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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

On the Verge | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Buccaneers fans have questions about award possibilities for Mike Evans and Baker Mayfield, the NFC playoff picture, Chase Edmonds and more


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 17 with a chance to clinch a third consecutive NFC South title by beating the visiting New Orleans Saints. Four weeks ago, that sentence would have seemed, at best, wildly optimistic, if not a little ridiculous. But that's what a four-game winning streak can do for a team's playoff hopes, particularly in a division with no runaway leader.

The Buccaneers could lose to the Saints on Sunday and still take the division crown by beating the Panthers in Charlotte in Week 18. If they do succeed in either of those weekends, the Bucs will have done something that is fairly uncommon but also a repeat of an occurrence from just last year.

After Week 12 of the 2022 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars had a 4-7 record and were third in the AFC South, three behind the 7-4 Tennessee Titans with six to play. Jacksonville would lose one more in Week 13 to fall to 4-8, then reel off four victories in a row. The Titans, meanwhile, were in the midst of what would become a seven-game season-ending losing streak. The seventh loss was in Jacksonville, where they went in Week 18 with a chance to steal the division back at the last minute. Instead, a fumble return for a touchdown by outside linebacker Josh Allen with three minutes left gave Jacksonville a 20-16 win and the division title.

Jacksonville was the first team since 2020 to rise from the depths of a 4-7 start to make the playoffs. Washington did so that season, winning the NFC East with a 7-9 record and then losing a home game to the Super Bowl-bound Buccaneers in the Wild Card round. However, it had only been a year since a team had gone from a 4-7 mark to a winning record by the end of the season. The Detroit Lions did that in 2022, finishing 9-8 and carrying that momentum into 2023, when they would win their first division title in 30 years.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there have been 213 teams that had a 4-7 record through their first 11 games. From 1970-77, there were only 14 games per team on the NFL schedule, which obviously gave teams in those seasons less time to rebound from a slow start. Accordingly, no 4-7 teams in that span were able to make the playoffs. Mathematically, the best those teams could do was finish at .500 by winning their last three, which the 1974 Eagles and Jets were able to do.

The NFL expanded its schedule to 16 games per team in 1978. The first team since the merger to go from 4-7 to the playoffs was the 1995 Chargers, who won out over the last five weeks to finish at 9-7 and earn a Wild Card berth, then lose to the Colts in the opening round. The first team to go from 4-7 to the postseason and win a postseason game was the 1996 Jaguars, who in their second year of existence made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the pre-Brady & Belichick Patriots. The first team to win a division title after starting 4-7 was the 2008 Chargers, who went from 4-7 to 7-8 then beat the Broncos in the season finale to put those two teams in an 8-8 tie. The Chargers took the crown on a tiebreaker.

And that's it. We've now covered the entire gamut of teams from 1970 to now that have made the playoffs after a 4-7 start. There are five of them so far; the Buccaneers could be the sixth. They could also be the 10th team to finish with a winning record after a 4-7 start. The 17th game, added in 2021, certainly helps with that; otherwise, every 4-7 team would have to win out to get above .500.

And 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

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice on 12/28/2023

What in your mind would make for a very "successful" season for Baker Mayfield?

- @bakermayfield_6 (via Instagram)

By my way of thinking, he's already there. However, I suspect that if you asked Baker himself (and I'm going to go ahead and assume this question was not sent in by Baker himself despite the IG handle), he probably wouldn't deem this season truly successful until and unless the Bucs made the playoffs. After that, I imagine he would call it a "very" successful season if the Bucs not only qualified for the playoffs but made some noise once they got there.

However, statistically I think we're already there, or at least on the precipice of a very successful season as long as the last two games go reasonably well. When the Buccaneers signed Mayfield to compete for their starting job in the wake of Tom Brady's retirement, the hope was that a new and stable opportunity would allow him to recreate the kind of season he had in 2020, when he led the Browns to an 11-5 record, won a playoff game, threw 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 95.9. Get that sort of performance out of your quarterback, the Bucs thought, and the overall talent on the roster would be a playoff-caliber team.

Well, Mayfield has thrown 26 touchdown passes against eight interceptions and he still has two games to go. If he can throw for 402 yards and four touchdowns over the next two weeks he will finish with a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season. Only Brady and Jameis Winston have done that as a Buccaneer, and when Winston did it in 2019 he also threw 30 interceptions. Mayfield's passer rating at the moment is 96.2, a little better than what he finished with in 2020.

Mayfield currently ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, completions and average pass length. That last category, in which he ranks third at 8.6, is interesting in that it demonstrates how Mayfield has both played within Dave Canales' edict of protecting the football at all costs while still pushing it down the field when the opportunities have arisen.

Also, in terms of how Mayfield has integrated himself into the locker room and the team's culture, he has been a home run. We get a new quote virtually every day from a Tampa Bay player or coach about how much everyone in the locker room loves playing with Mayfield and following his lead. Everyone in the building loves Mayfield now, but that certainly wasn't a given when a new quarterback arrived in the offseason. From that standpoint, it has been a hugely successful season for Mayfield, and it gives rise to the very credible notion that the relationship could be extended into 2024 and beyond.

Best Corner in Bucs history?

- @willfranklin11 (via Instagram)

Oh, come on. Is this question serious?

Rondé Barber, who earlier this year became the first and only Buccaneers cornerback to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is the obvious answer. He's one of the best players at any position in franchise history.

Barber is the Bucs' all-time leader in games played (241), games started (232), interceptions (47) and non-offensive touchdowns (14), and none of that even includes his playoff exploits. He's the author of the single most famous player in team history – the 92-yard pick-six that sealed the NFC Championship Game victory in Philadelphia – and he's the only player in NFL history with 40-plus interceptions and 25-plus sacks. He never missed a game due to injury in his career. He's the only cornerback in league history to start 200 consecutive games. He's third in team history in tackles…as a cornerback!

And so on. I don't even have to refer to any materials to type all of that; I know all these numbers by heart because we spent several years promoting Barber's HOF candidacy and it was easy to become convinced that he is one of the best cornerbacks of his generation, not just in Buccaneers history.

So, yes, it's an easy answer, but that's not to say there haven't been some other very good cornerbacks in team history, starting with Mike Washington in the late '70s. He was an interception machine for a while. Ricky Reynolds had a nice run in the late '80s and early '90s. Other than a kind of fluky year for Wayne Haddix in 1990, it was Donnie Abraham who emerged as the team's first Pro Bowl cornerback in Bucs annals. Abraham was the team's career interception leader before Barber passed him. Barber's long-time running mate, Brian Kelly, was very good and is quite underrated. Probably should have been in the Pro Bowl in 2002. Aqib Talib is one of the most talented corners the Bucs have ever drafted but he had his best career moments on other teams. And most recently, Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean have played well enough to get lucrative second contracts with the Buccaneers.

With non QBs in the conversation, Is Mike Evans MVP worthy?

- @polk_bby863 (via Instagram)

Sure. Why not? Now, that doesn't mean I think he would get it. I believe I've seen a rise in the overall appreciation for Mike Evans in the NFL community and media this year, but it's probably not enough to get him the non-QB MVP award. The leading candidates for that are 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey and Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

McCaffrey leads the NFL in scrimmage yards and has almost 800 more than Evans along with 21 total touchdowns (tied for the league lead). Evans has more touchdowns than Hill, by one, but Hill is second only to McCaffrey in yards from scrimmage and is about 500 ahead of the Bucs' star receiver. It helps all three that they are playing on teams either already in the playoff field or very close to clinching a spot. However, it probably helps McCaffrey the most since the 49ers have the inside track to the number-one overall seed.

In the non-QB field, I guess you could make arguments for CeeDee Lamb, A.J. Brown and even Puka Nacua, all of whom have put up huge numbers on playoff-bound teams. But if you are going to include them in the debate, I think it's fair to say Evans should be included to.

Any chance that Sundays kickoff gets moved to 4 or later?

- @ryan_james419 (via Instagram)

No chance at all. If that was going to happen, we would already know. To flex a game that was originally scheduled for a Sunday in Weeks 14-17 to another time or day, the league is required to give teams (and their fans) at least six days notice. We're past that deadline already.

Now, there is one more game that still has to be scheduled. When the 2023 schedule came out in May, the NFL did not set specific dates or times for the Week 18 games. Those games will be spread out over Saturday and Sunday, January 7 and 8. The league will announce the schedule for that weekend no later than six days before the Saturday games, likely this Sunday night. I would anticipate the Bucs playing on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. that weekend, but we'll see.

What would it take to make the NFL playoffs?

- @bm24464 (via Instagram)

I assume you mean what would it take for the Bucs to make the playoffs this year, given where they stand now. In a general sense, to make the playoffs you need to have one of the seven best win-loss records in either conference, and possibly some tiebreaker advantages if there are more than seven teams that clear that bar.

As for the Bucs? Just win, baby! They need just one win over the next two weeks to clinch the NFC South and slot into the fourth seed in the conference. That would also deliver a home game for the Bucs in the first round of the playoffs, most likely against whichever team between the Eagles and Cowboys doesn't win the NFC East. The Bucs wouldn't be mathematically eliminated if they lost both of their remaining two games, but the chances would be so thin as to be nearly invisible.

The Buccaneers will try to clinch this Sunday against one of the two teams that is vying for that division crown with them, the New Orleans Saints. That would eliminate New Orleans and the Bucs wouldn't have to worry about finishing in a tie with the Falcons because they would win the tiebreaker based on a better record against common opponents. If they fail to get the win over the Saints, the Bucs will have another shot in Week 18 against the Panthers in Charlotte.

What does the emergence of Chase Edmonds do for Rachaad White?

- @dylansanchez24 (via Instagram)

I'm not sure 'emergence' is the right word for Edmonds' role in the offense right now. He's pretty much been doing the same thing week to week that he's been doing since he returned from injured reserve in Week Seven – spell Rachaad White for a drive or two and get about four to six touches. The only differences were the Week 15 win in Atlanta and last week's win over Jacksonville, in which Edmonds got 10 touches each and produced 58 and 25 yards from scrimmage respectively.

I don't think either of those were the result of a specific plan to tilt some more of the playing time away from White and to Edmonds. I think that's just how each game unfolded. The Buccaneers ran a lot against Jacksonville, especially in the second half, because they built up a 30-0 lead and wanted to drain the clock. White still had 20 or more carries in each of those games, and he's still getting almost all the targets in the passing game. Edmonds only had two targets in those two games combined.

So I don't think anything Edmonds is doing right now is really affecting White's work load one way or another. What Edmonds is doing is affecting the team as a whole, and positively so, because the coaches know they can put him on the field for a drive or a series and not see the production out of the backfield drop.

Does Baker have a shot at comeback player of the year?

- @Devanparks5 (via Instagram)

You know what, I've been coming around on this idea lately. For most of the season I've firmly believed that once Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin got back onto the playing field for a game in 2023 he would completely lock down this award, no matter whatever else happened. And to be honest, I still think that's the most likely outcome and I have no problem with it. It's true that Hamlin hasn't actually played much (five games, 17 defensive snaps, 94 special teams snaps), but that's probably besides the point. It's completely understandable to give him the award to celebrate the fact that he has managed to continue his career after having to be resuscitated on the field last December.

Lately, though, some people have started to convince me that maybe Mayfield has a shot here. The award has most often gone to a player who returned from an injury the season before to have a very productive season on the field. Think Joe Burrow in 2021 or Andrew Luck in 2018. Hamlin didn't have the sort of on-field production that either of those two did but the injury he was coming back from was so much more dramatic and significant than anything we've seen before that it kind of makes up the difference.

But last year's outcome indicates that voters are willing to think about this award in different ways. Last year, the award went to Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who was not "coming back" from an injury or anything else that had interrupted his career. Instead, Smith finally got another chance to start after six long years as a journeyman backup, and he seized it in impressive fashion. He had the best year of his career, finished as a top-10 quarterback in the league and led his team to the playoffs.

If we remove Hamlin from the picture temporarily, Mayfield would seem like a perfect candidate in the Geno Smith mode. His situation is pretty analogous to what happened for Smith in Seattle. Mayfield didn't spend six years as a backup, but he did bounce around in 2022, a year in which he was both traded and waived. Then he comes to Tampa, gets a new opportunity to start and puts up numbers quite similar to what Smith did last year. He reestablished himself as a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL – and a top-10 one in many categories – and is on the verge of leading his team to the playoffs, like Smith did.

Other names I've seen floated for this award besides Hamlin and Mayfield are quarterbacks Josh Dobbs, Lamar Jackson, Tua Tagovailoa and Russell Wilson. Dobbs is probably out of the running after his bubble burst in Minnesota a few weeks ago. Likewise, Wilson might have gotten some support earlier in the year but his benching this week probably ends that. Jackson missed six games last year to a PCL strain but didn't fully tear any ligaments or require surgery. Tagovailoa's concussion issues in 2022 were definitely serious, but he still played in 13 games and led the league with a 105.5 passer rating. I'm very, very glad he has not been concussed this season, but I'm not sure missing four games sets you up for a Comeback Player of the Year award.

Again, I've spent most of this season assuming Hamlin had this award sewn up and will absolutely see the logic and consider him a worthy award if it goes to him. But I do think Mayfield has a shot.

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