S.S. Mailbag: Trending Up

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It's Pro Bowl voting time and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to have multiple representatives in next February's game in Orlando. From a purely statistical standpoint, it would seem hard for voters to ignore outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who leads the NFL in both sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles (six). Big sack totals are probably the single surest path to the NFL's all-star game.

Similarly, it's hard to ignore the numbers being put up by wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Those two rank second and third in the NFC in receiving yards, and no one is even within 100 yards of them other than conference leader Michael Thomas of the Saints. Godwin is also tied for the NFC lead in touchdown catches, while Evans is tied for fourth.

There will be four receivers originally selected for the NFC team in the 2020 Pro Bowl. Could the Buccaneers actually account for half of it. (Well, you could help make that happen by going here to cast your vote. Fan voting lasts through next Thursday. Votes from players and coaches will make up the rest of the selection process.)

The Buccaneers have never put two receivers in the same Pro Bowl, but then again they've never had a duo quite like Evans and Godwin before. The franchise does have a couple instances of two players at the same position in the same Pro Bowl…but not really. Linebackers Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson did it three times (1997-99), but Brooks was an outside linebacker and Nickerson was a middle linebacker and they were not in the same voting groups. Same with Brooks and Shelton Quarles in 2002. Defensive linemen Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice were voted in together in 2002 and 2003 but the former was a tackle and the latter was an end. There have been a couple O-Line combinations, too, but never at the exact same position.

So Godwin and Evans could carve out (another) little piece of team history if they're playing together in Orlando in February. And it's not completely unprecedented around the NFL, especially if one considers all positions. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram of the Saints were voted in together just two years ago. That same year, Jacksonville got half of the AFC cornerback position with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Denver's Chris Harris and Aqib Talib pulled it off several times. Buffalo got both of its defensive tackles, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, into the game in 2014.

How about receivers in particular? That's been tough of late because there are so many good receivers putting up huge numbers in both conferences. The Broncos got both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in three years ago – with full-season numbers that don't even match up to what Evans and Godwin have with four games to go – but they were both replacements. Green Bay had a duo in 2014 when Randall Cobb was a late add, joining Jordy Nelson.

You can find instances of receiver teammates getting in on the initial vote, though, and in pretty much every case it's an extremely memorable duo. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but here are a few of those pairs from the past:

·   Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, Rams, 2000 and 2001

·   Jerry Rice and John Taylor, 49ers, 1988 and 1989

·   Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, Dolphins, 1984 and 1986

·   Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson, Chargers, 1979 and 1980

·   Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Colts, 2006

·   Cris Carter and Randy Moss, Vikings, 1998 and 2000

Years from now Mike Evans and Chris Godwin may be seen as a duo as memorable as any of those. Their first shared Pro Bowl would help.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime 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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

View some of the top photos from the Buccaneers' Week 14 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Who would you say is the most improved Bucs player over the course of this season?

- Healomatic, via Instagram

There are a number of good options, most of them understandably very young players. Let's run through a couple of them before I make my final choice.

Rookie linebacker Devin White is rapidly turning into the all-around playmaker that the Bucs envisioned he would be when they took him with the fifth-overall pick in April. White's rookie season was initially slowed by a knee injury – similar to how the Bucs' 2018 first-rounder, Vita Vea, had to work his way back from an early calf injury – and for a while the big plays weren't coming. That's changed in the last month; in fact, White has made so many big plays in the last five weeks that he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November. I could almost stop this list right now and just go with White. I'm tempted.

This might seem like a strange choice, but I'd put rookie kicker Matt Gay on the list, too. I mean, Gay has essentially been good all season, but if you consider that he's only missed three field goals all year and two of them came in the first three weeks, he's obviously gotten statistically better. He was a 77.8% field goal kicker through those first three games (obviously, that's a small sample size) and he's been a 94.1% field goal kicker since. There was that one extra-point blip in the Atlanta game, but otherwise Gay has been nearly flawless after his first month.

Scotty Miller would have had a better chance to get the nod here if he hadn't recently been slowed by a hamstring pull. It wasn't even deemed necessary to keep him on the active game day roster when the season started, as he was a healthy scratch in the first two games, and he didn't get his first catch until Week Six. Even then, Miller was essentially playing only because Breshad Perriman was out due to injury. However, as the season progressed he and the Buccaneers began to find ways to use his top-notch speed, and he began to get more playing time even when Perriman was available. In the three games before he got hurt on the practice field, Miller caught seven passes for 112 yards. He was really starting to come on.

Similarly, Perriman is just starting to come on as a productive complement to the Evans/Godwin duo. Though he was getting regular playing time, Perriman had only two catches for 16 yards in his first five Buccaneer games. However, in the last two he's contributed 131 yards, and most of those have been on downfield plays, which was thought to be his specialty. I'm not going with Perriman, however, as this may have just been a matter of opportunity rather than his own play causing the disparity. Perriman just wasn't getting a lot of targets in the first half of the season.

So those are my runners-up. The only reason I'm not picking White here is because I think his current level of play is what the team expected all along. Is the same true of rookie corner Jamel Dean, a third-round pick and the second corner the Buccaneers selected this past spring? Dean is big and fast and talented, but it's safe to say that he was at least somewhat more of a question mark than White.

And, in fact, Dean was not getting any playing time until Carlton Davis got hurt during warmups in Seattle a month ago. At the very least, that said the Bucs coaches had not yet decided he was a better replacement for Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting or the since-departed Vernon Hargreaves. Dean's first bit of action, when he was thrown into the fire in Seattle, had its ups and downs, and while he broke up four passes he felt humbled enough by the experience to choose to start working even harder and watching more game tape. In his very next outing, Dean had an outstanding game against the Cardinals, including a key interception. He's now clearly a part of the team's defensive plans going forward.

Like White, Dean had to deal with an injury in the early part of the season, and that may have slowed his ascension to the defensive lineup. But he's there now and he's the Bucs' most improved player from the first quarter of the season to the last.

Can we still make the playoffs?

- Mck6172, via Instagram

If the Buccaneers win out what're the chances of playoffs?

- Chefonpoint, via Instagram

What do we need to do to win out?

- Trevorhoffmqn, via Instagram

Chefonpoint's question is part of the answer for Mck's question. There are scenarios that exist involving one loss for the Bucs over the next four weeks, but they're too far-fetched to waste time on. To be honest, the playoff odds aren't particularly good even if the Bucs' do win out, but they do exist, and as long as that's true the team will keep working towards that goal.

Right now, the New York Times playoff odds calculator gives the Buccaneers less than 1% chance of qualifying for the postseason. If you plug wins for the Bucs over Indianapolis, Detroit, Houston and Atlanta without specifying any other results around the league, those odds go all the way up to…1%.

The main issue for the Buccaneers is the Vikings. The Bucs can max out at nine wins, meaning they can't have two non-division winners get to 10. Right now, the 49ers and the Seahawks are already 10-2, so that guarantees at least one non-division winner with 10 wins already. The next closest team is the Vikings, who are 8-4 and thus need to win two of four to get to 10. Therefore, for the Bucs to remain alive the Vikings have to lose at least three of their last four. (Okay, to be fair, the 9-3 Packers could lose all four of their games for the same effect but that's even less likely.)

If you give the Vikings a loss this weekend to the Lions – in Minnesota, by the way – the Bucs' chances go up to 3%. Plus in a Week 15 Minnesota loss to the Chargers and it's 6%. A Week 16 Vikings loss to Green Bay makes it 11% and it jumps all the way up to 34% if you just give the Vikes a complete four-game losing streak with a Week 17 defeat at the hands of the Bears.

There's more to it than that. The 4-wins-for-Tampa-Bay, 4-losses-for-Minnesota scenario doesn't require any tiebreakers, but if the Vikings go 1-3 down the stretch then we're talking about two 9-7 teams. The first tiebreaker between Tampa Bay and Minnesota, since they did not have a head-to-head matchup, is conference record. The best the Bucs can be is 6-6 and the worst the Vikings can be is 6-6. That means the only game Minnesota can win that doesn't completely eliminate the Buccaneers is their Week 15 game against San Diego.

Then, of course, there's the matter of the 7-5 Rams and the 6-6 Bears. The Bucs are essentially a game behind both because they've got a head-to-head win over Los Angeles. Either of these two teams could still spoil things even if the Buccaneers do win out and the Vikings do lose three of four.

So it's not going to be easy. But you keep chasing that carrot as long as it's still dangling there.

As for Trevor's question, there isn't one simple answer. What it's going to take to beat the Colts this week isn't exactly the same things it will take to beat Houston in Week 16. However, there are a few areas that the Bucs probably have to keep getting right, as they have the last two weeks, in order to keep winning. Those include the heated-up pass-rush, which is helping the coverage in the secondary and creating turnovers and easy scoring opportunities. The young secondary needs to keep communicating well and providing the tighter coverage they have in the last couple games. And the Buccaneers' offense, and Jameis Winston in particular, have to avoid turnovers, as they mostly have for the last seven quarters of play. Do all that, and I think the Buccaneers have the talent to match up with any of their remaining opponents.

View pictures of the Buccaneers unboxing their cleats for the My Cause My Cleats game this Sunday.

Will you resign Shaq Barrett?

- Kalebburkhardt, via Instagram

That's the (multi-)million dollar question, isn't it?

The Buccaneers signed Barrett to a one-year deal in the spring after he had played four seasons in Denver, most of it as a rotational player and not a starter and some of it with more playing time than others. It was the kind of deal in which a team sees good things in a player that has had somewhat limited playing time and hopes that a bigger role will lead to bigger things. I usually compare that to the Bucs' signing of Hardy Nickerson, who became a much bigger deal in Tampa than he had been in Pittsburgh. He got his opportunity and ran with it.

And, man, so has Barrett! I think it's fair to say that the team wasn't exactly counting on getting the potential NFL sack leader with that one-year deal. If they had, they probably would have tried to make it a longer pact. Actually, I don't have to use conjecture here; here's what Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said on essentially that very topic on Thursday:

"We knew he was a solid player. I didn't know how much of a pass-rusher he was but I knew he could do a lot of things for us and he was versatile in that way. When we got him [and we saw] his array of pass-rushing moves and understanding of the game, he probably surprised us a little bit, and having heavy hands and being able to play the run as well. He's got on a roll and when he smells blood in the water he's hungry."

Barrett's 14.5 sacks lead the NFL and are only two shy of the Buccaneers' single-season record. That certainly sounds like a player the franchise would want to retain, especially because Bruce Arians recently said he doesn't think Barrett will slow down, "even after he gets paid."

It's actually a pretty fascinating situation because not only is Barrett due to become a free agent again in March, but so are follow outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib, along with down lineman Ndamukong Suh. That's a majority of the team's defensive front, and it only make sense that the Buccaneers would try to bring at least some of them back. They should have the cap space to do so. It also would seem to make sense to prioritize the player who is racking up the most sacks.

It may be a while before we know if it's going to happen, though. If you want some encouraging news in the meantime, here's what Barrett said about it on Thursday:

"I've thought about it a little bit. I would hate to have to move my family again. We hate moving. But I do think this could be home for me; I like it here a lot. I like my teammates. I told JPP, 'We're in this together.' So, yeah, I would love to be down here. I would love to stay here."

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