Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0-0 SU, 0-0-0 ATS, 0-0-0 O/U) at Miami Dolphins (0-0-0 SU, 0-0-0 ATS, 0-0-0 O/U)
When and Where: Thursday, Aug. 9, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Fla., 7 p.m. EDT.
It is a tale of two quarterbacks trending for different reasons as the embattled Jameis Winston leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into their preseason opener against Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.
Bucs begin prepping for early season without Winston
After a disappointing last-place 5-11 finish in the highly competitive NFC South last year, quarterback Jameis Winston failed to help his cause for a rebound season after the league suspended him for the first three games of 2018 for violating the personal conduct code amid allegations he groped an Uber driver.
This latest transgression has put Winston’s future with the team in question, especially after the third-year signal-caller went 3-10 as a starter and took a step back with 3,504 yards and 19 touchdown passes in 13 games — missing three with a shoulder injury — in 2017 after topping 4,000 yards and 20 TDs in each of his first two seasons.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to be the starter while Winston serves his supension, and there is no guarantee head coach Dirk Koetter will re-install Winston as the starter when he is eligible to return. Fitzpatrick appeared in six games for Tampa Bay last year, starting three, and threw for 1,103 yards and seven touchdowns with three INTs.
Tampa Bay’s other key focus offensively in the preseason will be establishing Ronald Jones II as its feature running back. A second-round pick from Southern California, Jones — who replaces the departed Doug Martin in the backfield — had 12 rushes of 40 or more yards with the Trojans and will try to elevate a Buccaneers ground game that averaged just 90.5 yards last season.
Mike Evans returns as the team’s top wideout looking for his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season since entering the league in 2014, and DeSean Jackson will try to bounce back from a sub-par 2017 in which he had just 50 catches for 668 yards.
The Bucs also rebuilt most of their defense through free agency and trades, signing linemen Beau Allenand Vinny Curry from the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and acquiring veteran end Jason Pierre-Paul from the New York Giants in hopes of boosting a pass rush that finished last in the NFL in sacks with 22.
Tannehill back for Dolphins in re-tooled offense
Miami has not won a playoff game since beating Indianapolis in a wild-card game in the 2001 postseason and failed to record back-to-back playoff appearances after slipping to 6-10 last season.
One reason for the regression was the absence of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who tore his ACL in the preseason and sat out all of 2017. The Dolphins relied mostly on Jay Cutler — who had a resurgence in 2015 when current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was his offensive coordinator in Chicago — as he threw for 2,666 yards and 19 touchdowns before being released in March.
Bringing Tannehill back despite the strong quarterback class in this year’s draft showed Gase’s commitment to his signal-caller, who threw for 2,995 yards and 19 TDs in 2016 in leading Miami to a wild-card berth and had topped 4,000 yards with at least 24 scoring tosses in each of the last previous seasons.
Tannehill has a pair of new targets to throw to as Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola arrived via free agency from Kansas City and New England, respectively. Wilson had career highs of 42 receptions, 554 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 while Amendola had 61 catches for 659 yards and brings a winner’s pedigree from the Patriots. They join holdover Kenny Stills, who takes over the No. 1 spot after Jarvis Landry was dealt to Cleveland.
Kenyan Drake will be the feature back once more after taking over that role following the mid-season trade of Jay Ajayi last year. Veteran and eventual Hall of Famer Frank Gore signed on to close his career near his hometown of Coral Gables and will look to add to his career haul of 14,026 rushing yards while serving as Drake’s mentor.
Second-round pick Mike Gesecki will be given every opportunity to win the tight end job and will likely see plenty of preseason snaps.
The Dolphins are:
- 2-7-2 ATS in their last 11 games overall.
- The over is 8-3 in the Dolphins’ last 11 games overall.
- The over is 9-4 in the Dolphins’ last 13 home games.
The Buccaneers are:
- 6-0 ATS in their last six games vs. the Dolphins.
- The over is 7-2 in the Buccaneers’ last nine road games.
- The over is 4-0 in the last four meetings between the teams.