By Abraham Gutierrez
Intrastate rivals will collide in Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season, as the ever-improving Tampa Bay Buccaneers make the trip down south to take on the Miami Dolphins. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, will be the site for this interconference struggle that's slated for 1 p.m. ET on FOX.
With the overall series tied at five wins apiece (5-5-0), the Fins must find a way to defy the odds in order to start the season off on a positive note. Tampa Bay comes into the 2017 NFL season opener as winners of four of their last five contests against Miami, including the most recent encounter (22-19) in 2013 at Raymond James Stadium.
Buccaneers 2016 NFL record: 9-7
In his second year at the helm of this young bunch, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter experienced what could only be described as a rollercoaster of a season. After setting (offensive) club records in 2015, the franchise's 11th head coach watched his team go from losing five of its first eight games to tallying six wins and just two loses to close out the regular season. The Bucs would go on to finish second in the NFC South and, for what it's worth, closed out the 2017 NFL preseason going 1-3-0.
Buccaneers on offense
Offensively, the Buccaneers rely on former Florida State Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston to carry them to victory. In his second-year as a pro, the controversial quarterback completed 345-of-567 passes for 4,090 yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions (86.1 QBR).
Winston also racked up 165 yards on 53 carries and one touchdown, but fumbled the rock 10 times, coughing it up to the opposition a total of eight times. It's going to be interesting to see what he has in store as he enters his third year in the league.
Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator is Todd Monken, who also serves as the wide receivers coach. With the addition of speedy wideout DeSean Jackson, this could be one of the most explosive offenses in all of football. The Dolphins are certainly going to have their hands full trying to contain the one-two punch combination of Winston and Jackson, along with receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate.
Buccaneers on defense
The Buccaneers re-signed defensive coordinator Mike Smith to a contract extension last January. The former Atlanta Falcons head coach brings an NFL resume that's second-to-none. Some of his accolades include a Super Bowl (XXXV) ring as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, and NFL Coach Of The Year honors in 2008.
In the season opener, Smith will have the luxury of having a first-hand account of what Miami wants to accomplish offensively. That's because former Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes signed a two-year ($16.5 million) deal after the Fins cut him loose for refusing to restructure his contract during the 2016 NFL offseason.
Bucs players to watch: DeSean Jackson, Brent Grimes
After signing a three-year deal worth a reported $33.5 million last March, wide receiver DeSean Jackson is Tampa Bay's player to watch on offense. The three-time Pro Bowler is coming off yet another productive season. At 30-years-young, Jackson closed out his final year in the nation's capital with 56 receptions for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns, and for the third time in his career led the league in yards-per-catch (17.9 yards).
On the opposite side of the rock, Brent Grimes gives Tampa Bay a defensive boost, particularly against Miami in Week 1. In spite of his off-field controversy, the 34-year-old Philly-native is a four-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2013–2015) with a great deal of experience. Even with lofty expectations, Grimes was very productive in his first year in Tampa Bay, starting in all 16 games and tallying 57 tackles, a forced fumble and four interceptions.
According to NFL oddsmakers, Tampa Bay is not only expected to get the season off with a road victory, but this team is also slowly beginning to creep into the conversation as a potential NFC playoff contender. As far as Week 1 odds go, the Buccaneers (-3) are listed as three-point favorites over the hosting Dolphins (+3), while the OVER/UNDER is set at a combined total of 41½ points.
In terms of the big picture, the Bucs find themselves in one of the toughest divisions in football, but are expected to finish above .500 and contend for a Wild Card spot. With the past two NFC champions (Falcons +170 and Panthers +240) residing in the NFC South, it comes as no surprise that Tampa Bay's odds of winning the division are third best (but not too far behind) at +300.
Finally, the Buccaneers' chances of winning the NFC Championship are calculated at +1400 --behind Seahawks (+475), Packers (+500), Cowboys (+650), Falcons (+650) and Giants (+800)-- and their early Super Bowl LII betting odds are ninth best in the NFL at +2500.
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