The 2015 Buccaneers’ season could go down as one of the franchise’s strangest seasons in recent history. While there was passionate anticipation in holding the number one overall draft pick, it seemed the organization was comfortable all along with the baller from Florida State. While sitting on the hot seat, Lovie Smith could not pull off a home game victory for the city and its fan base. Even with eventual consistent play into the deep part of the season by their rookie QB and pro bowl running back Doug Martin, fans were ultimately disappointed in attending games.
Looking back, it is hard to fathom the fact that the Bucs still had a mathematical shot of an NFC wild card playoff appearance. With down years by New Orleans and Atlanta, Carolina was the clear powerhouse in the NFC South Division.
Starting a rookie quarterback, a shaky offensive line, special team’s breakdowns, untimely key injuries, bone-headed penalties, receiver’s butter fingers, a nonexistent defensive line and backfield, and questions about leadership and intensity from players and head coach Lovie Smith was the perfect storm for a complex season. The fact that our Buccaneers were still playoff eligible due to their victories away from home is still remarkable. Even suffering no wins at home, the team was still mathematically alive in week 12 against the Colts. But, even with an over-the-hill quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, the Tampa Bay defense played like a confused group of tryouts allowing Hasselbeck to look like Johnny U.
Now, with the team lead by a new regime and a highly-committed second year team leader in Jameis Winston, the Bucs have an optimistic and realistic outlook for 2016. With the low game attendance that seems to linger on, this season offers a few home games that Bucs’ fans and football fans in general should not miss. Given the fan-friendly home schedule, with the first game in Tampa in week 3 and a 4:05 p.m. start, the weather should be bearable to enjoy some pigskin.
LA Rams – Week 3 (Sept 25th 4:05 p.m.)
Even though the Rams have essentially relocated back to Los Angeles, a large contingency of Rams fans will undoubtedly emerge. With a 4 o’clock national broadcast slot on Fox, the Buccaneers will have a rare west coast television performance. This will be the unveiling of the stadium’s high definition upgrades the regular season. The start time is perfect for displaying the new video boards, starting in the afternoon and lasting until dusk or beyond. Rams’ running back Todd Gurley blew up the league as a rookie sensation carrying the ball 229 times for 1,106 yards, with 10 TDs in 13 starts.
Oakland Raiders – Week 8 (Oct 30th 1:00 p.m.)
At this point in the season hopefully the Bucs will be focused on contending for a playoff berth. Either way, the battle between the future of the NFL’s top crop of QB’s with Winston and Carr should be competitive. Knowing that the Raiders will inevitably represent the silver and black at Ray Jay, Tampa fans need to ‘Buc’ up and support the squad. In my subjective opinion, the Raiders are progressing very similarly to the Bucs. Anchoring itself with a franchise quarterback in Carr, a Wide outs in Cooper and Crabtree, along with a talented back in Latavius Murray, it’s very reminiscent to the foundation of our Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Atlanta Falcons – Week 9 (Nov 3rd 8:25 p.m.)
One week following the Oakland game, the Falcons fly in to town on Thursday Night Football, and the induction of John Lynch into the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor. Honoring the legendary John Lynch should be enough. Nevertheless, Atlanta is a divisional opponent with no love loss for the Bucs and vice versa, battling under the lights of Raymond James Stadium and beautiful new video boards to show off. This game should be Buccaneers’ fanatic’s perfect circus. And if you’re into the whole “Color Rush” marketing by the NFL, that’s your night.