Dave Choate: Jameis Winston was impressive in his rookie season. What do you realistically expect him to do in his second year, and are we going to see major improvement?
Sander Philipse, Bucs Nation: Realistically, I expect him to be a top ten quarterback this season. Not top three. Not one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But certainly on the way to getting there. He's just going to have to show incremental improvement: cleaner mechanics, cleaner footwork, more accurate throws, better pocket navigation, and fewer risky throws. It's not that any of those aspects were disastrous last year, they just need to get better.
So far, that's exactly what Winston has done. His mechanics looked better this preseason, especially in the third game, and he was a little more accurate than he was last year. It helps that Mike Evans looks a little more on-point and less drop-prone as well. All of that should be enough to help Winston lead a very productive offense -- though it will still be based on Doug Martin and the running game.
Dave Choate: Doug Martin has had an up-and-down career to this point, while we're talking about key offensive players. Is this a down year, or is Martin back to the form he showed in his rookie season?
Sander Philipse: That's been pretty much impossible to predict, but he at least looked good this preseason. Not in terms of production, but in terms of his style of play: he looks as fast and as shifty as he did last year, and he was making a few players miss on most runs. That was missing in his two down seasons, so I'm optimistic that he'll continue to show his good form.
One problem with running backs, of course, is that they need to stay healthy -- and Martin has had some nicks and bruises in his down years. Those injuries are impossible to predict, but if they do show up, the Bucs at least have Charles Sims to fill in. He's a different kind of rusher, and you can't quite build a running game around him, but the offense shouldn't collapse
Dave Choate: Last year Matt Ryan had trouble throwing on the middle of the field at times, especially against the Buccaneers linebackers. How has that unit changed this year, and is it better or worse?
Sander Philipse: I'd say it's better, if only because the team signed Daryl Smith to play the strong side. Kwon Alexander should be better in his second year, too -- he made a bunch of splash plays last year, but missed a few too many tackles, and for some reason refused to consistently drop back deep in Tampa 2 coverage when he should. Lavonte David also started the season really badly last season, but ended on a strong note -- we're hoping that he's just going to skip the bad start this time.
Dave Choate: The secondary has changed a lot, it seems. Vernon Hargreaves has looked pretty terrific, but how would you attack this group if you were Atlanta, and how much success to you think the Falcons will have?
Sander Philipse: The Bucs have overhauled their secondary, and old Falcons favorite Brent Grimes is back. But this is a very, very diminutive group. The only cornerback over 6'0" is Johnthan Banks, and he's the fifth or sixth cornerback, depending on the exact roster. So Julio Jones could, and should, have a field day. Vernon Hargreaves and Grimes are really nice players, but they're not about to out-jump-ball Jones any time soon.
In fact, that should really be half the Falcons strategy: throw it deep to Julio Jones. Not only do the Bucs not have the size at cornerback to keep up, they also don't have the talent at safety to make it a really dangerous strategy. Jump balls all day. Please don't let Kyle Shanahan read this.
Dave Choate: Season prediction we'll hold you to forever: What do the Buccaneers finish at, record-wise, and what's the outcome of this game?
Sander Philipse: I've been optimistic about the Bucs all offseason, and I don't see a reason to stop now. I think they'll finish with a 9-7 or 10-6 record, despite a very tough schedule, and hopefully that'll be enough to get them into the playoffs. They need more pieces to be a truly good team, but they're a lot better than a lot of people think.
As for this Sunday, I'm expecting a bit of a shootout -- and one the Bucs should win. Say, 31-28. Go big or go home.