Buccaneers must take care of business against lesser opponents

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley
TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley /

Expectations are high for the Buccaneers entering the 2017 season. There are a lot of reasons to believe they can live up to the hype, but to do so, they must take care of business when it comes to inferior opponents.

In 2016, the Buccaneers had a relatively big year. They finished with a winning record for the first time since 2010 and barely missed out on a playoff berth. Heading into 2017, the team added some serious weapons for third-year quarterback Jameis Winston (DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin). On defense, Tampa Bay added a few more pieces in J.J. Wilcox and Chris Baker. Those additions and another offseason under head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith created a lot of buzz around the Bucs heading into the fall.

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Tampa Bay has the pieces in place to compete at a high level this year. However, the schedule is tough, and it may work against Koetter and company at certain times throughout the year. There are multiple stretches that will test the team in a big way. Those stretches make the matchups against lesser opponents that much more important. Oddly enough, those types of matchups tend to give the Bucs a lot of trouble. Some of their most frustrating losses in recent years have come at the hands of opponents that were, lacking a better term, inferior.

In 2016, the Bucs barely missed the playoffs. In week three, they dropped a 37-32 game to the Los Angeles Rams. Yes, the same Rams that finished 4-12. In week eight, Tampa Bay fell 30-24 in overtime to the Oakland Raiders. Sure, the Raiders were a playoff team. But in that game, they committed a record 23 penalties (for 200 yards). They repeatedly tried to give the game away, but Tampa Bay just didn’t take advantage of it. Those are two games right there that the Bucs should’ve won. Win those, and they see the playoffs.

It wasn’t just 2016. 2015, 2014 and many years before that were full of those frustrating losses to lesser opponents. Those losses can’t happen this year. Tampa Bay has a tough schedule, but there are a few opponents that fall into that “lesser” category. The Bears and Jets are two teams that the Bucs should absolutely beat this year, and the Bills are another that may fall into that group. These games, in essence, aren’t that tough. But as our own Alan Schechter pointed out here, these are the ones that can turn into trap games. Tampa Bay can’t afford to fall victim to these trap games because, as it learned last year, losing winnable games can be very costly. One loss to a lesser opponent (see: Rams, Los Angeles) cost the Bucs a playoff berth.

If 2017 is truly going to be the year that Tampa Bay gets over the hump, it needs to take care of business against the likes of Chicago, New York and Buffalo. Of course, winning is never easy in the NFL. But the Bucs are in a place where they should be contenders. Contenders take care of business, especially when it comes to teams that don’t measure up to their level of talent.

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What do you think, Bucs fans? Which games should the team absolutely win this year? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.