After spending a day with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their minicamp in May, I left thinking they would be the NFC South winner, even with Tom Brady gone.
They still have a lot of top-tier veteran players, while adding a nice mix of young speed to the roster. They also have Baker Mayfield at quarterback, which I thought would be good enough to get them the division title back in May.
When I went back to visit the Bucs in training camp in July, things changed. Mayfield was in a quarterback competition with Kyle Trask — yes, it was real — and the bright outlook of May seemed to dim, at least in my mind, by late July.
So I picked the New Orleans Saints to win the division before the season.
Now a month into the season, the Bucs lead the NFC South, doing so on the basis of an impressive road victory against the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans. At 3-1, Todd Bowles did a nice job of getting his team to respond against a division rival on a short week after a terrible showing against the Philadelphia Eagles last Monday night.
Mayfield is a big reason why. He was 25-for-32 for 246 yards and three touchdown passes against the Saints. The guy who seemingly always plays with a chip on his shoulder responded in a big way after a so-so showing against the Eagles.
Mayfield was why I thought Tampa Bay could win the division in the first place. But when the competition became a reality, and Mayfield seemed to be pressing when I was there for training camp, that changed my thinking.
Then he bounced back in the preseason to take the job, and now Tampa Bay has won three of four, including two road games at Minnesota and at New Orleans. That has the Bucs up to 10th in my Power Rankings this week as they head to their bye. After that, it’s a big home game with the Detroit Lions, followed by a home game against the Falcons. Is 5-1 out of the question? No way.