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.
The defense is seventh in points allowed, giving up 17 per game. They are tied for second in the league with Dallas in takeaways per game with a 2.5 average, while also being tied for 10th with five other teams with an average of three sacks per game.
Bowles is known for defense, but young offensive coordinator Dave Canales, a rising star in the profession, has done a nice job with the offense. Mayfield has responded with seven touchdown passes and two picks while being sacked only four times. That's impressive considering the line was a major concern heading into the season.
Sometimes you have to stick to your first instinct, which is what I should have done with my initial thoughts on the Bucs. They are the team to beat now in the NFC South.
|There is no doubt who the best team in the league is right now. They do face a tough test Sunday night against the Cowboys.||--||8-3-0|
|It still doesn't look great, but they are finding ways to win games. That's the good news. But they need to pick it up.||--||10-1-0|
|It wasn't easy against the Jets, but they found a way. The offense still isn't clicking yet the way we've come to expect. When is the big game from Patrick Mahomes coming?||--||8-3-0|
|They looked dominant in blowing out the Dolphins. The defense has really impressed so far this season, especially in terms of the pass rush. Josh Allen is playing like an MVP again.||1||6-6-0|
|That showing against the Patriots was the team we expect to see this season. The defense was special and put the Arizona debacle in the rearview mirror.||1||9-3-0|
|That was an impressive road victory over the Browns, even if it was against a rookie backup quarterback. The offense is getting there.||2||9-3-0|
|They came back to reality against the Bills on offense, but the story was how bad the defense played. That side of the ball hasn't been that good this season, which is a concern.||3||8-3-0|
|They've won three straight games to put the opening-day loss way behind them. They beat up the Giants on Monday night.||1||6-6-0|
|Going to Green Bay and blowing out the Packers was an impressive showing. That defense is getting better by the week.||1||8-3-0|
|At 3-1, they lead the NFC South after beating the Saints on the road. The defense came up big and Baker Mayfield is playing well.||6||4-7-0|
|That was a bad showing against the Lions. They have a lot of injuries, but they didn't even compete. They are better than that.||4||5-6-0|
|They have won two straight games, and C.J. Stroud is off to an impressive start. DeMeco Ryans is proving to be a heck of a coach.||7||6-5-0|
|After two straight losses, they seemed to right things against the Falcons. The offense still has been lagging some. Now comes a real test in the Buffalo Bills.||7||8-3-0|
|They had to play without Deshaun Watson against the Ravens, and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson found out what regular-season football is all about. The defense wasn't as good, either. The bye comes at a good time after that loss.||2||7-4-0|
|They dominated the Bengals in grand fashion Sunday, which was a vintage Mike Vrabel type of day. He always gets his team to respond when it's needed.||6||4-7-0|
|They are 2-2 and the defense was much better against the Raiders. But when will Brandon Staley stop going for it in his own end? One day? He can't this week since they are on their bye.||6||4-7-0|
|At 2-2, they have to be happy with their four-game start. They almost blew the Colts game, but responded when needed in overtime.||6||5-6-0|
|The showing against the Texans was putrid, all the way around. Now the knee-injury issues for Kenny Pickett are a concern.||7||7-4-0|
|The offense just didn't do enough against Tampa Bay. Derek Carr's shoulder injury clearly was an issue.||6||5-6-0|
|They fell way behind against the Rams, but Anthony Richardson impressed in bringing them back to get to overtime. The defense let them down all day.||6||6-5-0|
|The showed much better against the Eagles than they did the week before. That's progress. Sam Howell was much better.||6||4-8-0|
|Desmond Ridder is struggling, coming off a bad game against the Jaguars. How much longer does he have to turn it around?||5||5-6-0|
|At 1-3, their season is hanging in the balance right now. The offense was non-existent against the Titans and now Tee Higgins is hurt, which won't help.||5||5-6-0|
|Mac Jones isn't very good right now. Do they make a change? Should they?||--||2-9-0|
|They are an offensive mess right now. The line is awful and Daniel Jones can't get anything going. This was a playoff team last season?||--||4-8-0|
|For the first time this season, they really weren't in the game against the 49ers. It sounds like Josh Dobbs will be the quarterback for a while since Kyler Murray isn't ready.||--||2-10-0|
|Zach Wilson showed well Monday night, giving this group some hope. If he can play like he did against the Chiefs, maybe he can turn his career around.||--||4-7-0|
|At 1-3, they are off to a bad start. Not having Jimmy Garoppolo against the Chargers didn't help. He might be back this week.||--||5-7-0|
|They won their first game at Carolina, but it sure wasn't pretty. They have to cut down on the mistakes as the Chiefs come to town.||--||6-6-0|
|They rallied to beat the Bears, but they still have major issues. The offense did come alive. The defense is bad.||--||6-5-0|
|They don't do enough on offense right now as Bryce Young is struggling. They are in a big hole at 0-4.||--||1-10-0|
|They blew a big lead to lose to the Broncos. But at least Justin Fields played well for most of the game. That's a good sign.||--||4-8-0|