TAMPA, Fla. -- Here’s a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished the season 5-11. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do; and Nowhere close.
Westgate odds to win Super Bowl LIII: 60-1
Lots of work to do: If this was 2016 when the Bucs finished 9-7, they'd be "middle of the pack" and in contention for a playoff spot. But the Bucs' nonexistent pass rush, secondary struggles, lack of a ground game and difficulties in the red zone in 2017 suggest that they really have their work cut out for them in 2018, especially in an NFC South division that featured three playoff teams and was largely considered the best in the NFL last year.
At the end of the season, quarterback Jameis Winston was ordered to take a full six to eight weeks off from throwing to rest the sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Getting him back and healthy should improve the Bucs' vertical passing game, which Winston admitted wasn't up to par in 2017. The Bucs did move Todd Monken to a full-time offensive coordinator role, after having him split time between that and coaching the wide receivers the past two years. The hope is that he can be more of a sounding board for head coach Dirk Koetter, who will continue calling plays.
Despite continuing to add more talent on the offensive side of the ball since Koetter's arrival as offensive coordinator in 2015, the Bucs have been stagnant in scoring. From 2015-17, they've ranked between 18th and 20th in offensive scoring. That's where Monken could make his biggest contribution.
The Bucs gave up a league-high 378.1 yards per game on defense last year. They also have up 124 explosive plays, second-most in the league. Despite that, they opted not to make any coaching changes on defense in 2018. If defensive end Noah Spence can stay healthy after undergoing two shoulder surgeries during his first two years in the league, he could be a difference-maker for a pass rush that ranked dead last in sacks. Bucs sources say they will go defense-heavy in this year's draft, and edge rusher is expected to be a priority. The Bucs also have to bolster their cornerback spot and figure out how to get the most out of 2016 first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III, who regressed in Year 2.