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A Critical Game in Atlanta | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Buccaneers fans have questions about potential two-way players, the playoff implications of Sunday's game in Atlanta, best fantasy football performances and more

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It's been 10 weeks since I've written specifically about Mike Evans in my mailbag intro. Am I about to fall off the wagon? Sort of.

Now, it's hard to totally exclude Evans mentions when you're writing about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For instance, last week I used some Next Gen Stats details about his two touchdowns in Indianapolis as a jumping off point to look at how many touchdowns of every possible yardage length the team has had. One-yard touchdowns, of course, were the most common in team history – it was 261 at the time and now it's 262 after Rachaad White's one-yard scoring run against Carolina.

That's sort of what I'm doing today, but this one is a bit more Evans-centric. In the Bucs' win over Carolina, Evans hit a number of milestones that have been thoroughly reported on, and rightfully so. His 75-yard touchdown was the longest play of his career. He surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the 10th time in 10 seasons, extending his own record to start a career. That streak is now the second-longest in NFL history to Jerry Rice's run of 11 such seasons. Evans' 10 seasons with 1,000-plus receiving yards is tied for the second most all-time. His score moved him into a tie for 13th place all-time on the NFL's career touchdown receptions list. Great, great stuff, and you've probably heard it all multiple times this week.

Here's another note that I don't think is getting nearly as much play: With his 92nd career touchdown, Evans improved his career points total to 560. He is bearing down hard on the Bucs' all-time scoring record, which currently belongs to former kicker Martin Gramatica at 592. Evans needs six more touchdowns as a Buccaneer to pass Gramatica.

Which got me thinking.

If Evans does manage to break Gramatica's record, how rare of a feat would that be? That is, how many of the NFL's 32 teams have a non-kicker as their all-time leading scorer? So I looked it up.

The answer: Two. Jerry Rice is the all-time leading scorer for the San Francisco 49ers and Emmitt Smith is the all-time leading scorer for the Dallas Cowboys. That would be some exclusive company for Evans to join.

In fact, there are only four other teams whose second-leading scorer is a non-kicker, including Evans. Here are the top two career scorers for each team in the league (non-kickers are in bold type, total points are in parentheses):

  • Arizona: Jim Bakken (1,380), Larry Fitzgerald (732)
  • Atlanta: Matt Bryant (1,163), Morten Andersen (806)
  • Baltimore: Justin Tucker (1,600), Matt Stover (1,464)
  • Buffalo: Steve Christie (1,011), Ryan Lindell (980)
  • Carolina: John Kasay (1,482), Graham Gano (742)
  • Chicago: Robbie Gould (1,207), Kevin Butler (1,116)
  • Cincinnati: Jim Breech (1,151), Shayne Graham (779)
  • Cleveland: Lou Groza (1,608), Phil Dawson (1,271)
  • Dallas: Emmitt Smith (986), Rafael Septien (874)
  • Denver: Jason Elam (1,786), Brandon McManus (946)
  • Detroit: Jason Hanson (2,150), Eddie Murray (1,113)
  • Green Bay: Mason Crosby (1,918), Ryan Longwell (1,054)
  • Houston: Kris Brown (767), Ka'imi Fairbairn (697)
  • Indianapolis: Adam Vinatieri (1,515), Mike Vanderjagt (995)
  • Jacksonville: Josh Scobee (1,022), Mike Hollis (764)
  • Kansas City: Nick Lowery (1,466), Jan Stenerud (1,231)
  • Las Vegas: Sebastian Janikowski (1,799), George Blanda* (863)
  • L.A. Chargers: John Carney (1,076), LaDainian Tomlinson (918)
  • L.A. Rams: Jeff Wilkins (1,223), Greg Zuerlein (867)
  • Miami: Olindo Mare (1,048), Garo Yepremian (830)
  • Minnesota: Fred Cox (1,365), Cris Carter (670)
  • New England: Stephen Gostkowski (1,775), Adam Vinatieri (1,158)
  • New Orleans: Morten Anderson (1,318), Wil Lutz (781)
  • N.Y. Giants: Pete Gogolak (646), Lawrence Tynes (586)
  • N.Y. Jets: Pat Leahy (1,470), Nick Folk (729)
  • Philadelphia: David Akers (1,323), Bobby Walston^ (881)
  • Pittsburgh: Gary Anderson (1,343), Chris Boswell (937)
  • San Francisco: Jerry Rice (1,130), Ray Wersching (979)
  • Seattle: Norm Johnson (810), Steven Hauschka (759)
  • Tampa Bay: Martin Gramatica (592), Mike Evans (560)
  • Washington: Mark Moseley (1,206), Chip Lohmiller (787)

* Blanda also played quarterback in the NFL and scored nine rushing touchdowns, but all of his points with the Raiders came via placekicking, so I am not counting him as a non-kicker.

^ Bobby Watson kicked 80 field goals and 365 extra points for the Eagles but also played end and caught 46 touchdown passes, so I am going to count him as a non-kicker.

So that makes Evans one of only seven non-kickers who are either first or second on an NFL franchise's all-time scoring list. That's kind of cool, but it would be even better if he's eventually in a three-man group with the Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Five more games, six more touchdowns…heck, maybe he'll get there this year.

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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Can a player be inducted to the Buc's Ring of Honor while he is still playing? #M1K3

- @alenasc12 (via Instagram)

Can a player go into the Ring of Honor before he's done playing? Well, sure. This isn't something like the Hall of Fame, which is an outside organization that has its own established rules for how and when players can be inducted. This is the Bucs' own thing that they invented. They can set whatever rules they want. If they decided to put Mike Evans into the Ring of Honor three weeks from now, who can tell them no? They could put you and me in (fingers crossed!).

Practically speaking though, I think that is an unwritten rule that the organization will always follow. I don't think they will ever put a player or coach in the Ring of Honor while he is still playing or coaching. Think about it this way: When the Buccaneers inevitably choose to add Evans to the Ring of Honor some years down the road, that is going to be a thing fans want to see. Right now, fans can still come see Evans playing, so putting him in the Ring of Honor wouldn't be any extra draw for that game. You want to enjoy that player's exploits now while they're happening, and then five or six years down the road get back together to celebrate them anew.

I also believe that if it looks like a good shot a Buccaneer player will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the team would like to have his Ring of Honor celebration in the same year he goes into Canton. The Bucs did that with both Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. It took a little longer than expected for John Lynch and Ronde Barber to make the Hall, and the team eventually decided not to wait any longer on the Ring of Honor for those two. I think this season has removed any doubt that Evans will end up in the Hall of Fame, so I suspect the team would wait to see if he gets in in his first or second year of eligibility.

What is the best fantasy football season a Bucs player ever had?

- @ke_turrii (via Instagram)

If we're talking about using non-PPR scoring, you probably watched it, because it was just two years ago. If we're talking about PPR scoring, then it happened quite a long time ago.

Now, keep in mind that most seasons the highest-scoring players are quarterbacks, even if that isn't necessarily the most valuable position in fantasy football. In leagues in which you start just one quarterback and don't have a superflex position, quarterbacks are rarely drafted in the first round anymore because a high-scoring running back or receiver is harder to find and because there's less difference between what you get out of the first QB and the 10th QB than there is at other positions.

So it's not surprising that the highest-scoring non-PPR fantasy season a Buccaneers player has ever had was Tom Brady's 2021 campaign, when he led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), setting new franchise records in both categories. By the scoring system Stathead uses, that came out to 374.7 non-PPR fantasy points. He averaged 22.04 fantasy points per game.

Second on the list is Brady in 2020 with 337.9 points and third is Jameis Winston in 2019 with 305.4 points. The first non-quarterback on the list is running back James Wilder, who produced 295.5 non-PPR points in 1984 to rank fourth. The first receiver on the list is Evans, down at number 16 overall with 208 non-PPR points in 2016.

Now, Brady's fantasy points in 2021 with PPR scoring would also be 374.7 points, since he didn't catch any passes. However, this changes things for all the non-QBs on the list. In fact, if we switch to PPR scoring, Wilder's 1984 season jumps to the top because he caught a whopping 85 passes, pushing his season total to 380.5 and getting him just ahead of Brady's 2021 season. Brady still ranks second and third on the list but Doug Martin's 2012 rookie season comes in fourth with 311.6 total points. Evans' 2016 season rises to sixth with 304.1 points.

You didn't ask but since we're on the subject, let's look up the best single-game fantasy performances by Buccaneers players. The top one is easy to guess: Martin's 251-yard, four-touchdown game in Oakland in 2012. That was good for 55.20 fantasy points in PPR, and 51.20 in non-PPR. In PPR scoring, the rest of the top five is: Evans against Carolina in last year's season finale (48.70), Evans against the Giants in 2019 (45.00), Leonard Fournette in Indianapolis in 2021 (44.10) and Warrick Dunn in that famous Monday Night Football shootout with the Rams in 2000 (42.80).

In non-PPR, a couple quarterbacks sneak into the top five. Ryan Fitzpatrick produced 42.28 fantasy points against the Saints in the 2018 season opener to rank second, and Tom Brady had 37.74 points against Miami in 2021 to come in fifth.

Can you breakdown the playoff chances if we win vs Atlanta and if we lose?

- @connorc415 (via Instagram)

There really is a stark difference between the Bucs' playoff hopes with those two outcomes.

Let's start with a Buccaneers victory because that's more fun. That would give the Bucs a tie for first place with the Falcons – and also the Jets if they beat the Panthers on Sunday – with four games to play. The Buccaneers would control their own destiny from there on out – that is, if they win out, they will definitely win the division title. Winning out would mean another win over the Saints, which would knock them out of the picture, and even if Atlanta also won out to finish at 10-7, the Buccaneers would have the tiebreaker based on record against common opponents.

Now, if the Buccaneers lose, they will be 5-8 and two games behind the 7-6 Falcons. Worse, Atlanta would have an ironclad tiebreaker edge on the Bucs thanks to a head-to-head sweep. So, functionally, Atlanta would have a three-game lead in the division with only four to play. Without even looking at the calculated odds for the Bucs at that point, I think we can agree that would be a very steep hill to climb.

Now, let's look at the odds using the New York Times' playoff odds calculator. Right now, that tool has the Bucs pegged at a 27% chance to make the playoffs, most of which comes from a 22% chance to win the division. Now, plug in a Bucs win over Atlanta and that jumps all the way to 50.0%, with 44% of that coming from the division-title possibility. Plug in a Bucs loss this Sunday, and that 27% chance drops all the way to 8%, only 3% of which is winning the division.

No other game on the Bucs' remaining schedule leads to that much variance – a swing of 42 percentage points! – in the team's playoff odds. If we skip the Falcons game and look at the other four contests one by one, with no other results entered, we get a variety of outcomes. Against the Packers in Week 15 it's 43% with a win, 18% with a loss; against the Jaguars in Week 16 it's 38% win, 20% loss; against the Saints in Week 17 it's 43% win, 10% loss; and against the Panthers in Week 18 it's 34% win, 16% loss.

If you could change one rule in football, what would it be?

- cadyj97 (via Instagram)

Oh, this is easy. This is one of my favorite rants.

I would make roughing-the-passer penalties subject to the challenge flag.

Look, I have no problem with the NFL making strict rules to protect quarterbacks. I don't want them to get hurt either. This season would be a lot better if Joe Burrow, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Anthony Richardson were all still trying to get their teams into the playoffs. I trust the NFL to determine what types of hits and tackles are most likely to injure a quarterback and try to legislate as many of them out of the game as possible. That's all fine and good.

I also believe that officials are probably erring on the side of caution in this matter and throwing the flag at any hit that looks at all like an issue. The problem is, that's not always an easy thing to determine, and there's no going back once the flag is thrown. Just anecdotally, I feel like this is the one flag that most often gets me riled up when I'm watching a game. A defensive player makes a great, then the flag comes in for roughing, then we see the replay and it doesn't look anything like roughing. And it is often such a punitive penalty. Instead of a sack and an offense facing, say, third-and-20, all of a sudden the ball is moved forward 15 yards and it's first-and-10.

So just make it reviewable. I know that they tried that for a year with pass-interference calls and everybody hated it and it went away. I'm sure that makes everyone leery to try it again with a different class of penalties. But I don't care! Let's try it anyway and see how it goes. Just because it didn't work for pass interference doesn't mean it will be a failure for roughing the passer, and we won't know until we try it. Do it on a one-year trial basis and see how it goes.

This way, the NFL can still have it's (necessary and good) rules to protect the quarterback, the referees can still err on the side of caution but we can also get an egregious mistake fixed and not punish a defensive player and a defense for making a great play.

End of rant.

Hottest/Coldest Bucs home game?

- @rene_perez813 (via Instagram)

According to the data on Stathead, there are three games that tie for the hottest kickoff temperature in the history of Buccaneers home games, all at 90.0, and one of the occurred this year. Those three games were:

  • A 26-20 overtime loss to New Orleans on September 8, 2002
  • A 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh on September 26, 2010
  • A 25-11 loss to Philadelphia on September 25, 2023

The three coldest Buccaneers games in Tampa were:

  • 7 degrees in a 31-22 loss to Pittsburgh on December 24, 1989
  • 0 degrees in a 20-10 loss to Atlanta on January 3, 2010
  • 7 degrees in a 21-10 win over Detroit on December 18, 1988

What offensive player would dominate on defense, and vise versa

- @skyylaar (via Instagram)

Probably none of them. This is like the question about why there are virtually no pitchers in major league baseball who are good hitters. Only a tiny fraction of people are good enough to be pitchers in the majors, and only a tiny fraction are good enough to be hitters in the majors. It stand to reason the Venn diagram of those two groups would have very little overlap.

Same thing here. See any two-way players in the NFL anymore? No, because being good enough to play, say, wide receiver in the NFL and good enough to play, say, cornerback in the NFL are both rarities and not likely to be contained within one human. Even when you get a great two-way player at the college level, like Colorado's Travis Hunter, he's a nationwide sensation because it seems so unlikely and rare.

But let's do the exercise anyway and try to pinpoint who would be the Bucs' best bets to play two ways. I mean, there have been some players in team history who switched from one side of the ball to the other – Charley Hannah (DL to OL), Erik Lorig (DE to FB) and Dana Nafziger (TE to LB), to name a few – though I don't know if we'd say any of them "dominated" at their new position. Hannah had a nice 12-year career with the Bucs and Raiders.

On offense, my two answers would be Tristan Wirfs and Chris Godwin. Wirfs is so big and strong and ridiculously athletic for his size. If his feet are good enough and his get-off at the snap fast enough, could he stand out as a 3-4 defensive end? We saw him running with the football a few weeks ago – looked pretty nimble. Godwin obviously has great ball skills, he's very smart and he's clearly willing to get physical. Could he possibly play free safety? I could see it.

I honestly don't see a good answer on defense. I don't think we know yet how good Zyon McCollum's hands are, but he's big and very fast so perhaps he could be a wide receiver. Logan Hall might be able to transition to offensive tackle, given his body type. I'm stretching a bit here, though.

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice on 12/7/2023

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