Want proof that "winning" free agency usually doesn't end well? I give you the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Most experts loved nearly everything that the Bucs did last offseason, plus they had a proven successful new head coach in Lovie Smith. What could go wrong? Pretty much every big signing flopped, none more so than quarterback Josh McCown, and the Bucs finished tied for the worst record in the NFL at 2-14.
The good news was that it earned Tampa the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, and the team has a new face of the franchise in former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The guy is mega-talented, no doubt, but a knucklehead off the field. The Bucs certainly did their homework on Winston, and I presume have some sort of full-time babysitter on staff for him. The Bucs' last No. 1 overall pick? Vinny Testaverde, another former Heisman winner from the Sunshine State. Let's hope things work out better here.
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The Bucs were 0-8 at home last season, the only winless home team, 2-6 against the spread and 1-7 "over/under." Their 2015 home schedule ranks as the easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of just .379. Obviously it helps having three home games inside the wretched NFC South.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 13 -- Titans (+3): You wouldn't have been able to pay me to watch this game on television if not for the first round of this year's draft. Of course the Bucs took Winston and then Tennessee followed at No. 2 with Oregon's Marcus Mariota. So we are treated to the past two Heisman winners and a pseudo-rematch of the Rose Bowl in the College Football Playoff. If Mariota doesn't start, no thanks. Key trend: Bucs 4-6 ATS in past 10 at home as a favorite of at least 3 points.
Oct. 4 -- Panthers (-2.5): Tampa is off trips to New Orleans and then Houston, while Carolina is home to New Orleans in Week 3. The Panthers opened the 2014 season in Tampa and won 20-14. We pretty much saw then that McCown stunk. He was 22-for-35 for two touchdowns and two picks while being sacked three times. The Bucs had just 264 yards to go with three turnovers. The Bucs got the ball back trailing by a field goal with 1:36 to go but running back Chris Rainey fumbled on the first offensive play after a short catch and it was recovered by Carolina. Key trend: Bucs 1-5 SU in six games vs. Panthers as home dog (2-4 ATS).
Oct. 11 -- Jaguars (+3.5): Plenty of good seats available! This comes before Tampa's bye week. Jacksonville is off a Week 4 game at Indianapolis. Blake Bortles vs. Winston I suppose has some interest inside the state of Florida. Bucs have lost four straight to the Jags, last in 2011. Key trend: Bucs 3-7 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 8 -- Giants (-2): Tampa off a Week 8 game at Atlanta, while New York is in New Orleans the previous Sunday. Bucs might catch the Giants looking ahead to a (recent) Super Bowl rematch in Week 10 against New England. Tampa has lost four straight in this series, last in 2012. Key trend: Bucs 2-7-1 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC East.
Nov. 15 -- Cowboys (-4.5): Possible look-ahead game for Dallas? It comes off a big one at home in Week 9 vs. Philadelphia. At least the Bucs are guaranteed a rare sellout here as Dallas draws well everywhere. Tampa has lost five straight to the Cowboys, last in 2012. Key trend: Bucs have failed to cover six straight as home dog of at least 4.5 points.
Dec. 6 -- Falcons (-1): Tampa Bay is off a Week 12 trip (loss) to Indianapolis, while Atlanta starts a three-game road trip here off a home game against Minnesota the previous Sunday. The Falcons won 27-17 in Tampa in Week 10 a season ago to complete the sweep. McCown returned to the lineup after missing nearly two months with an injury/ineffectiveness and was pretty good, going 27-for-43 for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. Bucs led 17-16 with under 10 minutes left but then McCown remembered who he was. Key trend: Bucs 0-6 ATS in past six at home as dog in series.
Dec. 13 -- Saints (-2.5): Tampa has a quick turnaround after this on Thursday in Week 15 in St. Louis. New Orleans is home to Carolina ahead of the Bucs game. The Saints closed last season with a 23-20 win in Tampa. The Bucs led by 13 at the half but wouldn't score again, totaling just 32 yards after intermission. About the only good news from that one was Tampa rookie receiver Mike Evans set a team record with his 12th touchdown catch of the season. In his final Bucs game, McCown was 14-for-23 for 115 yards with a TD and a pick. Key trend: Bucs have failed to cover three straight as home dog in series.
Dec,. 27 -- Bears (-1.5): Extra time to prepare for Tampa Bay as it's in St. Louis that Thursday in Week 15. Chicago is off a Sunday game at Minnesota. Smith made his return to Chicago in Week 12 last season, a 21-13 Bucs loss. Tampa led 10-0 at the half but had three turnovers in the third quarter. The Buccaneers managed just 156 yards and six first downs in the second half against arguably the NFL['s worst defense. McCown was 25-for-48 for 341 yards with a TD and two picks. He was sacked five times. Key trend: Bucs 0-4 ATS in past four at home vs. NFC North.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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