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Buccaneers could be better than expected

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not getting much love. Perhaps that is because since the organization came to be in 1976, they have mostly been a disaster.

Yet, after the miserable 2-14 campaign in 2014, perhaps losing finally became a blessing in great disguise. Tampa Bay was able to select quarterback Jameis Winston with the first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and Winston looks the part of a star. Last year, Winston earned a Pro Bowl berth as an alternate after throwing for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Tampa Bay has a new head coach and a first-time one at that in former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and that’s always a red flag. Typically speaking, teams with new head coaches tend to struggle out of the gate, but the Buccaneers might be able to buck that trend.

Winston is a candidate to explode from potentially good to absolutely terrific. He has a dominant receiver in Mike Evans, who in his second season caught 74 passes for 1,206 yards last year. Evans is one of the better receivers in the NFL, and should take another step toward an All-Pro berth in 2016.

In the backfield, Winston has Doug Martin. The 27-year-old earned a new contract after struggling with production and injuries each of the previous two years. Martin rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns while catching 33 passes for another 271 yards.

Tampa Bay also has the division going for it. Yes, the Carolina Panthers went 15-1 last year and are bringing back most of their starters, but that’s not a team that the Buccaneers are going to contend with. Tampa Bay should be focused on a wild card berth, and beating out both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons both could and should happen. With the NFC East looking terrible and the NFC North weakened by the injury to Teddy Bridgewater, Tampa Bay could go 9-7 and fight for a playoff berth.

The main crux will be whether or not the defense can do its part. General manager Jason Licht was wise in taking corner Vernon Hargreaves III with his first pick, putting him in a secondary with Alterraun Verner, Johnathan Banks and Brent Grimes. The group is questionable, but there is some undeniable talent. In the front seven, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David remain the stars, with Jacquies Smith being a name to watch.

The Buccaneers still have holes. The tight end position is unsettled and unless Vincent Jackson can reclaim his younger self, the team needs another receiver. On defense, there are holes across the board, but some of those can be hidden by defensive coordinator and former head coach Mike Smith.

Tampa Bay isn’t going to win the Super Bow, but don’t be surprised if it is playing in the playoffs.

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