Greg Schiano’s NFL tenure wound up being pretty short following a second straight losing season in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers replaced the former Rutgers coach with long-time NFL head coach and former Tampa Bay linebackers coach Lovie Smith. Smith spent the 2013 season recharging his batteries after being fired from the Chicago Bears after nine seasons, 81 wins, and a NFC Championship.
Schiano’s firing signaled a new beginning for the Bucs, who also fired GM Mark Dominik. Dominik was replaced by Jason Licht, who was the vice president and director of player personnel of the Arizona Cardinals over the last two seasons. Former Cal Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford and former Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier will serve as the coordinators and Bucs backers should be excited about the new coaching staff and direction of the franchise.
The Bucs were terrible offensively last season, ranking 30th in points and dead last in yards. All things considered, the defense played admirably, as the Bucs were seventh in turnover margin and 17th in yards allowed. An early season injury to Doug Martin took away the team’s best offensive player and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon started 13 games with minimal depth at wide receiver.
The Bucs had the fifth-most man games lost to injury with revolving doors at wide receiver and some shuffling along the offensive line with a major injury to Carl Nicks. The most experienced starters on the defensive side of the ball had just six years in the NFL. Three of the regular starters for the Bucs were 30 years of age and not one was older than that. This is a young, hungry team with a quality coaching staff.
Oddsmakers certainly see the promise as the Bucs are expected to improve by three games this season. Their win total at Sportsbook.ag and 5Dimes.eu is set at 7, with the over at -130 at Sportsbook and -135 at 5Dimes. That leaves the under at even at Sportsbook and +115 at 5Dimes.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|3||@ Atlanta (Thu)||+5.5|
|5||@ New Orleans||+7.5|
With improvement expected from Atlanta, but regression expected from Carolina, the NFC South looks like the same tricky conference it was entering last season for the Bucs. The Bucs draw the NFC North and AFC North as part of their non-division schedule, with the St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins as part of their last-place schedule.
The Bucs have their road games grouped together as they play three straight away from Raymond James Stadium in Weeks 3 through 5 and then play five road games in seven weeks from Week 9 to Week 15. Home games against Green Bay and New Orleans to end the season could mean that over bettors need the Bucs to start fast in hopes of reaching eight wins.
Nine of the 15 lined games feature spreads on within +3 or -3, but the Bucs are only favored in three of the 15 games with a couple of pick ‘em spots. Young teams with talent are always a little bit volatile and the Bucs seem to fit that mold and the spreads suggest that to be the case.
Why bet the over?
It was pretty clear that Greg Schiano was in over his head as a NFL coach. His teams mostly played hard, but he got outcoached and had no idea how to put together a NFL offense. Lovie Smith is a major upgrade and Leslie Frazier is back in a role he’s comfortable in. This coaching staff is going to maximize the talent on the roster better than Schiano did and that’s an upgrade.
Mike Glennon showed some good things with only one legitimate receiver, Vincent Jackson. He’ll have the luxury of throwing to first-rounder Mike Evans this season, who is a very tough target to defend at 6’5”, 231 lbs with good speed and tremendous strength. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins out of Washington is another intriguing target for Glennon. He’s also 6’5” and will be a major asset in the red zone for a team that scored six on only 51.4 percent of their red zone opportunities. Charles Sims, whose best asset is catching passes out of the backfield, will be a nice complement to Doug Martin. This offense has a lot more talent at the skill positions.
The Bucs went all offense with their six draft picks because they added a lot of defense in free agency. The signings included Alterraun Verner, who broke up 23 passes with Tennessee, and Clinton McDonald, who had 5.5 sacks for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Most of the core remains in tact on defense because of the Bucs’ youth and the defense has no shortage of recent first and second-round picks.
The opposition started on the positive side of the 30 on average against the Bucs last season. They ranked 26th in opponent’s starting field position because of an offense that couldn’t move the ball and didn’t have the weapons to convert third downs. The Bucs aren’t going to suddenly vault into the top 10 in offense, but there’s going to be improvement and any kind of improvement will take pressure off of the defense. Unlike some teams, where a scheme change is required, the Bucs will be able to stay in a 4-3 under Frazier, so the personnel should slot right in and that’s important.
Why bet the under?
Better skill players or not, it’s completely fair to wonder whether Mike Glennon is a NFL quarterback or not. Glennon was sacked 40 times in just 13 games and barely cracked the 200-yard mark in yards per game. He’s got a big arm, but he wasn’t very highly-touted coming out of North Carolina State and he may lack the necessary mobility at 6’7” and 225 lbs. He also threw 17 interceptions his senior year from trying to force passes. He’s definitely going to be under the microscope with better talent.
Despite the injury problems the Bucs had, four of the five offensive linemen started all 16 games and all but one of the defensive starters started at least 13 games. Depth was the issue with injuries and that had to play a factor in the Bucs going just 1-4 over their final five games. Health is an issue with every NFL game, but the man games lost numbers for the Bucs are a little bit misleading and they went 4-12 with a lot of their starters playing key snaps every week.
This will be a step up in class for offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Tedford spent time in the Canadian Football League and coached at Fresno State and Cal before his dismissal from the Golden Bears in 2012. Tedford has molded quarterbacks like Trent Dilfer and Aaron Rodgers, but what can he do as a play-caller in the NFL? That remains to be seen.
Free NFL Pick: Over 7 (-130) (Sportsbook)
There’s a lot to like about the Bucs entering this season. The coaching staff has a lot of strengths and the team has a lot of young talent that probably didn’t mesh very well with Greg Schiano. The schedule is pretty tough and the NFC North could have three high-quality teams in it, but the Bucs are moving in the right direction and should be much better offensively with Martin back and some of the receivers at Glennon’s disposal. Big arms that stand in the pocket and deliver can still have success in the NFL, despite guys like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick drawing the most attention.
The Bucs were 2-9 against the NFC last season. In those games, Glennon had a 16/6 TD/INT ratio and completed over 61 percent of his passes. There’s hope for him and hope for the Bucs. The defense makes big plays, as evidenced by the 31 turnovers they forced, and there’s a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.