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How Do the 2023 Buccaneers Compare? | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Buccaneers fans have questions about Baker Mayfield's future, potentially good matchups in the Detroit game, similar teams from the Bucs' past and more


When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, they knew they had punched a ticket to Detroit for the Divisional Round. With a short week leading up to that Sunday contest, coaches and players quickly turned their attention to the Lions. So did I.

I would think most NFL fans, even casual ones, have a passing knowledge of this Lions team because it has been one of the league's biggest and most endearing stories of the 2023 season. Already Dan Campbell's crew has secured the franchise's first playoff victory in 31 years, which means the team's pursuit of the Lions' first Super Bowl continues for at least one more week. You'd have to be living under a rock to have not heard that note by know.

I also know the offense is loaded. Jared Goff had another strong year, Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the NFL's best receivers, Sam LaPorta is the rare rookie tight end to have a huge impact and the backfield duo of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs powers one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Didn't really have to look any of that up.

But when I did look at the specific numbers? Wow. The part of the stat sheet that jumps off the page is the scoring table. Montgomery led the Lions with 13 touchdowns but there were still enough footballs to go around to get Gibbs into the end zone 11 times. Not only that, both LaPorta and St. Brown had 10 touchdowns of their own.

Four different players with 10 or more touchdowns scored! Had I seen that before? I felt like I hadn't. I know I couldn't think of another team that did that off the top of my head. You know what that means – I had to look it up.

Thanks to the handy tools on (it's a subscription site), it was pretty easy. And it's not surprising I couldn't think of any other examples of a team with four players who scored 10-plus touchdowns. There aren't any, at least worded that way exactly. If you change it to a team with at least four players who did that in the same season, then the 2023 Lions have company, but not a lot of it. There's one other team on that list, though it incredibly had five players get to double-digit TDs.

If you put some thought into it, you might be able to make a decent guess. It likely was relatively recent, since offensive numbers continue to rise in the NFL. It probably was a team with a prolific passer because I don't think you're going to get there just running the ball. What if I reminded you of a certain quarterback with a somewhat recognizable name who went to his second team after a long career with his first team and suddenly broke the NFL record with 55 touchdown passes.

Yeah, Peyton Manning of course. In 2013, his second year with the Denver Broncos, Manning put up that absurd passing total as part of an offense that scored SEVENTY-SIX total touchdowns. I spelled out that number so the all-caps would have some emphasis. 76! Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas led the way with 14, all receiving. Tailback Knowshon Moreno was next with 13, 10 on the ground. Tight end Julius Thomas and wide receivers Eric Decker and Wes Welker had 12, 11 and 10, respectively. I appreciate the way Denver not only got five guys to 10 or better but laid them out in such a nice countdown.

So good on you, Lions. When you're producing in the neighborhood of the Manning Broncos on offense, you're definitely doing something right.

Since most readers here are probably Buccaneers fans and not Lions fans, you may be wondering if a Bucs' offense has ever done something like that. I mean, we did have Tom Brady slinging 43 touchdown passes in a season. But no, the highest number of players who have reached double digits in touchdowns in the same season for the Buccaneers is two. That happened once, Mike Evans had 14 and Leonard Fournette had 10 in 2021. I mean, when one guy is responsible for five of your top seven touchdown seasons, it's hard to double up in any given campaign. There's only one Mike Evans to go around.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me any time you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to

After this season, is there a permanent spot for Baker on the Bucs?

- @megandanielle (via Instagram)

Well, hopefully we don't get any idea of the actual answer to this question for a few more weeks, since it seems clear that the issue is not going to be addressed until the Bucs' season is over. Baker Mayfield has been fielding this question roughly once a week for the last six weeks or so, and his answer is usually along the lines of, "I'm focused on this season right now. We'll figure that out when the season is over."

And, of course, when it comes to NFL rosters, there really is no such thing as "permanent." But I'm not being pedantic; I know what you mean. After playing 2023 on what was essentially a one-year "prove it" contract (and really, really proving it), Mayfield can become a free agent again in March. Will his time in Tampa extend beyond 2023, and if so will it be on a multi-year contract.

My gut feeling. Yes. I start with the belief that both sides want the relationship to continue if there is a way to do so. Mayfield has stated on many occasions that he likes being a Buccaneer and appreciates a lot of what the organization has to offer, including stability and, recently, a winning tradition. Putting myself in his shoes, when I am considering options for next season and beyond, I think I would value continuity over starting over again in another NFL venue, and familiarity with an offensive scheme that appears to be on an upward trajectory.

As for the Buccaneers, what would they do at quarterback if Mayfield moved on in 2024? Kyle Trask has one year left on his contract but it's fair to say he's still an unproven commodity despite an encouraging training camp and preseason. The Bucs could go after a veteran on the open market or via trade, but are they going to find one that is a significant upgrade over Mayfield? There's always the draft, and there are some interesting prospects there beyond the top five picks but the Bucs won't be in position to get, probably, the top three guys on the list.

The Buccaneers got Mayfield on a relatively modest one-year deal, at least as it applies to quarterbacks, in 2023. The team does not routinely share salary numbers so I won't be exact here, but it's easy to look up on Spotrac or OverTheCap. He also made some pretty nice bonuses along the way (which is great), and he has four automatically voiding years after 2023 that helped lower his cap figure this year and will result in a relatively small dead cap hit if he leaves.

That number is going to go up on the next contract thanks to how well Mayfield has played in 2023. It's now been proven – the Buccaneers can be a playoff team with the roster as it is currently constructed and Mayfield as the quarterback. Spotrac also has estimated market values for a lot of potential free agents, and for Mayfield they have it an average annual salary of around $27 million. That seems like a lot but, again, we're talking about quarterbacks here. For successful ones, there's a going rate. Geno Smith's AAV in his new deal after last year's breakout season was $25 million, with some potential bonuses based on performance. Jared Goff, whose 2023 season was in many ways quite similar to Mayfield's, has an AAV of $33.5 million on his current deal. Jimmy Garoppolo's deal with the Raiders last year had a $24.25 million AAV.

The Bucs aren't in quite as bad of a salary cap jail in 2024 as they were in 2023, when they elected to absorb all of the dead cap space on Tom Brady's contract rather than spread it out over two years. Spotrac has them starting with $48 million worth of cap space. Of course, that's not yet including possible deals for Mike Evans, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Devin White. Also, while Tristan Wirfs still has one year left on his rookie deal (the fifth-year option), the Bucs could be looking to extend him soon, too, and that should include a pretty hefty cap hit.

So it's a little difficult to say exactly how much wiggle room the Bucs have when it comes to working out a contract with Mayfield. But I am of the belief that, if both sides are motivated enough, there won't be too much trouble figuring out how to make it work.

Whatever the final outcome (I'm rooting for an extended relationship), I'm glad we're having this discussion because it means that the Mayfield signing was a resounding success. Personally, I've thoroughly enjoyed the Baker Mayfield experience and would gladly sign up for a few more years.

What is the Bucs all time record in the divisional round of the playoffs?

- @abimarinberg (via Instagram)

I'm liking the strategy of this particular question-asker. Last week, abimarinberg asked me for the Bucs' all-time record in Wild Card round games and I included it in the mailbag. So why not come back with the same question for the Divisional Round? It worked!

The Bucs first made the Divisional Playoffs in 1979, back when there were three divisions in each conference and no division winners had to play in the Wild Card Round. They beat the Eagles (déjà vu), 24-17, to advance to the NFC Championship Game. Same thing was true in 1981 and the Bucs lost at Dallas, 38-0. Not good times. There were no Wild Card or Divisional Round distinctions in 1982 when the Bucs made the playoffs due to the players' strike that took seven games out of the schedule.

In 1997, the Bucs beat Detroit as a Wild Card team but then lost in Green Bay in the Divisional Playoffs, 21-7. In 1999, Tampa Bay had a bye and then beat Washington in the Divisional Round, 14-13. Similarly, the Bucs beat San Francisco, 31-6, in the Divisional Round in 2002 after a first-round bye.

In 2020, Tampa Bay went to New Orleans for the Divisional Round and came away with a 30-20 victory on their way to a second Super Bowl title. In 2021, the Bucs topped the Eagles in the Wild Card round but then lost a heartbreaker to the Rams on the Divisional weekend, 30-27.

So add it up and Tampa Bay's all-time record during the Divisional Round is 3-3. Let's get back over .500 this weekend!

If you had to compare this team to any previous Bucs teams which one would it be and why?

- @alessiuhh (via Instagram)

This is a really, really, really hard question. Every time I think of a potential answer I almost immediately think of some factor that makes me say, 'Nah, that doesn't fit.' Let's go through the options to see if we can find the closest answer.

I'm going to limit this to just the Bucs teams that made the playoffs, because I think that is too big of a defining factor to exclude when making comparisons. Would we be thinking about this season at all like we are now if the Bucs had done some good things but ultimately missed the playoffs? In 2010, Tampa Bay had a head coach in his second year at the helm (Raheem Morris, Todd Bowles), a quarterback who significantly exceeded expectations that season (Josh Freeman, Baker Mayfield) and a nice run at the end of the season (3-1, 5-1) to tie for a potential playoff spot. But that's were the story ended in 2010 and we're still spooling it out in 2023.

I'm going to immediately eliminate the three early playoff seasons in 1979, 1981 and 1982. The current team – and, significantly, the NFL as a whole – doesn't look anything like those squads.

The 1997 team has some possibilities. Like Bowles, Tony Dungy was in his second year as the head coach. Both teams started out much hotter than the NFL crowd expected (5-0 for 1997, 3-1 for 2023). Both teams won a game at home in the Wild Card round in dominant fashion to start the playoffs before heading north to play a NFC Central/North team. The offenses were not very similar, however, in terms of both form and production. The two defenses were more similar but signs of all-time greatness were already starting to show for the 1997 squad. The twostyles of playing defense were wildly different, though.

The 1999 team had an absolutely dominant defense and an offense that tilted heavily towards the run. That team also won eight of its last nine and was on an absolute tear as it went all the way down to the final minutes of the NFC Championship Game in St. Louis. Maybe this one will look closer if the 2023 Bucs win one more game, but the '99 team easily won the division and the current one had to claw until the end to do so.

The 2002 and 2020 seasons? Nope. Not going to do it. I'm not opening myself up to the shots I would take in comparing the current Bucs who are still fighting for the season resolution they want to the two best teams in franchise annals.

The 2005 team won the division and had a home game to start the playoffs but lost it in dispiriting fashion. It also won 11 games and had the NFL's top-ranked defense. Not feeling that one.

The 2007 team won the division but lost in the Wild Card round to the Giants in dispiriting fashion. That team did have a veteran quarterback who had bounced around a little bit but produced a strong season, but Jeff Garcia wasn't healthy enough throughout the campaign to be a complete match for Mayfield. In terms of offensive and defensive rankings, though, we do see some similarities. The 2007 team was third in points allowed and 18th in points scored; the 2023 team was sixth in points allowed and 20th in points scored. The 2007 team had a 1,000-yard receiver in Joey Galloway and another one who got sort of close in Ike Hilliard. The 2023 team had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Earnest Graham had 898 rushing yards; Rachaad White had 990. The Bucs only threw eight interceptions that year; this year's team threw 10.

I already ruled out the 2020 team and, to be honest, given the presence of Tom Brady it's hard to compare the current team to the 2021 or 2022 seasons either. Mayfield's numbers were great, but they weren't close to what Brady did in 2021. The 2022-2023 comparisons between those two are a lot closer but still…does a team that is led by Brady really feel anything that is led by Mayfield. That's not intended as an insult to either guy, but given background, leadership style and playing style, it's a whole new story in 2023. Yes, both teams won division titles with fewer than 10 wins, but the 2022 season felt like a slow-burn end of an era while the 2023 season was like a whole new story, with a happier than expected (eventual) ending.

After all that, I'd go with 2007 by a slight edge over 1997.

All time record vs the lions?

- @dful_ (via Instagram)

After Detroit's win in Tampa in Week Six, the Bucs are 28-32 against the Lions in regular-season play. They are 1-0 against Detroit in the playoffs.

What areas should the Bucs have the most success vs this lions team?

- @steve_harris_iv (via Instagram)

If we're just matching up apparent team strengths and weaknesses, based on statistics, the Bucs probably need to have a pretty prolific passing game against the Lions to come out winners on Saturday. The same was true heading into the Eagles game and Mayfield delivered with the first 300-yard, three-touchdown passing game in Buccaneers playoff history.

The Buccaneers' passing game didn't light the world on fire over the entire course of the 2023 season. However, impressive performances against the Packers, Jaguars and Eagles over the last five weeks seem to have shown what Mayfield, Evans, Godwin and company are capable of. That group will be going up against a Lions' defense that ranked 27th against the pass per game and 30th per play. Tampa Bay's offense ranked 13th in average gain per pass play. I believe Evans and Godwin will have a chance to succeed against the Lions' outside corner duo of Cameron Sutton and Kindle Vildor. Also, Detroit's sack rate on defense this year was just 22nd in the NFL, even though Aidan Hutchinson is a real problem. But if Tristan Wirfs and Luke Goedeke play like they did against some very good Philly pass-rushers, that could prove to be an edge.

On defense, the Bucs could have a good day if they get pressure on Jared Goff. That's no simple matter, in part because Tampa Bay loves to get pressure by blitzing and the Lions have actually been pretty good against the blitz this year overall. However, when opposing teams do succeed in getting pressure on Goff the Lions have struggled mightily, including a 62.9 passer rating and a 3-8 TD-INT ratio that is third worst in the NFL. I understand that most of those answers were "ifs" rather than outright declarations of Buccaneer advantages. Sorry, this is a really good Lions team.

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