So let's say you are a head coach who goes 2-14 with an obviously bad team in your first season, but it allows you to take a franchise quarterback in the next NFL Draft. Then you improve by four wins the next season behind that quarterback, who has the best rookie season in franchise history and nearly wins NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Said coach might be looking at a contract extension, right? Wrong.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shockingly fired Lovie Smith despite obvious signs of improvement in 2015 and with rookie Jameis Winston looking like a future star under center. But you can see the Bucs' thinking in some regards:
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*-Smith is a defensive guy, and that unit really struggled last season.
*-The Bucs were in the wild-card mix following a Week 13 home win over Atlanta improved Tampa Bay to 6-6, but then the team regressed in losing the final four games.
*-Winston was so promising that other teams were calling the Bucs to interview offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to be their head coach; instead, Tampa Bay simply dumped Smith and hired Koetter to replace him.
Very interesting decision considering Smith has a pretty solid overall resume and Koetter doesn't.
The Bucs were 3-5 on the road last season, 4-4 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." They play three away teams this year that made the playoffs in 2015, including both NFC Championship Game clubs. That said, I still say the home schedule outside the division is a bit tougher. I project another 3-5 road mark. Tampa has a wins total of 7 for the coming season on BetOnline, with the over a -125 favorite. That surprises me a little in an overly optimistic way (but not by much). Odds listed below for the home teams.
Sept. 11 at Falcons (-3, 47.5): A fitting opener against a former team of Koetter and new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who was fired as Atlanta's head coach following the 2014 season. This will also be the Bucs' final game at the Georgia Dome. They won there in Week 8 last year, 23-20 in overtime after blowing a 17-point lead in regulation. Connor Barth hit a 31-yard field goal on the Bucs' first possession of OT, and their defense stymied the Falcons on their possession. Tampa forced four turnovers in the game. Winston threw for 177 yards and a score. Key trend: Bucs 5-5 ATS in past 10 as at least a 3-point road dog in series.
Sept. 18 at Cardinals (-9): This is the first of three playoff teams the Bucs will face in a four-week stretch. Arizona might be bit flat here already after opening on Sunday night in Week 1 against New England, even if the Pats don't have Tom Brady. All-time series between these teams is tied at 9. Key trend: Bucs 4-6 ATS in past 10 at NFC West teams.
Oct. 10 at Panthers (-10): Rare Monday night game for the Bucs (first since 2013). And a crushing second of a back-to-back as they host the team that beat Carolina in the Super Bowl, Denver, in Week 4. Carolina is off a trip to Atlanta. Tampa closed last season with a 38-10 loss at Carolina. Winston threw for 325 yards but no TDs and two picks. The Bucs led 3-0 after the first quarter before the Panthers started caring. Key trend: Bucs 7-3 ATS in their past 10 as a dog anywhere of at least 10 points.
Oct. 23 at 49ers (pick'em): Tampa is off its bye week. San Francisco is in Buffalo the previous Sunday and ahead of its bye week. The Bucs are 2-12 all time at San Francisco and have won there just once since 1980, which came in 2010. But those were all at Candlestick. Key trend: Bucs 7-3 ATS in their past 10 after a bye (any location).
Nov. 20 at Chiefs (-7): The Bucs off a three-game homestand that culminates in a Week 10 matchup vs. Chicago. This looks to be their only chance at playing an outdoor cold-weather game. So that's a nice break for a warm-weather club. Sets up as a huge trap game for the Chiefs as they are in Carolina the previous week and at Denver following this. Bucs have won four straight in series. Key trend: Bucs have covered five straight as a November road dog of at least 7 points.
Dec. 4 at Chargers (-2): Tampa off a Week 12 game vs. Seattle. Bucs return to the site of their lone Super Bowl win (and appearance). San Diego is in Houston the previous Sunday. The Bucs are 1-3 against the Chargers on the West Coast all time. The teams haven't played there since 2004. Key trend: Bucs 5-5 ATS in past 10 at AFC West teams.
Dec. 18 at Cowboys (-6): The Bucs host New Orleans the previous Sunday. Dallas is off a Sunday night game at the Giants in Week 14. Tampa ended a five-game losing streak in the series with a 10-6 home win over Dallas in Week 10 last year, one of the ugliest offensive games in the NFL in 2015. Winston was diving into the end zone in the final minute for the potential winning score but lost the ball before crossing the goal line and Dallas got possession. But the Bucs got a reprieve when the Cowboys were called for defensive holding. Winston scored on another keeper from 1-yard out on the next play. The Bucs won for the first time since 2005 when scoring 10 points or fewer. Key trend: Bucs are 5-0 ATS in past five at NFC East teams.
Dec. 24 at Saints (-2.5): Second game in two weeks between these two. It's the home finale for New Orleans, which is off a trip to Arizona. Winston's first NFL win was Week 2 last year in the Superdome, 26-19. He threw for 207 yards and a TD and ran for a score as the Bucs built a 23-7 lead. The Tampa defense held in the final seconds. Key trend: Bucs 6-4 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
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