A season ago, the Philadelphia Eagles eased into the playoffs, and the No. 1 seed, behind Jalen Hurts, a great defense, and a favorable schedule. Their out-of-division matchups were the NFC North, and the AFC South; a combo almost guaranteed to net solid returns for really any organization. I say that because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-1, and also play the NFC North, and AFC South, in addition to, of course, the NFC South.
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If they could make the playoffs with a geriatric under center last year, they can absolutely do it with some solid receivers, a defense that’s not decimated by injury, a litany of piss-ant opponents, and Baker Mayfield.
Don’t believe me? Here are the statlines of Bucs QBs through four games the past two seasons:
Quarterback A: 106-155, 1,058 yards, 6 TDs, 1 pick, 68 percent completion percentage
Quarterback B: 87-125, 882 yards, 7 TDs, 2 picks, 69 percent completion percentage
Yes, it’s sacrilegious to compare Tom Brady (QB A) with Mayfield (B), but if you squint hard enough, the numbers are more, or less the same. The sole difference is Baker has the Bucs at 3-1, instead of 2-2, after four weeks.
Following a year of exile playing for Matt Rhule, and then going to Los Angeles midseason, everyone rolled their eyes when Mayfield was named the starter as if he was Sam Darnold, or Sam Howell. The Heisman winner may not be a franchise QB, but given a talented roster, and a cushy schedule, he can put together a solid season.
He did get the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs, which very few quarterbacks can boast, including current starter Deshaun Watson. Other than the Lions, 49ers, and Bills, the Bucs can theoretically compete in every game left on the docket, and we appear primed for a Baker outlier season. I posted the numbers up top, but forgot to mention that Mayfield’s completion percentage is a career high, and if the offense could find an iota of balance, the Bucs might actually crack the top 20 in points per game.
While the Eagles pummeled the Bucs on Monday night Football a couple weeks ago, Todd Bowles’ club already has wins over half the NFC North, and division rival New Orleans. They’re sitting atop the South after four weeks, and that W over the Saints— aka the only other NFC South team with some semblance of a quarterback and enough talent to win games consistently — could be significant.
The Tampa defense is top seven in scoring, tied with the Buffalo Bills for most turnovers forced (10), and the Bucs (+7) are second only to the Dallas Cowboys (+9) in turnover differential as a team. All they need from the offense is a few timely plays, and mistake free football.
Mike Evans did leave Sunday’s game early with a hamstring injury, so those big plays will be a little more difficult to come by with the Pro Bowl receiver sidelined. That said, Chris Godwin is back to himself, and rookie receiver Trey Palmer has two TDs over his first four contests.
A lot of people (guilty) thought Tampa would revert back to irrelevance once Tom Terrific stepped away, and glossed over (guilty) the fact that this team was banged up a year ago, has made the postseason three-straight years, and won the division the past two. Confidence and culture matter, and seeing as one lends itself to the other, the Bucs hot start shouldn’t be all that shocking.