As we approach Super Bowl LIII this upcoming Sunday between the AFC’s New England Patriots and the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams, every team that’s not in the big game asks themselves this very question: How far away are we from playing in the Super Bowl?
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coming off a 5-11 season that saw as many ups and downs as a trip to Busch Gardens riding roller coasters would take you. From the weekly musical chair act at the quarterback position between journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and incumbent Jameis Winston to the ineptitude played on defense during the first half of the season, Tampa Bay seems far away from playing in a game the franchise have only played in once back in 2002.
The 2018 campaign concluded with the firing of head coach Dirk Koetter after three seasons at the helm and it prompted the general manager Jason Licht and the Glazers to go after 66-year old Bruce Arians as their next lead man of the Buccaneers. With Arians’ hiring has come optimism that Tampa Bay might be able to be the trendy turnaround pick for the 2019 season.
One area that will have to be improved upon if Tampa Bay is going to inch themselves closer to even thinking about a Super Bowl in the near future is cutting down on the turnovers at the quarterback position. Between Fitzpatrick (12 interceptions) and Winston (14 interceptions), the signal callers combined to throw 26 interceptions. Arians has already proclaimed Winston as the starter in Tampa for the 2019 season and he will be tasked with getting the most out of the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner.
Another area that will have to be shored up immensely if Tampa Bay wants a quick turnaround is the defense. The unit was 31st in points allowed (29.0 points per game) and 27th in total yards allowed (383.4 per game) and those numbers have to change in a hurry. Enter former New York Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles as the new defensive coordinator. Bowles did wonderful work under Arians with the Arizona Cardinals, which eventually earned him his only head coaching gig in New York. If Bowles can turn the defense into a formidable unit, the Buccaneers’ turnaround could be swift.
Lastly, if the Buccaneers want to make a serious run at either Super Bowl LIV in Miami or Super Bowl LV in Tampa, they will need to take some shots in free agency. A couple areas of need are at the running back position and secondary. Peyton Barber proved himself as a hard downhill runner, but wasn’t a proven threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Kareem Hunt remains someone of interest potentially to Tampa Bay, as his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and be an every down back.
Tampa Bay’s secondary woes have been an area of concern the past two seasons and though the NFL Draft in April will be an opportunity to address the defensive backfield, the Buccaneers may go offensive line as well.
How close is Tampa Bay to reaching the Super Bowl in the next couple of seasons? Chances are the Buccaneers could be a .500 club in 2019 and maybe take another step in 2020, but there’s a lot of areas that have to be addressed before ever thinking about Tampa Bay hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in an early February game.
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