It’s almost gameday! This is not a drill. Real Buccaneers football is going to be happening, and the cannons are primed. In what could be the most anticipated Tampa Bay season opener in the last decade, Jameis Winston will be leading the Bucs into Raymond James Stadium against the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Mariota. While the top two overall picks won’t be on the field simultaneously, the pressure will be on for each to perform right out of the gate.
Offensive Outlook: The Real Chess Match
Everyone is talking about how it’s “Winston vs. Mariota,” but the true battle is going to be Dirk vs. Dick. In his first challenge as offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter will be working his gameplan against the legend that is Dick Lebeau. The offensive line is cause for concern, as always, but there is some positive news in that it appears Donovan Smith will be ready to compete. Dirk Koetter has faith, and the main thing fans should take comfort in is Koetter’s ability to pull tricks out of the bag to help them.
If the worst should happen and Mike Evans is still out, Jameis will need to have others step up. Vincent Jackson should have a solid game, and look for ASJ and Murphy to step up as well. If the line can create lanes, Doug Martin will be able to set the tone early, and from then on it’s just about chipping away and avoiding mistakes.
Defensive Outlook: Make Mariota Fly
As fun as it would be to say we have to clip the wings of the duck, the key is going to be in forcing Mariota to take to the air. If he’s allowed to slip out of the pocket, Mariota will absolutely break free for big yardage. Even in the Titans’ vanilla offense, it’s still Marcus Mariota. Not only does the defense have to force Mariota to stick to the air, they have to rattle him early. Constant pressure will be important, but if McCoy and friends bear down on him early, it can set the tone for the entire game.
Meanwhile, the secondary has to shore things up. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander will have the linebacking corps on lock, but Mariota has proven time and time again that he’s as accurate as they come. He may not be exciting, but if the secondary leaves people open he can still pick us apart. It’ll be key for the defense to work their roles and keep things tight. Even though Mariota wasn’t particularly interception-prone in college, that can change drastically if the pass rush shows up on Sunday.
Dealin’ With Tha’ X-Factor (Oh, I know you hate the X-Factor, but you ain’t gotta look at me like that)
Many of the veterans will need to play well, but the key will reside in special teams. The unit has had problems all throughout the preseason, but it will hopefully be much improved with the specialists decided and main roster players playing more. Kwon Alexander could make even more of an impact on special teams, and the unit will need to contain Dexter McCluster on returns. This game could be extremely close, and every yard of a return could be the difference.
Predictive MVPs: Doug Martin, Lavonte David
Score Prediction: Buccaneers win, 27-21