the not as good Nick Easten.  DL Malcolm Brown is a nice addition, and Mario Edwards joins him as a likely backup.  Two backup safeties are gone, replaced in part by Marcus Sherels.

2019 draft recap: The needs aren’t many, but the Saints still turned six picks into five as well as giving up a future 2nd round pick.  The good news is that they drafted rated players.  That has not always been the case.  The even better news is what they did after the draft.  Six players could have easily heard their names called during the weekend.  The Saints drafted in rounds 2, 4, 6, and twice in the 7th round.  I think all of them can play which like I said, is unusual in these circles.  DE’s Granderson and Kaufusi were numerically rated (14th and 16th).  Four other UDFA’s, including RB Ozigbo and WR Butler were * (also-eligible) rated.  Given that New Orleans has historically drafted so few players I expect most of these guys to make the team.   Without counting the after draft day picks I have this as a D- draft.  That seems a tad low in retrospect but the national composite was 30th overall, so others felt the same.  BEST PICK: Gardner-Johnson.  FOCUS ISSUES: Double dipping at safety and adding a 2nd tier TE was wasteful.  Still left to do? Luckily this team did not need much help.  Cover OLB and one more OL top my list.

ROSTER ANALYSIS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st:

QB: Drew Brees is elite but does occasionally have games with multiple interceptions.  This is his 19th NFL season!  Teddy Bridgewater unfortunately looks nothing like his pre-injury form.

RB: Alvin Kamara loses his sidekick in Mark Ingram but Kamara is a top tier RB.  Murray and two others will have limited roles.

WR: Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn lead a really good unit.  I expect ’18 rookie Tre’Quan Smith to make positive strides this season.  Keith Kirkwood (discovered by me a year ago) is the 4th WR.

TE: Jared Cook is a nice addition to the unit.  The backups are just that, backups!

OL: Very good, and two options now exist to replace the retire Max Unger at center.

DL: The run D thrived a year ago and adding Malcom Brown won’t hurt at all.  Sheldon Rankins needs to get healthy.

LB: Alex Anzalone emerged as a starter with A.J. Klein and Demario Davis alongside him as workmanlike, reliable OLB’s.  The depth is acceptable.

DB: Eli Apple replaced Ken Crawley at CB alongside their #1 guy, Marcus Lattimore.  The depth has improved which is nice since Apple gets burned at times.  Both safeties are above average.  Rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is next on my list.

Special Teams: Will Lutz is capable as the kicker.  Some changes are expected in the return game which could be positive.

Coaching: Sean Payton’s offensive acumen is well above average.  Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen needs to be replaced.  The talent level is too good for the stats that they put up.  He is holding the defense back.

TEAM KEYS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st: I have only two.  1st, New Orleans has to be careful not to wear down RB Kamara.  2nd, can they replace defensive coordinator Dennis Allen during the season?

DID THE PRESEASON MEAN ANYTHING? The closest thing to a backup RB was Latavius Murray (7-27).  He could help spell Kamara.  I didn’t learn much else offensively.  The pass defense was awful!  This happened despite the back seven starters seeing plenty of action.  I’m not sure if it matters but the Saints had just four August sacks.  The rookies did fine.  Kicker Will Lutz was 10-11.  The return game tried many guys out and the results were positive.

STRATEGY AND BOTTOM LINE ANALYSIS: In ’17 the Saints were a miracle play away from reaching the NFC title game.  In’18 they were a botched call away from likely reaching the Super Bowl.  September is rough.  They host a good Houston team, hope for revenge at LA (Rams), stay on the west coast to face solid Seattle and come back home to face playoff contender Dallas.  The Saints usually are quick out of the gate but this could be just 2-2.

The biggest challenge for substandard defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will be how to defend a bunch of athletic QB’s in September and October.  Six of the eight opponents early on are led by athletic QB’s.  The list reads DeShawn Watson (MNF opener), Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Jamais Winston, Mitchell Trubisky and rookie Kyler Murray.  Games 6-7 are at Jacksonville and Chicago.  The goal is a split which would bring their record to at least 5-3 heading into their week off.  Every game in November is a Divisional game.    The game at Atlanta is on a Thursday night.  I expect them to hold serve hosting SF (severe scheduling advantage) and Indy, so New Orleans could be in solid shape even before closing road games at Tennessee and at Carolina (good history at).

BOTTOM LINE: This team has amazing roster stability.  There has been no drama since the bitter playoff loss to the Rams.  I have no metrics that say the Saints are better or worse than a year ago.  I’d love to dismiss them because of Dennis Allen but I can’t.  This is your NFC South favorite, again.

KEY GAMES: It’s really a key month, that being September.  Go 2-2 here and split later road games at Jacksonville and Chicago and everything will probably be just fine.  Handicapping Tip: Almost every season the best and 1st look is to take the underdog.  As good as this team is they don’t have the shutdown defense to cover large spreads.  I think the game hosting Arizona will be high scoring (overs).  2019 POWER # SET: 30.5. 

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NFC South Division /   Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pythagorean Theorem advocates HATE the Tampa Bay Bucs.  Every year they are projected to outperform win totals based on a mathematical formula that blindly works between 66% and 75% of the time.  Then at season’s end wise guys tear up their Tampa tickets.  In ’18, “Fitzmagic” gave Tampa backers hope.  Thanks to a variety of issues such as bad coaching, turnovers, and generally poor Tampa Bay defensive play, hope was dashed well before December was over.  I sidestepped the Tampa train long ago thanks to poor statistical metrics.  Here’s hoping a brand new staff changes things up, because even I will be taking the plunge thanks to a rare confluence of factors.

What went right: Tampa passed for more yards than any other team, but given the issues discussed below I’m not sure that was a good thing.  It is obvious however that they have a top ten group of WR’s and TE’s, led by Mike Evans and his 1,524 yards and eight TD’s.  The 3rd down offensive success rate was 46%.  It should also be noted that Jamais Winston closed the season with an 11-3 TD to interception ratio.  Tampa was solid on kick returns and kick return D, and has forever been stout defending punt returns.

What went wrong: The lead sentence from the past two years of previews has to be repeated: The stat sheet shows just how far Tampa still needs to go before becoming a true playoff contender.  Yards-per-carry in the NFL spiked up by an unusual amount in ’18, especially considering the # was mostly flat for twenty-five seasons!  Here in Tampa the lead RB was just 3.7, and that was the best they had!  Tampa’s QB’s threw 26 interceptions, almost entirely accounting for their -18 turnover ratio.  The Tampa Two pass D is the worst scheme ever invented!  Usually at or near 70%, Tampa outdid themselves by allowing 72.5% in ’18.  Say it with me: That’s a recipe for the dreaded “come from ahead loss”.  Tampa allowed 8.2 yards per pass attempt, worst in the NFL.  They also let down on the run D, allowing 4.7 per carry.  Despite some return game plusses, Tampa was tied 27th in special team performance.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Additions include backup QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Breshad Perriman, OG Earl Warford, OLB’s Deane Bucannon and Shaq Barrett and safety Kentell Brice.  This is hardly an impactful group.  Losses include Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR’s DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, DL Mitch Unrein and Vinny Curry, LB Kwon Alexander and Punter Brian Anger.  Bruce Arians lasted one season out of football.  His offensive coordinator will be Brian Leftwich.  Ex-Jet Head Coach Todd Bowles is the new defensive coordinator.  The rumor is that Bowles will move the team toward using a 3-4 defensive alignment, adding more blitzes while likely scrapping the dreaded cover two.  If that is true, let’s all drink a few dark beers in celebration.  I’d throw a parade if the Tampa Two defense is dead and buried.

2019 draft recap: Tampa typically understands what their needs are.  Three of their 1st four picks were used to attempt to fix the NFL’s worst pass D.  The Bucs lost steam after that, clearly not addressing RB or OL.  The after draft signings were solid.  Tampa took perhaps the safest pick in this draft with LB Devon White at pick 5.  One of the fastest players in the entire draft, White was highly productive with elite awareness and blitz capabilities.  He starts day one.  Tampa wasn’t finished defensively, as their 1st five picks were for this side of the ball.

I gave Bunting a 4th round grade.  Bunting is fast, athletic and has upside.  Right now his form needs improvement as he lunges when tackling and has to turn and run in a more fluid manner.  He could have used another year of college but Tampa gets a guy who could develop into a cover CB, something unheard of for them.  Mel Kiper is usually soft on his opinions.  He rated Bunting as a 3rd round target and felt there were eight better CB’s available when Tampa selected him at 39.  I had ten better players at CB.

Dean has talent but was more in the 130 range.  I appreciate the effort to fix their longstanding lack of DB talent but I could have given them three studs!  They waited a long time to get a DE but Nelson was properly drafted.  Not everyone is going to like Tampa taking a kicker considering what happened to them not that long ago.  The only drafted WR was a reach but I like what they tried to do after the draft.  So many talented OL, DL, LB’s (Mack Wilson for example) and RB’s were available and ignored on day three.  The general consensus from draft analysts was that Tampa’s biggest mistake was ignoring OL needs.

BEST PICK: White.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Counting the after draft signees, six or more players were signed who have return skill.

SUPER SLEEPER PICKS: WR’s Anthony Johnson and DaMarkus Lodge, safety Lukas Denis and RB Anderson from the UDFA list.  Hopefully they all get a shot to stick.  Still left to do?  Where’s the stud RB?  Like others have said, the right side of the OL needs an infusion of talent.

ROSTER ANALYSIS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st:

QB: The Jameis Winston era is at a crossroads.  Perform now or be cut.  Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin back him up.

RB: The NFL’s worst unit comprising of Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Andre Ellington and rookie Bruce Anderson.  Ouch!

WR: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin form a nice one-two punch.  I like Justin Watson to emerge amongst three other options.

TE: O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are potentially really good but Arians may have a track record of underutilizing his TE’s.

OL: The line is acceptable but nothing more.  They don’t any run holes and sacks vs. this defense are just below average.

DL: Adding Ndamukong Suh makes things interesting.  ’18 1st round pick Vea Vita needs to step up.  The others are average.

LB: Lavonte David is a tackling machine.  He just had an operation so that is a September concern.  When healthy this is the top unit on the defense with rookie Devin White and Deone Bucannon added.  Carl Nassib and Noah Spence are decent as well.

CB: Vernon Hargreaves has star potential but hasn’t shown it yet.  Three serviceable guys are in the mix at the other CB spot.  Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead are the listed safeties.  Two others are serviceable but this group is not all that great.

Special Teams: Cairo Santos or rookie Matt Guy hope to end Tampa’s PK woes.  I’m concerned about the return game.

Coaching: Bruce Arians is an upgrade but there are many things I don’t like about how he coaches.  Bryan Leftwich is an average coordinator but Todd Bowles might be a massive upgrade as defensive coordinator.  This could get exciting.

TEAM KEYS AS OF SEPTEMBER 1st: I have many.  Offensively, Winston has to limit turnovers.  I don’t know how, but they need to find a run game.  Who will sack opposing QB’s?  Is the cover zero really gone?  If so, this could be fun.  Tampa has to undo so many years of missing field goals.  Finally, the NFL apologized for giving Tampa an unfair schedule.  The Bucs need to deal with it, starting 2-1 before packing their backs for several weeks.

DID THE PRESEASON MEAN ANYTHING? Winston was acceptable but took six sacks in just 29 pass attempts.  The team took 19 sacks.  No RB averaged more than 3.3 yards-per-carry.  Justin Watson made his case for WR 3 or WR4.  Are you kidding me?  Tampa’s pass defense was below 50%.  The defense recorded 14 sacks.  It’s only August, but THANK YOU!  The preseason defensive work was evenly distributed.  The two kickers combined to go 7-8.  The return game remains an issue.

STRATEGY AND BOTTOM LINE ANALYSIS: Tampa’s schedule was considered rough enough that after it was released the league office sent out an apology!  They have just seven home games, playing as the designated home team in their London Divisional matchup vs. Carolina.  Games 1-3 are fair, hopefully enabling the new staff to get off to a decent start.  They read SF, at Carolina on a short week (Thursday) and home to the NYG.  Anything less than 2-1 would be devastating.  There will be no home games after that until 11/10.  Here’s the ridiculously unfair weeks 4-9 slate: At LA (Rams), at New Orleans, in London vs. Carolina, bye week, at Tennessee and at Seattle.  The goal is 2-3, putting the record at an even 4-4.  Can they do it?  Bruce Arians hosts his former team Arizona on 11/10.  After that they’ll host New Orleans and go to Atlanta and Jacksonville.  Can they steal two wins in this trio of games?  The final four games are hosting Indy, at Detroit, hosting Houston and hosting Atlanta.  All four of these games are winnable but then again, 0-4 is also possible based on recent team performance.

BOTTOM LINE: I showed 6-10 in my two schedule looks but I think this “should” be better.  1st the bad news: I’m not a huge Arians or Winston fan so the game flow has to surprise me.  The run game is last right now with a bullet.  The schedule is unfair.  But now the good news: 1st, they are unlikely to play any cold weather games.  2nd, they are said to have faced tougher pass defenses in ’18.  3rd, they start ’18 with a 4th place schedule (only NFC South team to face the NYG and Detroit).  4th, the have a partial plus point ratio, meaning they as usual performed better than what the ’18 record indicated.  5th, they should improve on a -17 turnover ratio.  In the past much of that has been true but due to really bad coaching and that Tampa Two scheme they underachieved.  Well folks, I’m going back on the Tampa Pythagorean Theorem bandwagon in ’19, but not because of the metrics.  The Tampa Two defense looks like it indeed is dead and buried.  Pass the bottle to me please, I’m feeling pretty good right now!

KEY GAMES: Besides needing to start 2-1, my key games are 10/13 in London vs. Carolina and 10/27 at Tennessee.  Tampa gave up a home game to be in London.  A Divisional win is a must.  In order for the back half of the schedule to matter the Bucs need to win a game or two early to give them confidence.  Winning at Tennessee (and vs. Carolina) could put Tampa at 4-3.  That would be interesting.

Handicapping Tip: Tampa is 3-12 straight up as a home dog in their last home game.  I’m not quite sure what to recommend with this team and the new staff and schemes, but it is never easy for anyone to play on Thursday night after week one, much less one with a new staff.  I’m worried that fatigue will set in 11/3 at Seattle, a tough place to play.  Houston plays Tennessee 12/15 and 12/29.  In-between they go to Tampa.  The Bucs look good here.  2019 POWER # SET: 23

 

 

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Have a Google Home and want to listen to the latest WagerTalk Podcast when it comes out this week? Say “Hey Google, play the WagerTalk Podcast!”

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Google Play
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Latest Betting Odds and Public Action
Some of the top Vegas and offshore sportsbooks odds are updated in real-time and we also provide who the public is on.

Last Minute Handicapping Advice
Check out our extensive library of handicapping tips and advice from professional Vegas handicappers (we also recommend taking the time to look over our handicapping video library)

Want an expert opinion?
Check out the daily offering of Best Bets from the WagerTalk Handicapping Team (we also suggest checking out the Pick Your Team Program). Also, remember, you can save up to 60% on daily packages with WagerBuxx Plans

WagerTalk Text Club is FREE and includes FREE PICKS and Exclusive Discounts. Just text WAGERTALK to 33222 and get a $10.00 coupon just for signing up!


2019 National Football Conference South Division Team Previews